Making the cut


Ian Brown, a Globe and Mail journalist, and free lance writer, recently had a series of articles published in that paper about his experiences as the father of an extremely handicapped child. As he described it, his 11 year old son, Walker, has the mind of a one year old and the body of a seven year old. He requires tubes around his arms because he will hurt himself otherwise and every time Ian says goodbye he’s never sure if he will remember him. After years of near 24 hour care in the home and after searching for seven years, he finally found a home that could take him and give him the care he needs. Because his son has quite a rare condition, a cure is unlikely and fewer things are certain than with better known conditions.

What makes this such a good piece is that Brown manages to convey both his utter love and attachment to his son without sugarcoating either the amount of effort it takes to get through each day or without confronting the fact that he’s not sure it his son being alive is the best thing. Its a complicated situation and one that doesn’t seem to have a resolution.

I met Ian years ago and we ended up talking for a while. He came through town in 1994 with his new book Man Overboard: True Adventures with North American Men. Oddly enough my wife (now ex) was pregnant with my daughter as was his with his daughter (the older sister to the son). I had read his book, really liked it and we talked for a little about being expectant fathers. I think I mentioned to him that I had heard that expectant mothers tend to dream of babies while the fathers tend to dream of toddlers. I had had one dream, and I dream seldom, and it was of a girl walking beside me. And it was true, that for me, I never ever felt what many seem to, that babies are in some sort of perfect state and then they decline; for me, every year added made her better and better. (We are now in the beginning of the teenage years so this will be sorely tested I’m sure).

At any rate, Ian’s book was one of a few of the time about being a man in today’s world. I’ve found most every book like that rather inane except for his. His was, like these articles, a rounded open eyed look at how men were in the new world, and how in many ways you just were what you were. The move toward gender equality though characterized as a women’s movement, and certainly it had the most obvious effects there, could have been called a general genders shift toward the center. Despite the central figures, and actions taken, I think what really went on was a reflection of people changing rather than the world changing and us accommodating ourselves to it. (These are my thoughts, not Ian’s).


But you had all these books and while I read things like The Female Eunuch and found it moving, most of the books seemed ridiculously shallow to me. Ian’s wasn’t but it wasn’t;t trying to be a tome or a prescription but a description of the way things were. After that I read the Beauty Myth which I felt started each chapter brilliantly and then just flew off with some unsubstantiated claim, as well as a little too much conspiracy talk. Catherine McKinnon was basically insane, and when you had to deal with people like Andrea Dworkin who proclaimed that intercourse was rape, period, one wondered if there were any writers who got it at all. The men were all banging drums and getting in touch with their inner warriors, and thank god the drums are gone (they are, aren’t they?) and we can back to being humans instead.

So anyway where I was going with this was that out of this arose the most insane movement of all, and I may even get a comment supporting this, the foreskin reattachment movement. Men had been sexually mutilated, traumatized and belittled and we had a right to get that little piece of flesh back, to reclaim our birthright. I thought it was nuts then and I still think it insane.

I will agree that its probably not that pleasant but you get over things. The great thing about being young is that you can survive and forget almost anything. You heal, that’s what you do. Now I’m glad I did not have to make that decision as I just have the daughter but I was leaning toward circumcision. It was an aesthetic choice for me.

I’m circumcised, and I have always found anything else to look bizarre. Mine came through my parent’s thinking that it was healthier and now it seems as though the current evidence supports their decision with lower incidents of penile cancer, sexually transmitted disease and fewer urinary tract infections. But ultimately, it was what I found to be normal. If I was uncircumcised I’m sure the opposite would be true. But you are what you are.

What really bothers me about this is that these people are trying to turn me into a victim. And though raising political consciousness is important I really cannot consider myself oppressed or disadvantaged. You move forward if you have half a brain; what’s done is done. And Ian’s article was not about his son as a victim, or himself as a victim, it was just about a father and son and the way they managed to function under very difficult circumstances.

But what I found really ironic about the circumcision debate was that men were saying that they lost up to 80% of the sensation through this procedure. And on the other side of the table you have complaints of premature ejaculation. Hmmmm.

I hate to think of the effect that 80% might have had on my sex life. For one thing I can’t imagine feeling much more (longer maybe but not more). There would have been a lot less mutual satisfaction going on I think. I kind of think sex is like going out to a restaurant. It’s great if you both get to eat; you both pay the bill and everyone is happy. Sometimes only one person gets to eat though you both still have to pay. Now I don’t know about you but its a lot easier for me to watch someone enjoying her food than to have the full stomach while they go hungry.

(And you should thank me for not putting up the images I found regarding circumcision and reattachment; and that helpful google image hint of “also try: female circumcision”. No thanks.)

5 comments on “Making the cut

  1. It really is a very interesting debate. I have two sons, and so, we did have to make that decision. I didn’t have strong feelings about aesthetics… to me, one way does not look better than the other — it’s all in what you’re used to. I spoke to my family doctor, and the obstetrician, and their feeling was that there is no conclusive evidence that it’s better to be circumcized. They also didn’t feel that it was ultimately traumatic to be circumcized. They said that it came down to whether we had strong feelings one way or the other. And that, if we didn’t, why do it? That was our decision, finally — we didn’t see any need for it, so we didn’t have it done.

    I agree with you that the hysteria over the idea of being ‘mutilated’ is silly. Also, I’ve been with many men who were circumcized… and have had no complaints about lack of sensation. 🙂 I suppose my sons could have it done later in life (yuck!) if it was really important to them, aesthetically speaking.

  2. I should have been clearer. When I said aesthetic I simply meant my own and nothing universal. More a case of what you are used to.

  3. I too am glad the drums are gone. I had a very nice sweet coworker try and press a Robert Bly book on me once. I want to like Bly — had a writing prof in Minnesota once who emphasized his early stuff — but never ID’d with his pain or oppression or victimhod or whatever.

    (I guess, so long as a I have beer and baseball so I can holler and have a good time with friends, I don’t particularly a drum.)

    And re Dworkin, too — yeah, sheesh. Wasn’t it KD Lang who once said “sometimes it’s a little bit fun, being oppressed”? I thought Dowrkin milked victimhood for all it was worth.

  4. yeah, the circumcision debate is odd. Another great idea out of the Old Testament that was useful for the time and is now quant. To be honest, an uncircumcised guy can roll it back and keep it on the downlow, if you know what I mean. So like I said, not a big deal. Now, female circumcision on the other hand…

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