"You surely notice," I tell my wife, "how serene I am about Manly Little Maxwell."
We just had a new baby. Well, technically, our daughter-in-law just had a new baby. Our first grandson. A little boy baby.
Maxwell James Satterfieldthat's his manly little namechecked in at Ft. Collins last week, seven pounds thirteen ounces, ten fingers, ten toes, all the requisite plumbing.
When he cried over the phone for us, his voice was deeply masculine.
"Now that you mention it," my wife says, "you haven't been talking to strangers in checkout lines the way you did when the little girls were born."
We have two little granddaughters too, Lovely Little Leslie Jo and Mari the Marvelous. They were little girl babies.
"It's because of the gravity," I say.
"Gravity?" she says. "Your extra weight makes it harder to get through checkout lines?"
"The gravity of a grandson," I say. "A grandfather has to be serious about a grandson, especially one who carries on the family name. Especially when the grandson is the first son of a first son of a first son. We're talking dynasty here. We're talking crown prince, heir apparent. It's heavy stuff."
"So what are you going to do?" she says. "Take him to your office, show him your yellow lecture notes, and say 'Someday, m'boy, all this will be yours'? The song says 'You can have fun with a son but you gotta be a father to a girl.' "
"Only in musical comedies," I say. "In real life, you don't joke around about male heirs. Listen to this: Leander James begat William James and William James begat LeRoy James and LeRoy James begat Leon James and Leon James begat Wade James and Wade James begat Maxwell James. You don't see any jokes there, do you?"
"Is that a trick question?" she says. "All that begetting and no women?"
"The thing is," I say, "I'm not sure what to do when we first meet Manly Little Maxwell. Do I shake his hand? Punch him on the shoulder? Give him a wedgie?"
"Why don't you just chuck him under the chin and say 'Hey there. Hey'?" she says. "That's what you do every time you see Leslie Jo and Mari."
"They're little girls," I say. "I can't chuck Manly Little Maxwell under the chin."
"I don't think I want to know," she says, "but why not?"
"Because," I say, "He's a little boy baby."
I begin to sweat a little. Patriarchy can be heavy lifting.
"Yes," she says. "He is. So?"
"Well, you certainly can't treat a little boy baby the way you treat little girl babies," I say. I'm sweating profusely now and I cross my legs.
"Is your Gender Insecurity Syndrome acting up again?" she says. "You're sweating profusely and you just crossed your legs."
"Look," I say, talking louder, "everybody knows you have to treat little boy babies different from little girl babies or they'll grow upyou knowthey'll grow up funny."
The Truth, Mainly
"Funny?" she says, rolling her eyes. "They'll grow up funny?"
"You know what I mean," I say. "Don't act like you don't know what I mean."
"What do you mean?" she says.
"I mean pink blankets for girls and blue blankets for boys," I say. "You put a blue blanket on a little girl baby or a pink blanket on a little boy baby, they'll grow up funny. You think it's just an accident the boy babies in the maternity ward have blue blankets and the girl babies have pink ones? Nurses know what's going on."
She looks at me a long time. She shakes her head.
"Don't shake your head at me," I say. "The future of the dynasty may depend on whether he grows up funny."
"O Lord," she says. "Funny how? What kind of funny do you mean?"
"You know good and by golly well what kind of funny I mean," I say. "Put a boy baby under a pink blanket and next thing you know he's wearing lipstick and wanting a girl's bike. Keep him under there long enough, his plumbing seizes up and he'll never beget anything."
I recross my legs to show her I really mean it and I'm not kidding. She sighs and looks out the window.
"I hope it's not genetic," she says. "I hope the male pattern stupidity gene is recessive."
"Stick to the subject," I say. "Don't you even care if he grows up funny?"
"He's a sweet little boy," she says, "just like his daddy was, and when I see him I'm going to chuck him under the chin and say 'Hey. Hey there.' You can like it or lump it."
Sweat's in my eyes now. My legs are cramping up from being crossed. I feel funny.
"T. H. Huxley said 'A man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather,'" she says. "I hope he knew what he was talking about."
I try to speak in defense of patriarchy, of begetting, and of apes for grandfathers.
"Ooga," I say, thumping my chest and feeling suddenly long armed and hairy. "Ooga, ooga, booga."
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage meaning from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.