Time: Age fifty and in the past
My Dad never talked much about sex. He rarely gave me any indication of what he thought about the subject, let alone how he behaved sexually as an adolescent or young adult. From time to time, I’d hear suspicious sounds emanating from my parents’ bedroom. Once at a family picnic, he laughingly positioned two soft balls at his crotch but dropped them just before the photographer snapped a group photo. When I was eleven and increasingly aware of my own stirrings, I invaded his room and found three Trojan condoms (I can still picture the soldiers’ helmets)and some dirty playing cards.
But when I became pubertal and my clothes were transparent, exposing my pulsating, hairy body for all the world to see, my father still said nothing. I struggled on, in pain and pleasure, alone.
He let me bungle my way through high school, too, watching me play the fool over and over again as I fell madly in lust with a mixture of braids, braces and breasts. Even when I really fell in love and went steady, he had little to say. If he noticed that two Trojan soldiers, never actually used in battle during those years, were missing from his bureau arsenal, he never let on.
College was more of the same. No questions. A sense of permission in his eyes. Very few words. Only once did he suggest that I enlist the aid of the Greek army. As my Dad drove me to the bus station, I was off to meet fraternity brothers at the shore, he said, “If you get a jab, do you have protection?”
“Don’t worry about me,” I mumbled, looking away. “I can take care of myself.” The Trojans in my wallet were ready for battle. By this time, some of their brothers had fallen in battle. Big man. Get a jab. That was the entirety of my sexual education from my Dad.
But when I got to law school and started to act like I might be getting serious with a woman, he finally opened his mouth. No lectures about sex, mind you, just very direct critical opinions about my choices.
“Her head is too small, and she has hay fever” or “I know her parents, and I don’t want them in the family.” That one just happened to be a 10 and oh-so-accommodating. For some reason, I soon ceased viewing each of those perfect creatures he objected to as wife material.
When I brought Barbara around, I knew immediately how he felt from the way he beamed from ear to ear, over and over again. She was bright, pretty and from a “good family.” I’d known all along he would like her. I liked her, too. She was solid, feminine, educated, and liked sex. But dating was one thing, marrying another.
The decision to ask her to marry me came out of the blue. I was shaving in front of a dirty mirror in a dirty apartment at law school. “Marry her!” boomed a voice that came out of nowhere.
“Why?” I replied.
“Because she’ll be good for you. She’ll love you, have your children and take care of you when you get old.” Who was thinking about getting old?!
“But I want a gorgeous, wildly passionate, long legged genius, who is a great cook, likes oral sex and worships the ground I walk on.”
The voice laughed, mocking me.
Twenty-five years later, I know that voice was right. Loving, caring and a family are the most important things in life.
My father’s brand of thought control was sneaky, but, oh so powerful. By example, he forced me to love my wife, be faithful, work hard, and raise my children as he did. Like the invisible rays of a microwave oven, he cooked my innards and created inside of me a glorious clarity of perspective telling me that people are not interchangeable. I married this particular woman and had these particular two children. Nothing else has been as sustaining, as wonderful, as important. Nothing else defines who I am or anchors me to age 50 with greater force or dignity.
Thank you, Dad. Thank you. My wife thanks you, and my sons don’t know it yet, but they thank you, too. Some day in the not too distant future those boys will thank me too, because, son-of-a-bitch, I’ve done the same thing to them that you did to me. Ha!