Dad's Eye View: Yearning for a Rodeo
"Got any kids?" I asked.
"Five daughters," the man said. We had jury duty together and were chatting during a break. "When the twins were born, I figured out that God didn't want me to have a son," he said with wry humor.
That took me back 19 years to my wife's third pregnancy. We already had two daughters, so whenever Betsy loomed into view, friends and relatives would tell her, "I guess you're hoping for a boy."
When her mother said it, Betsy gave a sassy reply, "No, I'm hoping for an o-rang-a-tang!" Betsy resented the implication that her next child's birth might be disappointing. She's too loyal for that. She would usually say the true and trite, "I really don't care; just so long as it's healthy." (My response was usually: "Just so long as it's obedient.")
And when daughter No. 3 was born, I was hearing, "So, are you going to try again for a boy to carry on the family name?"
"No need to," I said.
Thanks to Epstein-Barre syndrome, the family name was already immortal, linked forever with chronic fatigue. A fourth child would only link me with chronic fatigue. Plus, there's Epstein's Law. You can find it on the Internet. The law is: "If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we've solved it." It seemed to warn against having a son.
At last I can admit that I did want a son, and had been thinking hopefully that I would make a good job of raising one. My own dad taught by example. He didn't smoke or drink, dressed neatly, worked hard, treated all men and women with respect, paid his bills promptly and, except for watching the news every evening, minded his own business. But from the time I was 7 or 8 years old, we only had a man-to-man discussion when I was being punished.
About women, he said little. Once, when I was 15, he caught me mentally undressing a teenage girl at the next table in a restaurant and ordered me to stop it. (If we hadn't been on a family road trip, associating with each other more than usual, Dad would never have discovered my secret ability.)
When I was 16, he came into my room and said, "Uh, let me know if there's anything you want to know about sex." His manner suggested that someone had a revolver to his head, forcing him to make this embarrassing offer.
"Don't worry, Dad," I said, just as red-faced as he was. "I already know about it." He left, much relieved.
How would I have handled a father-son relationship? I can imagine taking my 4-year-old boy to see a huge bulldozer clambering through the dirt or seeing his eyes gleam while a long freight train clattered by. Could I support his dream of someday being a trash collector, riding recklessly on the side of the truck, hefting the huge cans, and operating the mighty trash-squasher? Sure. Hadn't I originally planned to spend my life driving herds of long-horned cattle from Texas to Missouri?
It would've been tough watching Junior hack his way through the boyhood jungle — the athletic pressures, the schoolyard machismo, the early negotiations with girls. I would've tried hard to be a useful and loving guide.
But would a normal boy sit still for his dad's philosophy and advice?
From what I've seen, boys are poor listeners. Plus, we males usually take longer learning to talk, remain in diapers longer, and get lost more often. And then there's the testosterone. It makes us throw blocks, play with matches and start wars. Not to mention Freud's Oedipus theory that boys have a basic desire to kill Dad and marry Mom. Even a little of that can ruin a family vacation.
The good news is that I'm 58 now, and even my most intrusive well-wishers have forgotten their procreative ambitions for me. Anyone can see it's all I can do to keep up the payments on what was started so long ago.
But wouldn't a grandson be nice?! I'd take him to a rodeo. (Except I'd tell him it's a job fair.)
Rick Epstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.