The Masculine Mystique

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But after this recent mano-a-mammary incident, I began to think my whole approach was a huge mistake. I was being neutered! All of us dads were! In our effort to be sensitive husband-fathers we were giving up our masculine vitality, the uncensored use of our own eyes!

Which cast my mind back to a breastfeeding incident from my pre-Shoshi days. At a business conference a few years back, I was talking to a colleague, a nursing mother who brought her baby along for the trip. Without a word of preface, she yanked up her sweater and let the baby merge with her corporeal assets. The image of her unencumbered breast -- something I never, ever would have seen, or thought of, in any other context -- combined with her utter nonchalance almost knocked the wind out of me. I had to send a little memo to myself ("Ken: Do not pay attention to the surprising darkness of the nipple!") so I could pretend to listen to whatever she was saying.

The bottom line: Being a father is turning me into what Hans and Franz, Saturday Night Live's sweatsuit-clad avatars of masculine fitness, would've called "a girlie man." Of course, I wasn't some beer- and back-pounding jerk before becoming a dad, but since we brought the baby on board I've developed a rather extensive repertoire of nurturing skills. I can feed, bathe, change, and coo to the baby with a sort of maternal finesse, and I do so every single day. As a stay-at-home-dad, I've allowed myself to become one soft, sweet guy. In fact, I am a man who, when he ventures out into the world, lugs a big, pink Oilily diaper bag over his shoulder. What in the name of Dr. T. Berry Brazelton has happened to me?

There are these odd, awkward occasions when I feel like I'm a mommy with a five o'clock shadow. The image of myself pushing a stroller and singing little songs to my daughter makes me think of what men of my grandfather's generation, crusty old scotch-and-sirloin guys, would make of this. I'm sure they'd find it puzzling and unmanly. And in fact, part of me longs to sit on the back porch and talk sports and yell for the women to shut the kids up and bring us food. I do sometimes fear that if you stay home too long with a baby you become a stranger to the capital-G guy you used to be, the one who was a little rough around the edges.

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