The first t-shirt I put on looks fine. Only...a flock of doves forming a peace sign on a sky blue background? It's a little...hmm...soft. So I put on the brown one with the logo from my favorite Japanese comfort food restaurant, a little anime character eating noodles from a bowl with chopsticks. No problem. I've worn it nine thousand times before. But I still haven't been able to lose this baby weight; and even though the shirt doesn't really make me look fat, somehow it makes me feel fat. What I need is a black shirt. A loose-fitting black t-shirt makes me look tough. And Lord knows I need to look tough for my first encounter with the stay-at-home dads group. Unfortunately, my only clean black tee is a little snug and features the logo from Fiercetown Ace Hardware, the only place I know of where you can buy both a Skilsaw and a rainbow colored windsock.
When I first met up with the Asian Mommy group, I wore whatever gym shorts I had put on that morning. I didn't shower. I may or may not have brushed my teeth. I just put on a baseball cap and headed out the door. I wasn't trying to impress the Asian Mommies--maybe because there weren't any established expectations for a guy who joins a mommy group. But this is different.
I've showered and put some product in my hair. I didn't shave, but I did pluck a couple renegade strands from my eyebrows--because there's a fine line between calculatedly rumpled and completely disheveled. And that's the line I walk. Finally, I settle on a grey-green t-shirt with a set of headphones on it.
Due to impending rain, the playdate has been moved from the bar & grill with the outdoor play area to the group leader's house. This distresses me a bit, because I prefer to have initial meetings on neutral territory.
I pull up to the house, an impeccable craftsman bungalow in Yuppie Hills with a baby grand piano visible through the leaded glass front door. I put the customary dude host gift--a six-pack of decent beer--on Cobra's lap, and I haul the kids in their carseats up to the door.
The host is trim, fortyish, and immaculately coiffed.
"What a beautiful house," I say.
"Thanks. Come in, come in."
He takes the six pack and offers to carry one of the babies, but I tell him I've got it. The house smells vaguely of potpourri.
I hear familiar music--"I Will Survive"-- coming from...my pocket?
"Do you need to get that?" He says. It's my phone.
"Oh, yeah." I say "No, I mean. I don't need to get...that's just...it's this stupid new app I downloaded for my iPhone. It's called 'Gaydar'. It's supposed to...I mean...it's just a stupid..."
"Huh huh huh," he laughs. "No worries mate, no worries. I get that all the time. Afraid it's a false alarm though. I suppose it's because I'm British, eh wot?"
(The thing about the phone is entirely untrue. I don't really have an iPhone. But I'll bet you anything there's an app called "Gaydar.") (Yep. Just looked it up. Sure enough.)
Well, at least I know I'm more butch than one guy in the playgroup.
It could just be me, but I doubt it. I'm pretty sure that most men (consciously or not) size each other up based on whatever criteria they have for manliness, and present themselves in a way that will emphasize their own masculinity. (I would stipulate that this is less pronounced, or at least differently manifested, for gay guys; but not as much as you might think.) Since I don't have much aptitude for making money, and I'm not interested in watching sports, I have to subtly play up the modicum of machismo I do possess. As in this scene from yesterday's playdate. Observe the master at his craft:
Dad 1: Yeah, I'll be going back to work once this one's in kindergarten [jerks thumb in direction of boy child]. Can't wait to start managing those hedge funds again. Exciting times...it's gonna be a whole new ballgame now...
Dad 2: Speaking of ball games, did you catch the game last night? I can't believe they swept the series. And that homer by Ramirez? Holy crap!
Me: Did you say "hammer"? I have five nail guns in my garage, and I have names for each of them! You wanna see pictures? [continues doing curls with the carseats full of twins]. Twenty-eight...Twenty-nine...
Another way men display masculinity to one another is through shared disdain for their common enemy/prey, the female. Although I have nothing but love for all my sisters, I know what I need to do to fit in with the fellas. And sometimes that includes throwing the ladies under the bus.
Dad 1: [Swigs beer] This is great, guys. I told the women at our sign language class that we were heading to a dads group meeting where there would beer and they were all like, *gasp* not really?! Ha ha ha...
Dad 2: Ha ha ha....I know. This is totally worth coming all the way down here for. I really needed to be around some male energy. It seems like the only person I talk to about parenting is my mother-in-law. She's great, don't get me wrong, but...
Me: [Chugs beer, tosses bottle on floor] Word up, dawg!! [slaps Dad 2 on back.] Pimps up, hos down, my brotha! [extends arm, awaits fistbump] Pound it, cuz! [waits.]
Once I decisively establish dominance in the group, the tension dissolves and we commence doing what all yuppie liberal parents do: talking about cloth diapers, discussing Ominvore's Dilemma while eating meat-laden pizza, and sharing strategies for keeping our children out of public schools. Say what you will about the patriarchy; once everyone finds their place in it, no one has to waste time wondering how to behave.
An "objective" observer of yesterday's meeting might say, "You've got it all wrong, dickhead. Those were a bunch of nice guys, and all the posturing you 'observed' is completely imaginary, except perhaps in the case of yourself. It only took you five minutes to mention that you are a licensed contractor, even though that's really just a fraction of what you used to do for a living. And then you fault the other guys for talking about what they did before. You don't even know what a hedge fund is, asshole! And nobody talked about sports at all, at least not while you were within earshot. Furthermore, you thoroughly enjoyed yourself. It's just like that time you went on the New Year's Eve booze cruise and you were like, 'Oh great--trapped on the HMS Douche Bucket with 500 idiots and an eighties band that doesn't even realize that Brickhouse was recorded in 1977,' and then by midnight you're jumping up and down screaming the wrong lyrics to 1999 and hugging everyone in sight. And afterward you're all, 'Phht--that was a waste of money. I can't believe I let myself get roped into that.' Face it--your misanthropy is entirely theoretical. You would make friends at a Klan rally and then lie about it later."
And to that I would respond, "You were clearly at a different party than I was."