Watching Gene Kelly on a Tuesday Afternoon

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, September 19, 2007 | , ,

Sometimes when the wife gets home and takes over the parenting reigns I go down into the basement and watch an old movie and work on my art crap. I'll put on something with Cary Grant or Gary Cooper or Steve McQueen just so I can remember what it looks like to be a man. Such a manly act itself, I know, hiding in the basement from a child, holding a paintbrush. Distracted from what I am trying to make or do by all the celluloid masculinity, I just slip further and further into self loathing over what I've let myself become. I recently read a biography of Robert Capa, all the time not feeling swarthy enough, or drunk enough to call myself a real man. It takes a real man to treat Ingrid Bergman like shit, I figure, and not just Bogie-with-a-broken-heart shit, but actual real-life shit. What a man, that Robert Capa. Stormed the beaches at Normandy with nothing to fire but a Leica. The other day I was sitting on the floor playing with my daughter and my niece, singing some made-up song about pigs and I heard my mother sarcastically say across the room: "Yep, that's my son. I'm so proud." Then I heard my grandfather ask, "Is he even doing any legal work at all?"

When we picked up the dog after he was neutered, his nutsack looked like a deflated balloon you find under the couch a week after you let it shoot its way across the room. That's how it felt to hear my family talk of me that way. Balloon-sack boy. Watching the dog walk away from me then, I understood the appeal of neuticals. As far as I know they make no testicular implants for stay-at-home dads, those men suffering from too many months of ring around the rosy duets and dinner checks snatched away by paycheck-wielding wives. Occasionally after work I'll put in a DVD with Gene Kelly, because sometimes the only cure for feeling like less of a man is to watch another man dance. I understand why woman fall for men who dance, even those without the Baryshnicrotch. To dance is to fully embrace one's vulnerability. In the same way, I understand why my wife might have fallen for a man capable of the breathtaking displays of sentimentality I cough up here on a regular basis. As sappy as this man can be, and as much as he finds himself outmaneuvered day in and day out by someone under 36 inches tall (to the point where he feels more nervous about her going to school in the morning than he ever did about an upcoming performance in federal court), damn it at least he can say he's never sang a song while tap dancing and wearing a straw hat. But if anyone were to tell you he's painstakingly taught his daughter the entire choreography to Feist's 1,2,3,4 video, tell that lying motherfucker to stop peeking in my goddamn windows.

My mom saves clippings from the Announcements section of the local paper to tell me what the people I went to high school with are doing with their lives when they announce their engagements. So-and-so is an architect in Manhattan. He went to Yale. That kid you used to make fun of all the time is a vascular surgeon in Boston. She never saves the ones of the guys who work at the paint store. I know she's just being a parent, trying to get under my skin, insinuating that none of them are stay-at-home dads, that they're all doing something with their lives, and, in turn, that I'm not. This bothers me less than she thinks. These guys are just getting married now. In a few years, their wives will get knocked up, and they themselves will get kneecapped by this whole parenting thing. That is, if they're lucky.

Yesterday morning she walked right into her preschool class without a tear. All afternoon, after school, she sang new songs I've never heard. "Teach that song to me," I said, and we sang together. I thought about Gary Cooper. Steve McQueen. Robert Capa.

Fucking pussies.