A newborn child brings many wondrous firsts: the first steps; the first laugh; the first word. As much as new parents sit perpetually hunched forward–eyes unblinking, hours of video rolling–waiting to bear witness to that next great first, there is one first that parents are never quite ready for: the first time baby discovers their genitals.
When my wife and I learned our second child would be a boy, we were relieved. Not that another girl would be unwelcome, but having a boy meant we would now have one of each, a boy and a girl, and that’s good because we like to collect things. More importantly, having a boy meant we could stop having kids. Another girl would have left the door open to temptation–to roll the dice and try for a little dude with a third kid. I don’t think you should gamble on babies, unless you’re baby is caught up in an underground Ultimate Baby Fighting circuit and has a wicked left hook. When Dalton arrived, we closed up the baby making shop. Nicole got her tubes tied and I hung an “out of order” sign up on my own spawning equipment, sending my seed off to a well-deserved retirement. I think they reside in Florida now.
Having a baby boy, we’ve come to find, is different than the demands of a baby girl. Adding that XY contribution, Dalton has brought a certain special brand of maleness to our home, especially lately for Dalton has taken to grabbing his junk.
It’s not like he gently bobbles his genitals, he reaches down, takes a fist full and gives the sack a hearty squeezing like he’s making juice. The first time he did it nearly knocked Nicole out. “My god, doesn’t that hurt him?!” As a guy, I would think so. I know his testicles haven’t descended, but still. Clearly by the look on his face, though, it didn’t hurt. And I mean he throttles his scrotum like it owes him money.
“No,” I assured her, “he’s in no pain.” Dalton continued to massage and knead his stuff while darting his eyes back and forth between mommy and daddy, looking for approval. Nicole’s concern shifted to disdain. “Gross, he’s such a man.” In response, Dalton pinched the tip of his foreskin and yanked it out six inches. He giggled. This seemed to please him a great deal, so he yanked at it again and again like a man struggling to start his lawn mower. Now I had to cover my eyes, all the while sputtering “Totally natural. Can’t hurt a bit.”
When he isn’t practicing self-mutilation on an intimate level, Dalton finds more casual ways to manipulate his equipment. It is not uncommon for Dalton, running about the house clad in nothing but a diaper, to snatch up a wooden block and start smashing his crotch with it. There is a ceremony to it. His arm chops down with a religious fervor and with every crushing thud he whoops a “HOO-AH!” for his reverent self-flagellation. Sometimes he’ll catch me watching him and stare me down with the intensity of a zealot. Bringing the block crashing down again, Dalton cries “Be gone, Satan! Be gone from my testicles!” The surrealism of this experience is intensified by the fact Dalton is my spitting image, 30 years removed. We look identical right down to the haircut (yes I have the hairstyle of a toddler) so when he delivers blunt force trauma to his genitals, it’s like he’s doing so for both of us.
For Nicole, it’s not really the yin and yang of self-love and self-negation that Dalton delivers upon his wiener that freaks her. No one blames Dalton for his violent acts of exploration; his genitals hang out and are chock full of nerves. Naturally he’d be curious and it’s not like he’s a leather-bound S&M gimp. No, what Dalton does to his penis is not what Nicole is afraid of, it is the penis itself. This is fear I know well.
Parents stress over many things while waiting for their first child to arrive: Will she be healthy? Safe? Ten fingers, ten toes, all that. In the weeks and months leading up to birth of our first child, Jillian, one single thought filled me with a constant rumble of panic: Jillian’s forthcoming private parts and their relation to fecal matter.
Oh my god, I thought, what am I going to do if she gets poop in her business?
Girls’ equipment is internal and mysterious, therefore frightening to a newbie father. The first time I had to reckon with getting the poop out of Jillian’s thing, I thought I would die. I hid in the closet, put a blanket over my head and sang old campfire songs while rocking gently. I asked Nicole if she would just go ahead and take care of that for, well, ever.
But Nicole would not take care of it forever, or even right that moment. She pulled me out of the closet, told me to stop singing Kumbaya and handed me a wipe. Infant Jillian stared up at me wondering what the hell was the hold up. Starting at the edges, I worked the poo as far away from Jillian’s gentle parts for as long as I could. After five minutes, you could eat off the perimeter of Jillian’s butt, but there was still a whole lot of mess around the bull’s eye.
“You’ll have to get that part too,” Nicole told me.
Circling closer and closer to the root of my terror, I eventually confronted my demons and got Jillian clean. My eyes were closed and there was a lot of screaming, from me, but it got done. Nicole rejected my suggestion that we next time take Jillian to the car wash because a power washer affords one the comfort of distance. Just like Dalton’s wood block bashing is for Nicole, poop really wasn’t the issue for me, though it was no bonus. The poop merely provided a gateway to the real trouble—my ignorance and resulting fear of Jillian’s female bits.
Days later the poopy groin issue resurfaced; again I didn’t die. A month later I was swabbing down Jillian’s diaper area with the speed and efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew. It wasn’t until I fastened the diaper that I realized I no longer feared Jillian’s privates. And all it took for me to overcome my fear of her delicate parts was to encounter them a couple hundred times. Now that area is old hat to me. It’s become just another body part, not unlike her arm or nose. Okay, to be fair it’s not like her nose. We never play the game Got your vagina.
Luckily, Jillian was too young to remember when her private parts made me squeamish, and so she was never ingrained with a fear of them. In fact, she’s rather cavalier in her attitude towards male and female genitalia. The other day Jillian and I stopped at a roadside rest stop. I took her into the men’s room stall to do her business, and when she was done I did mine. As I finished, in the middle of a men’s room crowded with truck drivers and weary travelers, my three-year-old daughter screamed, “Look at your vagina daddy. My daddy’s got a big vagina!”
Parenting is not for prudes. You may have an unhealthily Puritanical aversion to your body’s various parts and functions, but children don’t. Children are free and open with their bodies; they have no time for your squeamishness. Do you remember when you felt that way about your own body? When you squealed and danced with delight as you streaked naked through the house and yard? Do you recall the simple joy of a cheek-slapping fart? Of course not, shame was introduced to many of us before the ABC’s. I know my kids will eventually have to learn to stop groping themselves and yelling about vaginas or they will never hold down a job, but I hope to keep those tough lessons of bodily shame at bay for as long as I can. That’s meant I’ve had to get over my own hang-ups and become the kind of person I never imagined. The kind of person who smiles peacefully as my child tells a stranger in the grocery check-out line about the really great dump she took earlier. The kind of person who bites his tongue when his daughter runs in circles, slippery and naked from the bath, while pulling her butt checks as far apart as possible and screaming, “I’m Supergirl!” The kind of person who, when his toddler son wants to show daddy how many clothespins he can attach to his pee-pee, gives the boy a thumbs-up and says “Way to go, son.”