Before Jack and Adam were born I clung naively to the idealistic notion that if I ever had a son I would never force feed him societal expectations of masculinity and gender or reinforce only the predominant male stereotypes in his behavior yet hypocritically on the other hand if my son grew up to be, I don’t know, say an All-Star Pitcher for the New York Yankees with a PhD in Oncology who marries a Runway Model/Children’s Books Author and who, after retiring from Baseball with 5 World Series Rings and 323 Career Wins and after providing us with no fewer than 7 grandchildren, is inducted in the Hall of Fame, discovers a Cure for Cancer, and is elected President of the United States I’d be OK with that, too. Despite this unrealistic promise to myself have I at times told Jack to “toughen up”, “stop crying”, “walk it off” and “do another shot with me”? Of course. Do I allow him to watch wrestling, zombie films, action movies and The Family Guy even though if he were a girl I would not? Sadly, yes. Am I the type of jackass who asks semi-rhetorical questions then answers them himself? Absolutely not.
I was reminded of this unrealistic promise recently when I took Jack to the Saratoga Race Track, the place of Legends, Horses, Bobblehead Jockey Giveaways, Phenylbutazone and Cortiscosteroids. Since Jack usually only bets the Trotters and the Saratoga Race Track features thoroughbreds we decided to just walk around and enjoy the day rather than place a wager on any of the races. In the family section of the grounds where the Mommies say to the kids, “Don’t bother Daddy, he’s busy right now.” while Daddies stare up at simulcast televisions mounted in trees, betting slips white knuckled in one hand a can of Coors Light in the other, saying, “Come on Baby. Come on you son of a bitch. Come on.” we stumbled across something called a Backyard Circus.
A Backyard Circus is a kid-oriented Circus of imagination where a Ring Leader uses the children in the audience to fill all the roles of the show; the tightrope walker, the Lions, the ballerinas and clowns, the strong man, Siegfried & Roy and the Human Cannonball. As he announced each role the kids would raise their hands to volunteer for the part and he would select them from the crowd. When he got to the part of the ballerinas though, a little boy around the age of 3 in the front row enthusiastically raised his hand and the way his father sprinted towards him panicked you’d have thought the kid was on fire. When his father reached him he forced his son’s hand down and told him, “No, you’re going to be the Human Cannonball.” to which the kid sobbed, “But I want to be a ballerina.” To which his father corrected him, “No, you want to be the Human Cannonball.” This exchange went on for a few more seconds until the boy ran to his mother in tears and the father ran to the nearest television with his betting slips and a Coors Light.
Jack looked up at me and asked, “Why is that little boy crying?” so I tried to explain what had happened all the while wondering how I would have honestly handled it if Jack wanted to be a ballerina. I asked Jack, “Do you want to be a ballerina?” and he said no. “You can if you want you know.” I pressed, but he said again that he didn’t want to be a ballerina and I dropped it before he changed his mind. There were two more incidents that happened after that however that continued to make me question the expectations I’m projecting onto Jack.
The next day while we were at a playground Jack was mistaken for a girl by another parent. This has happened countless times since Jack was a baby except it’s usually blue-haired grandmothers octogenarianating their senility on us in the food store.
“Oh, your daughter is beautiful. What’s her name?”
He’s a boy and his name is Jack.
“Who’s a boy?”
My son Jack.
“Is he home with his mother?”
No, he’s right here
(to Jack) “Sweetie where’s your brother?”
Which is right about when I start pelting them with heads of lettuce.
Later that evening Jack came into the living room where Kathleen and I were, stood in the middle of the room and said, “What’s this called?” Not knowing what he was about to do I quickly prepared a couple possible answers. “That’s called a round house kick” or “Oh that? That’s just your average Three-quarter face-lock Russian leg-sweep” and that was when he executed a perfect rendition of The Macarena. Dumbfounded I stared at him and said nothing. He must have thought he did it wrong so he performed it again and I looked at Kathleen and asked, “Where did he learn the Macarena?” She looked as shocked as I was until Jack answered for her, “I learned it at camp.” Damn it, I knew there was a reason I didn’t want him going to that camp. “We paid to have them teach our son line dancing?” I questioned Kathleen and she reminded me that it was a free camp.
I don’t want to be one those fathers constantly sprinting towards my sons insisting that they be human cannonballs instead of ballerinas, but even though I’ll continue to correct the legions of AARP members who think Jack is my daughter and even though I’ll help Jack figure out the tricky spin maneuver in the Electric Slide there’s a part of me that hopes I don’t have to.
Does that mean you’ll someday see me staring up at simulcast televisions mounted in trees with betting slips white knuckled in one hand a can of Coors Light in the other? Of course not. Does that mean that at this Friday Jack and I will be watching WWE Smackdown? Sadly, yes. Does this mean that I actually am the type of jackass who asks semi-rhetorical questions then answers them himself? I still say no.