My name is Derek, and I’m a no-man.
I’m going to volunteer that one of my favorite words to say is, “no.”
It just rolls right off the tongue. It brings me an otherworldly sense of joy and satisfaction to say the word. I enjoy it so much that I’m silently mouthing the word as I write this.
There is something liberating about saying no in a world that is constantly pressuring us to grin and bear it.
Origins of a No-man
Honestly, I think I first learned to say no from my father. He grew up hard in the streets of Brooklyn and worked two jobs for the majority of my childhood. When I was a kid, I think no was his favorite word to say as well.
Here’s a recap of some of our usual exchanges:
Dad, can I go outside? No.
Dad, can I get some ice cream? No.
Can I hold 5 dollars? Hell no!
I didn’t even include the pre-supermarket speech that every African-American parent gives in the car before entering the store. I can still remember it to this day:
Don’t look at anything, touch anything, or ask for anything.
Eventually, I arrived at a point where I had learned to calculate the probability of getting a yes vs getting a no.
Here’s a Sample of My Brilliant Math:
Waking dad up between jobs + asking a yes or no question = 1000000% chance of him replying with a very angry, “no!” in his deep, gravelly voice before plunging his face back into the pillow and resting up for his night job.
Making dad laugh + asking a yes or no question while he’s still smiling = 75% chance of him replying, “Yeah, I guess so” in a more upbeat and pleasant tone. If you did get a no, sometimes you’d get a small consolation prize like the promise of something down the road.
He always came through on those promises, so to me, they were like money in the bank.
Having mom ask dad on my behalf + dad finding out that I was trying to be slick = 100% chance of dad yelling, “Get in here and ask me yourself!”
My dad hated the idea of his children trying to pull a fast one on him. I believe the only reason he’d make me come to his room and ask him myself was so he could have the satisfaction of telling me “no” to my face. That was always my reward for thinking I was smarter than him.
Asking mom after dad had already told me no = somebody, pray for me.
My mom was usually the gentler parent. While my dad had no problem delivering a gruff no, my mom often had a different approach. Her favorite thing to say was, “we’ll see.”
It sounds innocent enough, and it even gives you a glimmer of hope, but don’t let any of that fool you. If my dad’s use of the word no was like a sledgehammer, my mom’s use of the phrase we’ll see was like a 3-pointer from Steph Curry – deadly accurate and capable of connecting from any distance. 1000’s of miles away, my mom still manages to drop her phrase that pays right on my head.
Hey mom, are you going to visit me in ________ (read: any place I’ve ever lived)? She usually replies, “we’ll see” and follows it up with her trademarked giggle. If you think about Minnie Mouse laughing at a joke from Mickey, you can hear my mom. I’ve always loved that laugh.
My mom was never as direct as my dad, so I didn’t learn to decode her language as quickly as I did with my dad. It took me a while to learn that “we’ll see” was a way of denying me the things I wanted and thought I needed.
To this day, close friends hate it when they ask me to do something, and I say, “we’ll see.” They already know that I just politely turned them down.
Now that I think about it, I might be slowly turning into my parents.
Anatomy of A No-man
People tell me I have my dad’s rough exterior and manner of speaking when I’m tired, and I employ more of my mom’s tact and diplomacy when I’m feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
I know that when I’m tired, the mere sight of another person moving in my direction while looking for a conversation makes me cringe. I’ll have to be a decent human being and remove the scowl from my face as I try not to mutter my responses. I also have to observe all those pesky social norms.
I get tired just thinking about it.
But I digress.
To make a long story short, I was bred for this lifestyle of slinging no’s!
I was genetically predisposed to saying no.
I come from a long line of no-men. Legend has it that great-granddaddy Phifer was the original no-man. My great grandfather told my grandfather no, my grandfather told my dad no, my dad told me, no, and I can’t wait to tell my kids no.
I’ve been practicing for that eventuality for quite some time, so you’d better believe that I’ll be prepared.
Yet again, I digress.
My parents always tell me that no was one of my favorite words to say when I was a baby. I denied people slices of birthday cake before I could form my first sentence.
I’ve been a terror since the pre-school era with this no-man lifestyle.
I say all of that to make it clear that I’m proud of my no-man heritage. I wear it like a badge of honor, but as much I love saying no, I’m starting to wonder if being such a staunch no-man might not be such a good thing after all.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
How do you know when you’re enjoying the no-man lifestyle too much?
When I look back on my past, I realize that I’ve turned down trips, concerts, food, dates, and a host of other things. You name it, and there’s a good chance I’ve said no to it.
Sometimes, I get mad when I think about some of the opportunities that I’ve denied myself.
Because of this, I periodically stage self-interventions. The problem with interventions is that I don’t always find them to be permanent solutions. Trust me – I’ve tried a couple.
There was the spectacularly horrible cookie intervention of 2009 that started with me swearing to myself that I wouldn’t touch a cookie for the next month. That one ended with me binging on oatmeal cookies because I convinced myself that they were good for me. Then, there was the extroverted-introvert intervention of 2014 that saw me promise myself to smile more and try to make small talk at work. That one ended with me moving to Florida.
In the immediate aftermath of an intervention, you get a new lease on life. You feel amazing, and you even change your ways for a bit, but as we all know, old habits die hard.
I’ve always managed to fall back into my no-man ways, and at this point, I’m looking for more permanent solutions. How do you compete with a lifetime of mental conditioning? How do you go against your very nature? Should you even try?!
I wish I knew the answer to even one of these questions. Rest assured in knowing that I’ll leave no stone unturned during my search.
A Jaded ’80s Baby
Do any of you also have an over-infatuation with saying no? Share in the comments section below!