13 December 2012

How To Be a Man

I recently had a terrifying glimpse of my future.

Having gotten down on the floor to play with my sons, I quickly found myself wrestled to the ground by the Doozer and Little Brother then piled on. In short order, the little one had poked me in the eye and put his hand on my throat, pushing against it with all of his might to stand up. Presumably to look down on me in victory from a position of dominance. And though a nonsensical string of sounds came out of his mouth at that moment, I’m pretty sure he was saying, “Stay down, old man. We’re here to unleash a merciless beating. For the next 12 years or so. Or until we get bored.”

Crap, I thought. What have I wrought? How do I contend with this?

Also, I am in terrible shape. Exercise has never been one of my specialties or interests. I’ve never been athletic or active or any of those things. Now I’m going to have to sign up for Krav Maga, just to figure out how to defend myself. Plus, isn’t teaching your son how to fight—or at the very least defend himself in a fight—something you’re required to do? I don’t know how to do that. I was only in one fight in my entire life, one physical altercation, in the fourth grade and somebody else stepped in and defended me and took the detention and never gave me up as being part of the fight in the first place.

What other manly things do I have no idea about? What kind of example am I setting? There’s an old joke in our house that I got my wife interested in watching Gilmore Girls and she got me interested in watching hockey. Which is only a very slight exaggeration.

I have no idea how to change the oil in my car. I have only the faintest grasp of the arcane rules of baseball. Or football. (I have a thin part in my skull and was the only kid in 8th grade to not be part of the school football team. And that’s a true story, not a made-up anecdote. I swear.)

What if they ask me about such things? I’m screwed. I overheard a father explaining baseball to his kid at a Tigers game a few months back. And panic set in. I’m going to have to answer these questions, I thought. Sure, I can answer questions about Star Wars, superheroes, and Lord of the Rings until the cows come home. But real boy stuff? I’ve got nothing. I was a swimmer. That’s not a real sport.

Man, I need to get in shape. “Eye of the Tiger” montage and all that. 

What else don't I know about? Pitching a tent. Starting a fire. Baiting a fish hook. Just, uh, surviving, basically. I have zero good survival instincts. I keep losing my place in podcasts whenever my iPod runs out of juice. This is borderline intolerable for me. How could I possibly survive outside civilization? I am not outdoorsy. Not in the least. When discovering old toys in our respective childhood basements, it was revealed that my wife grew up with a Fisher-Price camping set and I grew up with a . . . Holiday Inn playset. This pretty much says everything about the two of us.

My own father served in the Army. Which means he went through basic training. Which astounds me every time I think about it. I’m so f’ing sensitive I feel like Jillian Michaels is personally picking on me when she issues instructions while I try to do one of my wife’s workout DVDs.

Will they want a tree fort? How the hell does that get built? Me and ladders, not a good combination. I have vertigo, obviously. It’s hard enough to get up the side of the house and clear leaves out of the gutter. Building a structure in a tree 20 feet off the ground? It would take seven years, fear and panic slowing my work pace to a sluggish crawl.

The Doozer is obsessed with the Hulk. We all know what he likes to do. I have injured myself trying to swat a mosquito. I’d probably not even make it all the way through The Dangerous Book for Boys.

I have even found myself Googling “how to be a man.” I found a lot of it is about being a gentleman. I could probably handle most of that. I was a metrosexual long before such a thing even existed.

Now what? How did I get to be so old and never learn how to be a man?

Lately, Little Brother has amused himself by pulling books off the large bookcase in our living room. Works by John Guare and Samuel Beckett, Sophocles and Shakespeare. He smiles and laughs and I thought he was showing a keen, early interest in literature, but now I’m wondering if he’s just mocking me for being some kind of high-falutin’, book-learnin’ nerd. Because he’s also recently tried to rip my glasses off my face when I’ve held him. Whenever I hold him. Come to think of it, both kids (as babies) have tried, repeatedly, to rip my glasses off my face. And succeeded, often. Yes, I have been bullied by my own children. I sincerely hope I am not the only person to whom this has happened.

Maybe masculinity is overrated. Maybe I should just raise my kids in Europe.

My twin monuments of masculinity, perhaps my two heroes, the writers who loom largest in my mind, are Hunter S. Thompson and Woody Allen. And while I admire the wild fearlessness and willingness of one, I mostly (intensely) identify with the reserved, nebbishy nature of the other. Always have.

Sorry, boys, I think you might be screwed.

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