Before I became a father, I wanted a girl. I was goofy enough to think that for me rearing a girl would be easier than rearing a boy. I thought there would soon—probably before puberty—be a point beyond which I couldn’t help her, except as a cash cow. I could relax and write checks.
I thought raising a boy would be a lot harder, since growing into manhood is one of the areas about which I know a thing or three. Some of the things I know are doubtless not true; nothing new there. I know them just the same, and, like codgers everywhere, I could hardly wait to tell somebody young and maybe even impressionable.
I have three sons. I was right. Guys are hard. Sometimes even thinking about being a guy is hard. It ain’t all skittles and patriarchy.
I’m a lucky guy. I loved rearing my sons; some guys don’t. I didn’t mind changing diapers, because at least they were healthy. When one went to food from breast milk, I could hardly believe such a wonderful little person could emit anything that smelled like that.
I never minded the chores or the chauffeuring or the late nights or the chicken pox or the pageants or the play dates or even the tantrums. I wasn’t crazy about the emergency rooms.
When one was sick and fretful, I’d hold him all day long. I never minded. I was lucky.
One of my sons once seemed to have a perfectly full digestive tract, with no room for more. For a while when he was little, seven or eight minutes after we sat down to eat, he would have to poop, and I would leave my red curry with prawns and spend the next several minutes with a reeking potty. I miss those poops now. We had a pretty intimate relationship then. Now I embarrass him. I can’t imagine how.
When the youngest was a baby, I began writing How to Be a Man, intending to give it to him and his brothers when the time came. I got to “If you don’t want to lick her all over—with your tongue, all over—you’re not ready for sex.” I don’t know what comes next.
My sons put up with me now, but I can see how kings and other guys have to step pretty lively to get out of the way of the next generation. Boys take up a lot of room.
Now the oldest boy at home is taller than I, which strikes me as significant. I remember realizing I was taller than my father and being exhilarated at the knowledge. I called him “sawed-off” to my pals. I wonder what my son calls me.
A couple of buddies of mine have all girls, and I’ve decided one difference between the genders is that girls may resent the air you breathe, but boys want to take over, and that means you, too, old dude.
At least I don’t have to be my father.