Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part 16, Conspiracy of silence

I remember years ago reading in the newspaper about how failing to speak frankly with the people around you could put you at risk for all kinds of health problems, heart disease, stroke, migraines, all sorts of things.

I said to myself, "This would explain why my dad's always been so healthy."

It's true. My dad holds back nothing. Nothing. My dad could teach classes at your local wellness center about How to Hold Nothing Back.

My parents split up when I was about six or seven, and my dad remarried many years later. That's how I ended up with a younger sister. Much younger. "Freakishly younger," as she likes to say. She was born when I was 23.

The first time I ever met my little sister was December, 1984. She was eight months old. I feel foolish admitting this now, but I was nervous about being around a baby. I'd never spent much time around babies. I'd never fed a baby. I'd never changed a diaper.

"You better study up before you meet that baby," I said to myself. I went to my local bookstore and picked up a copy of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. Yes, that Dr. Spock. The one all the parents read when I was a baby.

I read the whole book, cover to cover. Whatever that baby threw at me, I was going to be ready for it.

Even though it obviously wasn't relevant to my little sister, I was curious what Dr. Spock had to say about circumcision. Not much, as I recall. Here's what I remember as the gist of the circumcision passage: "In the first umpteen editions of this book, I recommended circumcision for boys. Now I don't believe there's any medical need for circumcision, so circumcise or don't. Up to you."

I wanted to slap Dr. Spock. I mean not literally slap him, the guy was about 92 years old at the time, but I was appalled at Dr. Spock's approach to circumcision. He made it sound like the decision to alter your child's genitals required about as much thought as picking out wallpaper for your kitchen.

In any event, I found the book informative overall, and I flew out to California, confident in my new found baby knowledge.

I have a large, extended family on my dad's side, lots of aunts and uncles and second cousins and that sort of thing. These people hadn't seen me for a while, so naturally, my dad and his new wife scheduled a family get together to coincide with my visit.

I had a great time with all the relatives. We made a gingerbread house. We put some Christmas music on the turntable. I sat under the Christmas tree making little castles with colored blocks. Then my little sister would knock them over. Then I'd make another castle.

I've found, as a rule, in any social gathering where a baby is present, the conversation will inevitably turn to child rearing, and this social gathering was no exception to that rule. At one point my dad started reflecting on the dramatic shifts in professional opinion that had occurred in the field of pediatrics since I'd been born.

"We used to put powder on the baby. Now they tell you don't put powder on the baby. We used to put lotion on the baby. Now they tell you don't put lotion on the baby. They used to tell you don't ever sleep in the bed with your baby. Let the baby take a nap all alone in the crib. Now they tell you lie down in the bed with the baby. It helps with the bonding. All these baby experts, they can't make up their minds about anything. They changed the rules for everything. Every rule you can think of, they changed it."

Then he held out his arm at me like Ed Sullivan introducing a troupe of Chinese plate spinners, and in a tone you would use if you were announcing a race horse he said "Circumcision!"

Nat King Cole glided into the second verse of "Little Town of Bethlehem" as I gazed out at a wide circle of speechless faces.

Of course, I was used to my dad, and I knew if I just sat quietly, somebody would ask for a recipe or offer to freshen Grandma's highball, and then a lively chatter would rise up to fill the awkward void.

That was the only time in my life my dad ever mentioned circumcision in my presence. Looking back, I'd say once was enough.

No, I mean that seriously. It was enough. He got his point across. He always does. He might trample over a few cherished social boundaries in the process, but my dad will always get his point across.

And I would bet that my dad's one-word indictment of circumcision was more than most dads of his era ever uttered on the subject. I think most parents of the Dr. Spock Age understood that belonging to American circumcision culture meant participating in a vast conspiracy of silence. It meant living in a Twilight Zone, where disfigurement seemed so normal nobody felt any need to talk about it. The less said the better. No need to cause any undue anxiety.

Well, if my dad taught me nothing else, he taught me that that kind of silence isn't good for your health.


  1. Wow, a link to a questionable Ugandan study from armouris. My blog has really arrived. I refer my readers to the appropriate page at

  2. I love this post! (Reminds me of my mother. We always say she doesn't get ulcers, she just causes them!!)

    As a wife of an intact male (he's British), mom of 3 intact boys, and RN attempting to make a difference in turning the tide of opinion towards the natural state of intactness... I love seeing the numbers of men finally willing to speak up about the wrong that was done to them. (I love it when it's fun to read, too!)

  3. Oh wow, Elisabeth, thank you. When I get a glowing, upbeat comment like yours, I think "This must be like when you're a female impersonator and somebody mistakes you for the real Cher."