Tuesday, March 27, 2007

peein like a boy, or the follies of fathering

Note: Just a quick announcement that I will be going up the Northwest doing readings with artnoose of the zine ker-bloom. Along the way will be one of my daughters and her best friend. Here are the dates:

Fri. 3/30 Arcata CA - 8 pm - Muddy's Hot Cup
Sat. 3/31 Portland OR - 6 pm - Laughing Horse Books
Sun. 4/1 Seattle WA - 7 pm - Z.A.P.P.
Mon. 4/2 Seattle WA - 6 pm - Left Bank Books
Tues. 4/3 Vancouver BC - 7 pm - Spartacus Books
Thur. 4/5 Victoria BC - 7 pm - Solstice Cafe
Sat. 4/7 Olympia WA - 7 pm - Last Word Books
Sun. 4/8 Eugene OR - 5 pm - Wandering Goat Café

Please come out and say hello! It will be a fun-filled night of storytelling. Oh, and rad dad 6 is out!


I love being a dad; I feel like I need to say this because over the past few rad dad columns, I've realized that I've been writing about some of the more difficult topics, the ones that challenge my sense of self, my politics, my own securities: things like drug use, ethnicity, pornography. Believe me, it's been very helpful to talk about these things with others and to force myself to consider intimately and deeply how I want to parent, the relationship I want to foster with my children. But I gotta tell you for all the difficult times and moments I deal with, my experiences parenting have been the funniest of my life. Nothing makes me laugh, brings out the kid in me, or makes me realize how lucky I am more than the follies of fathering.

With that said, however, nothing really can prepare you for your youngest daughter announcing:

"Dad, I'm gonna stand and pee into the toilet. So do I need to lift the lid?"

Thankfully I was brushing my teeth, which allowed me to spit the contents of my mouth into the sink with little explanation.

"Ah, well, I don't think so."

And with approval given, she lets it fly. Literally.

I will now defend the ability of men to aim with pretty good accuracy after seeing the torrent of urine released by my daughter and the sheer span of toilet and floor and wall it showered.

"Well, that didn't work," I say.

"Why?" she asks very amazed and slightly embarrassed.

"I don't know. Did you aim?" I kinda stammer as my son sticks his head and demands, "What the hell are you guys talking about?"

Ella screams, and I take the distraction to consider what just happened. Assuming there is no book broaching the subject at the public library and trying to be a caring, supportive father, I remember a zine at the local infoshop on how to pee standing up.

Sure enough, it's there. I buy it for a quarter and pass it on to my nine-year old who tosses it in her room without thinking anything of it as if it was no big deal.

Later, sitting with some friends of mine, we all laugh at this story as well as at our recollections of how difficult it was to potty train our kids, working with angles, strategically aiming body parts, and of course the unavoidable contact with certain bodily excretions. We shared other stories of how parenting never fails to put you in positions of having no answer to queries and in territory totally foreign to anything you've experienced. But it sure was interesting and very entertaining to have every woman I know share some bit of advice for me to pass on to my daughter about the techniques of pissing standing up. "Tell her it's in the way you squeeze your butt cheeks."

So the next time, my daughter tells me, as I'm standing in the shower, that she's decided she no longer wants to pee like a boy, I say, "Well, if you ever try again, there's people who can help you, but you gotta promise to wipe the lid after."

Somehow I felt strangely satisfied saying that.

And that's the easy stuff. My headstrong 11-year old has decided she wants a bra-lette; now I have never heard of this word before (talk about foreign territory), but I have already told her when she feels ready to get a training bra (she rolls her eyes at my archaic language), I'd take her.

"No way!" she screams.

Apparently, I can see her in a bathing suit, I can still take a shower with her, but I am forbidden to see her in a bra-lette. I am promptly banished from any part of the store that she's in when we all next venture to Target to get some swimming supplies for a camping trip.

Trying again to be the understanding, supportive father, I keep my distance and watch from afar as my partner and her pick some out bras while Ella and I play with axes and solar showers. Ella holds my hand and shakes her head and says, "I think she's going into the pre-teen years, Dad."

When we all meet up again in the check out aisle to pay and I start taking the colorful assortment of bra-lettes out; I hear her plead, "Dad" as her older brother walks up. I quickly put them back in the bag as he demands again, "Hey, what are you guys buying?"

"Nothing," I say, "go see what your mom's doing."

He leaves and she smiles and leans her head on my waist and says, "Thank you." And it is then I see her again as the wild middle child and simultaneously as a young woman coming into her own. I feel honored to have been a part of that transition. I hug her back.

It is when that transition is almost complete that those moments of secret hugs and childhood flashbacks count the most.

My son at 16. My son, too busy to talk. Too busy to hang around. Never too far away though to ask for cash, for rides, for more time away. I won't lie; the last few years have put me to the test and as my dad used to say, "He been on the wrong side I right for too long now." So when it came to taking a two-week trip with just my son, I was scared shitless. Little did I know, shit would be the thing to bring us together.

Now let me segue to something seemingly irrelevant. I have lost more friends over my assertion that Dumb and Dumber is one of the great movies of the last 10 years than any other faux pas I've committed. And I realize why they disagree; most of them are kidless; anyone who has gone through the obsessive banter about poop from kids at each stage of development either must become apathetic to bowel humor or jump in and enjoy the fun.

Back now to our trip to Chiapas where the look on my son's face as he walked up to the door of our hostel was pure terror and fear. Big time. He nodded to his leg, and his chalky complexion gave it all away. To make matters worse, we were about to venture to a village in the jungle on horseback for the next four hours. But he's a trooper (and a pooper, I tease) because he held it together. Literally.

It was on this trip that I made a startling discovery: the mind of a two-year old and a fifteen-year old are eerily connected. Especially when poop is the subject. My son couldn't stop talking about crap. And I was like a new father in love with changing diapers making cutesy little doo-doo sounds along with him. It's true; we bonded over poop banter.

We spent two wonderful, ruin-filled, Zapatista-focused weeks in Mexico and many of these days seemed to also take place in various bathrooms. Dylan's favorite phrase was, "It feels like I'm pissing out of my asshole." Now I don't know why, but we laughed ourselves to sleep many a nights over this phrase as well as devised ways of bringing back bottles of water and tricking various friends and enemies as well as his sisters into consuming said water to share the pleasures of "pissing out of one's asshole." And, of course, the toilet scene in Dumb and Dumber came up repeatedly as a measuring stick to our own bathroom experiences.

But it wasn't until the end, on our way home, we sat next to each other on the plane, and he looked over at me and smiled and said, "Thanks, Dad. This was a pretty good trip." Nothing more, but it was enough to remind myself just how damn lucky I am to have him in my life. To have all them in my life even if I'm never sure if the lid should stay up or down anymore, even if I am banned from parts of their life and certain departments in stores, even if I lose friends over shit jokes. For them, it's all worth it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the wonderful stories. You had me laughing all the way through.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

LOVE it! Mine are too young to be at this stage yet, but I suspect I'll flash back to this post when those days are upon us...

Here from the Family of Carnival Life.