Sunday, July 29, 2012

Young Man Blues

In many ways I’m not a nice guy. Ask Erika. She’s probably seen all the unpleasant facets by now. … … … Well, not all. I have been hiding one not-so-nice trait, though in my defense it’s only manifested very recently. See, I enjoy scaring people with my children. Particularly younger people.

We’ve lived in Logan Square for about five years now. Logan Square: the new whitebread baby-making center of Chicago. Frankly I get sick of the family vibe around here, and I have two kids.

I’m at least heartened by the fact that Ella and Archer — the Tomax and Xamot of the North Side — do a lot to shatter the lib-yuppie dream of sharing, caring, not swearing 21st century child rearing. My kids are high energy and often require a hardline response. I hear my dad’s South Side bark at times emanating from my lips. When I raise my voice at Palmer Park, the other whitebread parents stop and look at me. Whatever.

It's still a nice neighborhood. Saturday night we went to the latest installment of the local concert series — a beautiful sunset evening that mellowed into the high 70s. I do love seeing bands play in front of the Federal Column, or whatever it’s called, in the grassy turnaround island — the streets lined up perfectly at the south and north points, harkening to some great period of city planning now abandoned. I also dread, more than a little, that I have to spend the entire time keeping my charges from running into traffic.

If you’ve ever been to one of these things, you know that it’s about 70 percent people in their 30s — most with little kids — 20 percent single and coupled people in their 20s, and 10 percent all other ages. Saturday night there were even more small children than usual. They all weaved in and out among the parents and hipsters, laughing and screaming and resisting arrest. A free-range human chicken coop.

By the final band — an all-female indie pop act — I was pretty gassed. Archer, red faced and sweating, still didn’t stop. He climbed the stairs in front of the stage, slid down the stone ramps, pulled up weeds and chirped his loud chirps. I sat on the grass in front of one bank of PA speakers, the entire audience facing me. I wasn’t the only parent doing this, but I was maybe doing it with the most exasperation.

As Archer made continuous loops on the ramp, I became aware I was in the line of sight of a sizeable bloc of 20-something young men, lounging and drinking beer to the left of the stage. I knew exactly who they were looking at: the chick in the mini-skirt playing guitar right behind me. But in my perverse, not nice way I hoped that their eyes also drifted in one-millisecond shutter snaps to me: the older guy in a striped Linus shirt, a shell-shocked look in his eyes. The smile then came to my face. Yes, my young friends. Get a gander. Because this will be you someday.

Perhaps to someone looking in from the outside, they see me — running, yelling, disjointed, burying my face in my hands — as unhappy. I’m not. I’m fucking stressed out at times, but I’m not unhappy. Yet it’s this stressed-out aspect of parenthood that I like to accentuate in public settings, coupled with a screaming kid in my arms, to gently, sadistically frighten the young dudes out there. (My kids by themselves do a good job of frightening older people, just to cover that demographic.)

I was a 20-something dude once. I found the thought of having kids repugnant. Back then I would look at guys in my current position — some poor slob with half-shut eyes toting his papoose in a Baby Bjorn— and sneer. Idiot. Sucker. Drone. What’s this guy’s problem. He might as well be dead. Not me. No way. Never.

Then I met someone who took more of an interest in kids than all the other young people I'd ever known. My girlfriend, Erika, would talk to any baby or toddler in any restaurant, grocery line, post office or oil change place we went. At first I found this irritating. I’d roll my eyes, wait for her to finish, then go back to explaining why Michael Karoli never really got his due.

To make a long story short, I came around to Team Baby, and I eventually transformed from a critic to a believer in the great adventure — you know, Commitment — and all that it brings. It's not always easy, but it’s light years ahead of anything I’ve ever experienced before. All the records I bought in my 20s, shows I saw, beers I drank can never compare. Even that time I met Bob Bert.

This trip can definitely scare a man at a certain point in his life. And if he matures and it still isn’t for him, hey, I understand. It’s a deep biological imperative that secretly and powerfully guides all the phases of our lives, but humans have always had the ability to say no: to reproduction, to gender roles based on this, to wedding showers. I support anyone’s choice if it makes them happy.

But I know a lot of those guys at the show on Saturday will eventually feel the call and make the choice — pretty simple statistics. And like I did way back when, they’re already secretly grinding away in the back of their heads strange, unsettling new questions: Can I still get drunk on the weekend? Do I have to buy a minivan? Will my partner make a good parent? I once thought about all this too, only I was lucky enough to live with the biggest no-brainer mother-to-be in Chicago, so that was never an issue. It was more about the timing of the whole thing.

So why would I, now at 35, try to muddle some young man’s mind over this, perhaps the greatest decision he'll ever face? I told you. I’m not really a nice guy. Like all members of a “club,” I feel, falsely, a certain right to haze pledges. Do you have what it takes. Are you ready for this. Do you realize you’ll have to handle human shit, with your bare hands, more than once. I've felt the burn, and I guess I want people to know. Particularly guys in striped tank tops and boat shoes.

I don’t fault a young man for blanching in hesitation, much in the same way Tommies did when ordered to leave their trenches and fight. But if those dudes had peeled their eyes off that lady drummer for one second, they would’ve seen Archer James, finally tired, rest his little head on Dad’s shoulder in loving resignation.

In that sense, I know I'm actually trying to sell the whole trip, once you get past my dime-store sadism. I won’t pretend anything that happened to me Saturday night gave anyone any kind of hope for their own future. But I pray it at least made it apparent I wasn’t in hell.


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you had kids. Sex is icky. :D

Woundup Corp. said...

It is! I've been confused ever since I dropped out of divinity school.