I have a nephew! My sister gave birth to the first male in my immediate family since the late 1970s. Not that I wouldn’t have been thrilled with the arrival of another beautiful, healthy niece… but c’mon! My dad and I have been outnumbered for more than a quarter century. At last, Devlin Moran Towers has arrived to balance out the Estrogen Extravaganza of the last three decades! We shall eat bacon double cheeseburgers! Leave the toilet seat up! Scratch ourselves with impunity! Gold Bond Medicated Powder will be proudly displayed next to the soap dish! ROOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAARRRRR!!! Belch! Fart!
All this reminds me how female-dominated my house was as a child. Not that my two awesome big sisters were Super Girly Girls. They weren’t. But there were plenty of things that typified 1980s American boyhood that just didn’t make their way into our house, and if they did, they weren’t welcomed with much enthusiasm. To this day, I have never seen a Rocky or Rambo movie in its entirety. They were forbidden in my house for being too violent. My room overflowed with Star Wars and Transformer action figures, but I don’t recall owning any G.I. Joe paraphernalia – too militaristic. It’s okay if robots blow each other up, but not people.
The same philosophy carried over into sports. Consider my experience with hockey. I know a lot of people reading this grew up in the South or California, where no one gives a crap about hockey. And what is hockey, really? Hockey is a game in which two teams of guys don heavy padding, strap on shoes with knives on the bottom, slide around on a surface as hard as cement, and use wooden sticks to knock a puck into a net. Slamming into your fellow players is mandatory. Fighting is not only acceptable, but encouraged. And it’s all done in the freezing cold. Ballsy.
In Massachusetts, hockey is a pretty big deal. My neighborhood was no exception. There was a pond in my backyard that froze over in the winter, and all the local kids went there to play. Of course, I wanted to be one of the cool kids, so I wanted to play, too. Problem: I was a small kid with bad eyesight who was taught that it wasn’t nice to slam into people. My best friend, Justin, didn’t have those difficulties. He was a little scrawny, but it didn’t matter. He had boundless energy and loved everything about hockey, especially the brutality. His house was the antithesis of mine. He had a brother and no sisters. His mom was a housewife and his dad was a firefighter and Vietnam vet. The three dominating odors of their house were sweat, smoke, and aerosol deodorant. It wasn’t long before I followed Justin to the local Pee Wee team.
Somewhere in my house, there are pictures of me on the way to my first practice. My mother, who grew up without any brothers who might have taught her better about the humiliations that boys go through, dressed me as she saw fit. In addition to the baffling pads and helmet, she made me put on three sweaters, two pairs of snow pants, a winter jacket, hand-knit mittens, and worst of all, double-bladed skates (hockey’s equivalent of the Short Bus). I might as well have worn a shirt emblazoned with the word “LOSER” writ in neon. The coaches must have thought my parents were either crazy or retarded.
My hockey career didn’t last. I could skate but couldn’t stop without crashing into the boards. I have a hunch that my parents were secretly happy about it. Mom probably thought that I would get horribly injured or grow up to be a toothless thug. Dad probably figured out that hockey is one of the most expensive sports one can participate in, and waited patiently for my interest to wane. It did.
I tried other sports - although Mom made it clear that boxing and football were barbaric and out of the question. I was too short for basketball and soccer was for Freedom Haters. My most vivid memory of Little League baseball was making a diving catch in left field on a 100° day when my ungloved hand landed in a pile of dog shit. I was pretty good at gymnastics. The rings, high bar, and vault were lots of fun. But who, for the love of all that is Holy, invented the pommel horse? Who sat down and designed a big log with wooden handles on top of it upon which a guy is supposed to support himself with his hands whilst swinging his legs around wildly, praying to God that he doesn’t slip and destroy his genitals? Anyway, I could never land a handspring, so I quit gymnastics, too.
I settled on swimming. My dad and his brothers were swimmers, so it was in the blood. And my mom was no doubt pleased that the worst injury I would suffer (short of drowning) would be a groin pull. Swim meets were fun, but practices were incredibly monotonous. My best event was breaststroke (huh-huh, huh-huh), and I probably would have been a captain if I didn’t quit my junior year out of sheer boredom. Doing shows, singing stupid songs, and obsessing about movies were much easier - and there were more chicks around.
Anyway, being a boy is tough. I hope my nephew has an easier time of it than I did. Over the last few decades, America has been so focused on redefining what girls should and should not be taught that boys have been left in the dark in a lot of ways. I hope that changes, and I hope that I can help my nephew out when he needs it. He already has two great parents, a fantastic big sister, and gets to grow up on Cape Cod, so he’s off to a good start. Someone has to teach him to belch the alphabet, however. I think I can do that.