After my third son popped out, my wife smiled through her pain and said, “I’m surrounded by penises!”
Indeed, baby Ari joins what is now four-fifths of a boys basketball team, including Jacob (3 years old), Benjamin (6), and me. While we are more than the parts that make us guys, Wendy endures the actions and comments that shout out the differences between her and us.
A couple of years ago, Benjamin made a colorful drawing, then startled family members by asking, “Do you want to see a picture of my penis?” Judging by his innocent face, we chalked it off as natural pride and chose not to draw more attention to it by laughing — in front of him.
A few weeks ago, Jacob sang an unfamiliar lyric to a previously squeaky-clean song, “If you’re happy and you know it, hold your peee-nis.” Because Jacob has a less naive personality, we suggested saving the anatomical references for the bathroom. Hearing this, both our sons went to the bathroom and promptly shouted the word “penis” about a hundred times.
All of this only strengthens the reality that Wendy is outnumbered. In the weeks following Ari’s arrival, Wendy has bemoaned what the future holds: years of kids forgetting to put the toilet seat up and peeing all over the floor (mostly due to morning grogginess), a lifetime of male competitiveness (including rough-housing that will result in various injuries), and scores of violence-oriented toys (whether they start that way or are transformed into such).
A little girl would have shored up my wife’s side of the gender battle. Wendy would have someone to shop with, play dress-up with, and roll her eyes at the boys with. Yet, as outmanned as Wendy is, she also revels in being the mother hen among the roosters. She knows that she’ll always have us to look out for her and do the stereotypical male things, such as lifting heavy objects and taking out the trash.
Wendy also sees that, for all our testosterone tendencies, her boys have a sensitive side. I take some credit for this because of my habit of crying during romantic movies, willingness to let my wife do the home fix-it jobs, and penchant for interior design. With my warmth-expressive qualities and Wendy’s own insistence on teaching communication and feelings, we help our sons go beyond traditional male boundaries.
For instance, Jacob, who is the most rough-and-tumble of the bunch, has an obsession with hair. He strokes the long tresses of every woman he can, be they babysitters or Mommy. While this may get him into trouble one day (I can just picture him coming on to a girl in a college bar, asking, “Let me touch your hair,” before the girl’s boyfriend shows up), it highlights his inclination to show affection, something less usual for the male half of our species. Jacob even strokes Ari’s wispy hair to comfort him and, when I’m tired, pets my head while singing me a lullaby.
Jacob also has an interest in understanding what a woman goes through. He recently asked Wendy, “I want milk in my boobies, too.” Now that’s empathy.
Equally fascinated with the breastfeeding experience, I jealousy look on…No, wait, what I meant to say is that the other day, Benjamin watched Ari snuggled close to Wendy and said to the baby, “You have a great mommy.”
Benjamin frequently goes beyond verbal nurturing as he enjoys holding Ari in the rocking chair and using baby talk with him. At just six, Benjamin even knows how to change positions — from cradling to upright against the shoulder — to ease Ari’s fussiness. As a father, I recognize how much I do incorrectly, some of which is typically male. I sometimes sit on my butt to watch a ballgame while my wife cooks and I often disappear from nighttime kid meltdowns to my porcelain throne. My boys will probably learn some of these traits from me and will certainly pick up more from their friends. But I also pride myself in helping to teach them to bridge the gender gap, to be in touch with their feelings, to connect with the wonder of babies, to listen to what girls think and respond to them the way they want to be responded to.
In this way, I hope my sons will grow to understand women more and know how much better life is when they look for ways to share rather than isolate. It may be that, by the time my boys become fathers, they will bear the babies and breastfeed the infants themselves. Bad Arnold Schwarzenegger movies notwithstanding (remember Junior?), I feel confident that my three sons will make the women in their lives as happy as they now make their mommy.