Monday, October 11, 2010

Beta Dad goes to war

I've found that when packing for twin toddlers, it doesn't make much difference whether you're going away for a weekend or a month.  You can fit three week's worth of onesies and rompers into a shopping bag, but it's the infrastructure you need for anything longer than a half-day excursion--the pack 'n' plays and booster seats--that can fill up a little econobox like our 13-year old hatchback before you even start thinking about whether to bring an extra pair of shoes for yourself.  And you can forget about taking your surfboard and wetsuit.  Also, just leave the banjo at home.  Nobody really wants to hear it anyway.
We went out of town over the weekend.  Not far--just about seventy miles from home, to a quaint little beach town where we and a group of friends had rented a creaky old house near the harbor.

The occasion for the trip was the yearly reunion of Dr. Mom's residency class.  Together, these twelve women had endured the three-year hazing process that's a prerequisite for practicing general medicine.  It was sheer coincidence that their class was made up entirely of women, and also that of the twelve women, four of them were Vietnamese-American.  In addition to the shared hell of residency,  these demographic flukes helped knit the ladies closely enough that they have felt compelled to reunite at least once a year in the seven years since they graduated from the program.

As the only husband or partner at this reunion, I was definitely the odd man out.  But my nanny services were required since all the ladies wanted to see our babies, and there was no way Dr. Mom could have wrangled them herself and still gotten to enjoy time with her friends.  I didn't protest though, because I like hanging out with this group or, when it gets too intensely gynocentric for comfort, ducking off to change a diaper while assiduously eavesdropping on them.

This reunion was special too, because one of their number was pregnant.  And a pregnancy in the group means a "blessingway" is in the offing.  And a blessingway means...well, I'm not exactly sure what it means because they sent me upstairs to blow up an air mattress while they were performing it.  Or more accurately, they asked if I could inflate the mattress at some point before bedtime, and I thought that the point at which they started burning sage was as good as any for me to make myself scarce.  I suspected--correctly, it turns out--that there would be some kind of sharing of feelings soon after that.  And sincerity makes me uneasy.  Also, I figured that the blessingway spell could have been broken by my manliness, especially clad as I was in camouflage, a paste of sweat and dust, and the fluids spilled on the field of battle.

You see, on Saturday morning, while the ladies were walking on the beach and discussing their hopes and fears, I had driven two hours into the desert to meet up with a bunch of guys and blast the shit out of each other with paintball guns. 

The paintball party was in honor of my brother-in-law's birthday, and I only knew about five of the twenty warriors at the beginning of the day.  By the end though, we shared a bond that can only come from fighting endless hours of pretend war shoulder to shoulder, relentlessly marching from one firefight to another, never resting except for a few breaks for pizza and Gatorade.

I would love to regale you with stories of derring-do on the battlefield, but it's just too soon.  With time though, and maybe some outpatient therapy, I may be able to talk about it with people who weren't in the shit.  Suffice it to say that we lost seven guys that day (they had to do stuff with their girlfriends in the afternoon), and no one left unscathed.  I myself have some sizable welts and two broken fingernails.  I may not play classical guitar for a week.

All gave some.  Some gave all.

After the war, some of us veterans had a reunion of our own, at a sports bar in the nearest town.  We toasted one another and talked about the strengths others had shown in battle.  Then we drifted into talking about the various relationships and projects we all had in civilian life.  Our hopes and fears, more or less.   

So as I sat upstairs in the beach house, hyperventilating into an air mattress and hoping the twins wouldn't wake up when the fire trucks came after the neighbors reported the stench of burning sage, I realized that the differences between these bonding rituals were more about scale than substance.

The ladies had been through three years of battles together, and would probably have a lifetime bond based on that experience.  We men had essentially distilled that process into the course of an adrenaline-and-welt-filled day, and opened up the opportunity for maybe two or three more beers together before we have to either do it again or just stop talking about it.

Of course, the artifacts of the two experiences do differ quite a bit.  Part of the pregnancy celebration tradition among Dr. Mom's residency sisters is that they all bring trinkets signifying something about their relationship with the guest of honor, and assemble them into a mobile, to be hung over the baby's crib.  We've got one in the closet nursery where the twins sleep, and here's a terrible picture of the ladies building the latest one:

The souvenirs that the fellas take home from the paintball, while perhaps not as permanent, are every bit as impressive.

That's not me, by the way; nor is it my handiwork, as much as I wish I could claim it.  But I saw it happen, and it was totally like a scene from "Saving Private Ryan."


  1. Two types of bonding...whatever works as I always say.... BTW when I worked in the schools one kid got hit in the eye w/a paintball...u think that welt looks bad.. this poor kid had to wear an eye patch for quite sometime...After that weekend experience I bet u and wifey feel renewed..

  2. Quite right to leave the banjo behind.

    However always take an ukulele....

  3. Kids, needy buggers with their gear. I can't walk down the driveway without a stroller, ten granola bars and a stack of diapers.

    This is fab-o! I love the peek into male-bonding, strange ritual that it is.

    And my favorite line is. . . "Suffice it to say that we lost seven guys that day (they had to do stuff with their girlfriends in the afternoon), and no one left unscathed. "

  4. Haha! Great juxtaposition of bonding rituals. I foresee you writing a novel soon: "War and Sage: An analysis of welts and trinkets"

  5. I've always thought I'd kick ass at paintball. I like to say that a lot, since I've never actually done it. So let me rephrase that: I'd go freakin' RAMBO on your ass if we ever played paintball.

    Now, it's important that we never actually play it.

  6. @jacksofbuxton was right about the uke, but so very wrong about the banjo. NEVER. LEAVE. the BANJO.

  7. Sounds like a good time! I have found myself in the situation where I am the only guy in the group many times, and I feel your pain. :D Always looking for an escape when things start to get too feminine. :D

  8. Perhaps you could hang mobiles of pictures of your assorted wounds as mobiles over their cots? Do you think the blessingway crowd would go for that?

    I'm only done a day's paintballing once. But it's fuelled a decade of Bruce Willis wannabe fantasies.

  9. Oh God, I am dreading the thought of traveling with even one baby. I am going to try to get by without any of the large items in my house, like the Pack 'n' Play and bouncy chairs and whatnot. I guess I will soon find out whether it is more convenient to have them or not.

    Interesting contrast of gendered bonding experiences! Before our baby arrives, I am encouraging my husband most weekends to go out with the guys and "do stuff you can't do along with a pregnant wife or a small child." Paintball would definitely fall into that category.

  10. Are you sure they were burning "sage?"

  11. I'm not sure what it says about me that I would MUCH prefer to shoot the crap out of people with paintballs. I'd even rather take the welts.

  12. I fall into the entire gyno-American category, because of that being how I was I born and all. I even have children and a husband. However the paintball and beer is MUCH more to my liking. Actually, it sounds like a blast. If I had to sit through the 'Burn some sage and cry' ceremony, I would most likely wish I had a paintball gun to shoot myself with.

  13. I was only ever good at paintball when I got to be the sniper. I'm not exactly fleet of foot, but I make one hell of a protector.

  14. Love your blog! I'm a stay at home dad with a blog too. Mine is about saltwater fishing and I have an article on there about taking kids fishing that may interest you. For when your girls are older :) You sound like an awesome dad , keep up the good work!

  15. Dude, that is one impressive hickey.

  16. @KBF--"renewed"? Hmmm...yeah, I guess. Also exhausted.

    @Jacks--I've seriously been meaning to pick up a uke.

    @Dr. C--It was hard *not* to write a book. There was so much stuff going on.

    @DiPi--I think you would be good at it, and I think we should definitely do it. Maybe we could have a 40-and-older dadblogger paintball war.

    @Ed--War is heck.

    @Dadwhowrites--I think a mobile with pictures of wounds would set the art world on its ear. I'm going to make one.

    @Genie--Paintball is definitely a testosterone builder.

    @dbs--Either sage or medical textbooks. Good thing the place we were staying in didn't have any smoke alarms.

    @Keely--I think that means you need to go back to finishing school.

    @That would be *so* dramatic to shoot yourself with a paintball gun in protest of lameness.

    @PJ--I should have tried sniping, but I just don't have the patience.

    @JM--Thanks. I'll check out the fishing article. I am not only the world's worst fisherman, but I'm also a jinx to anyone near me. But I'm still obsessed with catching a big fish one day.

    @Shannon--I know. The perils of male bonding.

  17. Hilarious! You are very very funny. Was it always like that or has your Beta Dad role added to the humour? I loved reading your blog - first time but certainly not the last. My husband was a househusband (as we call them here in NZ) while our kids were toddlers. He had a great time. One of his memorable experiences was at the coffee group with all the other mothers... Anyway, they were looking through a magazine featuring our very own supermodel Rachel Hunter. He couldn't understand why they scanned so quickly over the pages of Rachel wearing next to nothing! An interesting side effect of our daughter being fathered so fabulously was that she developed a very low voice! I suppose she ws role modelling on her dad. So remember to keep the high pitch stuff going every now and again! All the best with your fabulous journey!

  18. @Word Imp--Thanks! I've always cracked myself up, so I don't know how beta fatherhood has affected my sense of humor. I do know that the kids think I'm a comedic genius when I do things like make chicken noises or blink my eyes.

    @Trout--There were definitely some "friendly fire" incidents, but no one could prove they were fraggings. I got shot about three times in the ribcage by a Canadian who was on my team. But I don't think it counts as fragging if the guy getting shot is a buck private.

  19. I really like your blog. I am at the other end of the spectrum as my youngest of 4 kids is almost 17 years old. Fear not, sir. We are in the same age group. Those babies will be 17 before you know it.


  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  21. I would like to purchase the rights to this story and turn it into a blockbuster film starring Michael C. Hall and Ryan Reynolds. Call me.

    -O. Stone

  22. @O.Stone--I might be persuaded to sell the rights, but only if you cast Anthony Michael Hall and Burt Reynolds as the co-leads.

  23. I can personally attest that Betadad was the VERY LAST MAN standing at our paintball outing. He gave it his all, as only a daddy blogger can.

  24. I like contact Paint Ball with NERF bayonets. Good times. And might I add that I don't miss traveling with infants.

    Loved it when mine were young, but now is far easier.

  25. Paintball terrifies me. But I'm a big sissy.

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Loved it.

  26. I can FEEL that welt. I once went paintballing and got hit point blank in the arm. Pieces of plastic embedded themselves into my skin. I loved every minute.

  27. Jesus, you're the coolest husband ever.

    And that welt is pretty badass, well done.

  28. I liked to say I'm pretty kickass at paintball myself. I played my first game about a couple months ago.

    About ten minutes in, I was down on my knees behind the trees, nursing the "Owie!" on my thumb.

    Since then, I have vowed never to play again without some decent camouflage.

  29. As a female (and therefore more experienced in the sage burning than the war of the sages), I must admit to being envious of the simplicity of male bonding. Every woman enjoys the sharing and caring of their "circle of sisters" but the thought of being able to ... bond aggresively ... sounds like a dream to me. (Plus, you could get a good shot or two on said circle)

    I'm not sure if women are capable of that form of bonding without just getting pissed off at each other but either way, thanks for giving a new daydream.

  30. One more thing, Beta Dad, are you supposed to be Reynolds or Hall??


Don't hold back.


Related Posts with Thumbnails