Our sixth grade teachers divide us into two groups: boys and girls.
In the boys’ room, the teacher wobbles behind her podium and says words like penis, testicles, erection and sperm and I struggle to breath. I choke on my laughter. My face grows hot and my insides hurt and I’m pretty sure I’m going to die. But it’s okay. Because it’s just so damn funny.
When the teacher runs out of funny words to say, she hustles through the classroom doorway, into the hall, to either cry or laugh, and since we’re boys, and now we’re unsupervised boys — we explode. We laugh and squeal and shake and cry and whimper because it’s just so damn funny.
For 12 year old boys, the word testicles tops the list of funny words. Especially, when your teacher says it — testicles. And if I’m being honest, at 37, the word testicles still makes me laugh.
As girls file back in the classroom with bowed heads, silent, like they just witnessed an execution our laughter tinkles out. Each girl carries tightly a white wand and I think how unfair it is that they got a prize and we didn’t. But maybe we would’ve been awarded a prize if we hadn’t howled like hairless wolves.
A girl with shoulder length auburn hair pinned back with butterfly berets slides into the desk in front of me. I tap on her shoulder. At first she doesn’t turn so I tap again and wait and before I’m about to tap again she turns and levels her eyes into mine, “What?”
“What kind of prize did you get?”
“It’s not a prize.”
“Well what is it?”
“It’s a tampon.”
“A tampon. You know, for when I get my period.”
I have no idea what she’s talking about.
Naturally, men want titles. Titles that will raise both pinkies and eyebrows at cocktail parties. Titles that will earn free drinks. Titles that will get the girl.
As I toiled through my 20’s and into my early 30’s I felt that the most important titles a man could collect were titles like CEO, Supervisor, Manager, Principal, General, Admiral, Chief, Coach, Quarterback.
In our defense, society has taught men that to prove our worth we need to collect titles the way we collect imported cars or empty bottles of imported beer (depending on a man’s financial situation).
For girls, the title of mother comes painfully yearly. They menstruate, wonder why, and a soft, older voice explains they’re now biologically ready to become a mother. About the same time, the same voice explains that mother is the most important title a girl will ever know.
Further cementing the gravity of mother, high school girls endure home economics and child development classes and are evaluated on their ability to care for a plastic baby who cries when it’s hungry or a sack of sugar (depending on a school district’s financial situation).
I find it interesting and, somewhat sad, that boys are not offered classes on fatherhood.
Boys are often evaluated on their ability to build and destroy things. To give commands. To take orders. But boys are rarely, if ever, praised for their ability to nurture, care and empathize.
Maybe that’s why fatherhood is such a confusing ordeal for men. Maybe that’s why the expectations for fathers continues to be shamefully low.
25 years ago I was in 6th grade, clueless about the origin of human life, about collecting titles. I was just a catholic school boy, laughing like an infidel at the pronunciation of the delicate instruments that would gift me with the most important title I would ever hold: Father.
I’m just slightly embarrassed it took so long to realize such truth.