Category Archives: Gender

Interlude: Morning, Kitchen, Willoughby

THERE ARE DIFFERENT kinds of morning light. Today’s is pale, but my kitchen has wood and copper in it, and a new bright orange stock pot, and daisies in a washed-out Bulleit rye bottle on the long prep table from the old apartment that the boys and I sanded and restained a weekend or two after we first moved in. You can do that kind of thing when you leave the city and have a small back lawn. The other finishing touch was a red clock, which is ticking above my head, softly. I think a boy may have just gotten up. It’s 8 a.m.

There’s rice waiting in the cooker and bowls warming in the oven. We’ll be watching anime and eating soon. I think I’m up to four kinds of soy sauce in the pantry, but the good stuff isn’t easy to find around here. I’ll get some at Sunrise Mart, one of the items on the notepaper on the fridge that says NYC at the top. I no longer have cats, including the one who loved to pull everything off the fridge. I’ve had cats my whole life. I don’t really miss them. That was unexpected. And I really don’t miss walking barefoot on cat litter in the morning.

No boy. I guess they’re still asleep.

When they’re at their mom’s, I turn the thermostat off and use a space heater. Then I turn the thermostat back on and can’t figure out why it won’t obey my temperature settings. I wrote to the manufacturer and got a manual for it, but my eyes glazed. I’ll try again when they’re not here and we don’t have better things to do on a Saturday, like try out the local comic book store or see what the “tree festival” is.


I HAVE NEVER been a good housekeeper, and that has always been a nut of conflict. But this is my kitchen. My house. My daisies. My expensive Honeysuckle-scented all-surface cleaner. My sense of what to teach boys about manhood. Endurance, self-sufficience, beauty, efficiency, cast iron. The cast iron is from my mom, mailed cross-country. I remember using it when I was the boys’ age. The slow cooker is brand-new and I expect it to break next year. In the maelstrom of the separation and move, I wanted a slow cooker, and this is the one recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, whose cookbooks I really like. I didn’t read the Amazon reviews; I should have. I also got the front end of my new bike wrong; the stem is too low, so it puts me into a racing posture. I am not a racer. You can look at me and know that.


I GOT 1) the slow cooker wrong, and 2) the bike wrong, and 3) I signed a car lease I shouldn’t have, and 4) the old landlord outclevered me and kept a few thousand in security deposit.


  1. About a month into our new life, I handed the boys a cookbook and told them to pick dinner from the slow-cooker section. They came back in ten minutes: Korean Braised Short Ribs.
    I’m like—seriousl…uh, never mind, YOU’RE ON.
    It was excellent. It was less expensive than processed foods. When the accidentally wrong slow cooker breaks, I’ll get a cheaper one.
  2. The too-low stem on the bike means I spend a good deal of time out of the saddle, because I don’t like the position. That would be more of an issue if I were spending any time on the bike at all, which is related to it not being quite comfortable enough, and also related to life being an upheaval—but I got the bike built in time to have a finished one at the start of my new life, and I love it in all other ways. It’s not a particularly expensive bike, but it’s got exactly the tires I wanted, and just the front bag and the very fenders, all of which you’d think would be bolt-ons to any random bicycle, but most bikes don’t have the right spaces to accept them.
    I ride it around town on errands. When there’s a little more money, I’ll get a fitting and replace the accidentally wrong stem, and it will be the brevet whip I meant it to be.
  3. The car lease was a mistake. I can’t afford it. I really wanted to go completely car-free, but the boys ended up going to school twelve miles away. It’s the cheapest monthly rate I could possibly find, on the cheapest car around, but I should have bought a beater outright and paid less for insurance. And the mileage limit is too low and the term is way too long. But we have reliable transportation, and the accidentally wrong lease will—eventually—expire.
  4. As for my old NYC landlords:
    The ones before these ones were powerful criminals. (No kidding. I spoke briefly with the NY District Attorney a year or two before they finally broke them up and put them out of business. It was in the news. Too late for us.) These ones…benefit of the doubt. Maybe just dishonest slimeballs. So they get my money and I cut my losses and move on. You can’t pull a victory out of everything.

NOW I HEAR the stairs creaking and crackling, so I’ll wrap it up. A new familiar sound in this new familiar life. And the light’s not as pretty in the kitchen. Rice and anime await, and noise and mess and bickering and comic books and piano and trombone and cello and cookie baking and fart jokes and farts. And, I’ll cop to it, the work I didn’t get done this week for, honestly, not any good-enough reason. The copper canisters and the orange stock pot are steadfastly cheery, and the red clock—it just ticks softly on, but soon I won’t hear it.






Filed under Being a grownup, Bicycling, Bikes, Cooking, Divorce, Family, Fatherhood, Food, Gender, Kids, Parenting


LAST NIGHT WALKING BACK from a special-treat dinner at a pharmacy counter, my eight-year-old scientist asked if rum, whiskey, wine, beer, alcohol, and scotch were all the same kind of alcohol. So I told him about it, and since he recently learned about percentages, I explained what a liquor’s proof number means. He sees me with a glass sometimes, but never drunk, for which his only references are Captain Haddock in TINTIN and the sentries Toshiro Mifune gets soused on sake before he kills them in SANJURO.

That led to a conversation about the stages of drunkenness, which led to revelation of the existence of alcohol poisoning, and how it works, which led to the contexts in which it’s most likely to happen, which led to teenagers, young adults, and parties.

Which led to silence as I tried to decide what to tell them, what would scare them, and what they’d misinterpret.

So I asked what would happen if they drank, and the scientist said he’d want to run around and act silly, and I said what if you drank more and kept drinking? And he guessed he’d want to punch people for no reason, and I said, you’d pass out. Then I had to clarify what “pass out” means and this whole time, I’m wondering how much he even gets anything I’m saying. So if you pass out, I asked, what can happen to you?

You could fall down. People can laugh at you.

Take your money, I said. Punch you in the face. Draw on you with permanent marker. So here’s what you need to know. And I thought, am I going all the way with this tonight? Are they ready for this? Can I make it general enough that it doesn’t freak them out? So here’s what you need to know. What if you’re with someone who passes out? Then people can do those things to them. So if you’re with someone who passes out, you should probably watch out for them, and make sure those things don’t happen. Especially if it’s a girl.

Well that’s okay, he said, because girls don’t like to drink alcohol.

Sure they do, I said. Some do, some don’t. Some of your ideas about boys and girls are—they can do all the same things.

OK, he said.

But if it’s a girl who passes out…if you’re ever at a party and a girl passes out, sometimes there can be boys who will want to do bad things to her and hurt her.

But why? Why would anyone do that?

Because they’re not good people.

But why?

Because they’re not good people. So if you’re ever at a party, and there’s a girl who passes out, you be the one who looks out for her and keeps her safe. Right? So—what would you do?

I would punch them in the face!

Well, uh—no, you don’t have to punch anybody in the face, just make sure she’s safe, and tell the other people to knock it off.

Tell them to knock it off! That’s like how a grownup talks.

Yeah. But you be the good guys. Right? You be the ones who don’t let her get hurt. Got it?

Got it.

And then over to the silent boy who’s been holding my other hand: You interested in this?

Not really.

But he’s the one who listens when you don’t think he’s listening, and who nurtures and protects every child on the playground, and who a father once swore he wanted to marry his little daughter after he championed her safety during some swingset contretemps, and who thinks he’s a superhero, and whose safety my heart clutches for the most when he gets his chance to stand the good stand against villains he doesn’t realize use actual fists and boots, and it’s Dad who told him to do it.



Filed under Being a grownup, Bravery, Family, Fatherhood, Favorite, Gender, Kids, Parenting


D.C.: Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?

Lloyd Dobler: ’Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.

Corey Flood: You’re not a guy.

Lloyd Dobler: I am.

Corey Flood: No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.

Say Anything (1989)



Guys can eat stuff out of jars with their fingers.

Which men can do too. It’s not a subtle skill.

But probably not while feeling pretty.


I WROTE LAST about the things my boys bring out in me. There are also things I’ve lost. The relentless grind of this parenthood has moved me away from connection to the beautiful and toward acceptance of the grimly resolute. I’m 44 and short on faeries and I’ll take rye, neat.

Because that’s what the man in my imagination takes. Bogart, maybe, at a gray wooden bar in sidelight. The day is hard, the night is bad.

I decided earlier this year that maybe that particular dramatic gesture, the pouring, the raising, the glass clonking the table, I decided maybe not being quite at my sharpest wasn’t worth the elaborate show business of the first sip. Because that show business—it’s eloquent. It’s Goddamn, what a day, and Keep it coming, barkeep, and I am a man of constant sorrow. The day’s final act of assertion, maybe its first and final act of flair.

It’s also more of those same faeries. They’re just in porkpie hats, behind curling smoke, jaws set, a gun on the bar. We tell ourselves stories about what life is and what we are; otherwise we can’t fathom any of it. It’s all too inexplicable. So we’ll take stories, neat, and if it’s not these stories, then it’ll be those stories. But neither idealism nor fatalism is reality. They’re both just romantic tales of the supernatural, only one’s in pastels and the other’s black and white.

The second sip of rye doesn’t have any of that romance. It’s just for getting drunker.

So maybe less of that.



Gender, there’s a good one.

You’re either male or you’re female.

Actually, that’s not a very good story. It’s not even a good children’s story. At least the child’s fallacy of good guys winning and bad guys losing will correct itself as the kid grows up and reads headlines. But this one? It’s just as misleading and it sticks. We’ve got two basic kinds of bodies, and we’re pretty visual as a species, and most of us seem to really want to feel like we understand reality and don’t want to put off drawing definitive conclusions until we actually know what we’re talking about. So the story that there are two simple genders and here’s how you can tell? Yeah, that sticks. Here’s a penis, here’s the color blue, here’s a fire truck.

Here’s me going, Yeah…okay… and thinking there are better stories, less simpleminded stories, but they don’t really catch on. We want what we’ve heard before, whether it’s the Young Hero who’s introduced at the beginning of Act I, the Old Sage who’s killed at the end of Act II, and the Passage Into Manhood at the end of Act III, or that all people born with vaginas naturally want people born with penises, or that a hammer and a Philips-head screwdriver are really all you need.

The fictions are convenient, for sure. Until you grow up and want something a little less inaccurate. Because you’ve seen the victorious bad guys, the stable gay couple, and the Allen bolt.


CHILDREN DESERVE THESE lies even less than we do. Here’s your Philips-head screwdriver, honey. It’s all you’ll need. I’m going to die now. Do your best.



Since I have no problems accepting there are men in women’s bodies, I guess I can accept there are lunkheads in men’s.

Here’s what you who can’t see in more than one dimension are missing:

You have a set of sliders in you. On a mixing board, they slide from soft to loud, or from bass to treble. In people, they slide from male to female, or from attracted-to-males to attracted-to-females.

Let’s just take those two.

In your case, guy, those two sliders are pegged all the way to the same side. You are ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MALE, and you are also ONE HUNDRED PERCENT ATTRACTED TO FEMALE.

If you thought both those things were controlled by the same slider, then your insightful-to-dense setting is also pegged.

As to what male means, or female means? It’s internal, isn’t it. We know how we feel. Forget all the arguments about male traits, female traits…aggression, nurturing…those all have sliders too, and they all get set independently. We’re not talking about that.

Inside, where only you can feel it, where’s your MALE/FEMALE slider? Mine’s edged more toward the male since I had kids.

I don’t think, so much, that I like it there. There’s stuff I miss.

So maybe less of that, too.


SOMEBODY AT Walker & Co., my publisher, once said she wondered about my three straight male characters actually being gay. Because they were “kind of soft.”

Parsing error. Two different sliders.

(And they’re not New Yorkers. They’re Angelenos. Totally different head, dude.)


HERE’S ANOTHER BAD assumption based on parsing errors: Male sexuality is less complicated than female.

Okay, I’ll take your word for it that some significant chunk of the male population has its physical and emotional libido sliders connected, so they behave as one.

But you take my word for this: It’s not universal. Sometimes when they hand out penises, they run more than one set of wires.


I’VE TRIED TO be attracted to men.

It doesn’t work.

That slider’s pegged. If you don’t think women are the most amazing playgrounds ever invented, I don’t understand you at all.


MEN LOVE GADGETS. Women have color sensibility. Boys like trucks. Girls like dolls.

Men want sex. Women want love.

Man does. Woman is.

Yeah, okay. Except for that last bullshit, there’s some hazy aggregate truth going on here. Maybe. I guess. I don’t know. I haven’t researched it because I don’t care. But I don’t care. I am enough exceptions, me, right here. I don’t need to go anywhere else to find out whether there are exceptions. I don’t even know what most of my sliders are, let alone where they’re set, and I frankly don’t think you do, either. You’re a huge mixing console with a hundred sliders set all different ways, some of them grouped and paired, some of them moving automatically back and forth, some big, some small, some overridden by MUTE buttons, some static, some dynamic.

And if you don’t think so—

Really? You’re less complicated than a mixing board?


YES, THIS, OR some better-refined version of it, is what I will tell my children when they’re ready. It has room for them to be what they are. Whatever that is.

Even if they’re guys.


Originally ran at my Journalscape blog.


Filed under Family, Favorite, Gender