Monday, June 26, 2006

Confessions of a dilettante

I'm the youngest of six, which made me something of a dilettante. I clearly remember my mother asking me, "Why don't you figure that out on your own?" To which I thought, "Why would I when I have seven bigger, older, smarter people around to give me the answer?" It seemed an efficient system to me. . .until they started moving out.

It really seemed to be a poor system when I was living on my own, with no one around to ask for the answers that I needed. I find, however, that they still provide me the help that I need when I really need it, even on tough questions like what to name the baby or whether or not to circumcise him.

On that latter topic, I've been engaged in a long discussion with Tony, in response to my earlier post that mentioned it, although I admit to slacking severely in my response to him. I have, however, been carrying on other conversations about it offline, getting input from, for example, Brother #2, who observed that "Greeks considered it mutilation of a perfect form" and that "Jews considered it a little piece of work that God left for humans to finish." But then, you can read about the history of circumcision yourself, as I did.

You can also read what far wittier writers have observed about it, including Dad_To_Be and loads of other dads in the circumcision forum at Brand New Dads. What is interesting to me is the vocal group--I don't know if they're a majority or minority--that takes circumcision so deadly seriously, as though there was a threat to their own foreskin. I find that these dads--perhaps there are moms chiming in, but I've only seen what appear to be dads--quickly take on a shrill and panicked tone, often spinning claims that are difficult to reliably document.

There are those who claim that circumcising a boy because that's how daddy is, or because it's the cultural norm where that child lives is a ridiculous justification for doing anything. Really? I wonder, how many parents in Lincoln, Nebraska

  • teach their kids to cook a Moroccan tajine?
  • veil their daughters?
  • tattoo their children, as the Maori do?
Not many, I should think. Most of what we do with our children is dictated and restricted by cultural norms and the behavior of us, the parents.

Honestly, sweethearts, hyperbole is so overused these days, and so often used to mask lies--"The Iraqis are going to be parachuting into Central Park at dawn, each with his own supply of anthrax dangling around his neck in a vial, along with some of Billy Bob Thornton's blood!"--that I just tune it out. That's unfortunate if any of those shrill dads are making valid claims, but it's not a new phenomena. It's akin to the old tale about the boy who cried "Wolf!" or the one about the dad who cried "All circumcised males are permanently emotionally and mentally damaged before they are 10 days old!"


Has anyone documented a significantly higher incidence of emotional and mental damage in circumcised males over uncut males? Across all cultures and times? Perhaps I missed that study.

I must say that Dad To Be inserted some wonderful humor, as well as a litany of slang terms for one's nadger, which made me immediately consider what he was saying more deeply than anything I've heard from others. The humor, that is, not the slang. Although, the size of his vocabulary is impressive. I felt like I was talking with someone, not being talked at by someone.

I also didn't feel any of the condemnation from Dad To Be that lies under the surface of some of the remarks made on the topic. There has even been some anti-Semitism in the more public debates
The mother testified Wednesday that she wanted the boy circumcised when he was a newborn, but her then-husband refused. She quoted him as saying at the time: "There is no way my son is going to be circumcised. He is not a Jew."
Comments like that have no place in the Bradstein household, nor should they anywhere else in the world. The husband might as well have said "He is not a Muslim." since they also practice circumcision, which would have been just as reprehensible. This debate seems to uncover the ugliness in some of us, including the tendency to crucify parents for their actions without trying to understand who those parents are. I hope that, behind their hot rhetoric, these people understand that each parent loves their child and is acting out of love for that child. To twist a phrase from Sting, I hope those parents love their children too.

It seems that rather than debating this, we could spend our time debating solutions to problems that affect all children (in the U.S., anyway), such as why public schools are declining in effectiveness, or why girls now perform significantly better in academics than boys do, or why we don't provide healthcare for all children. (Brother #2 suggested spending our time debating which way to hang the toilet paper--another question sure to be resolved in short order.)

The circumcision debate, however, seems never ending. For those of you who are waiting for me to reveal my decision to either circumcise 3B or not, I'm afraid that you will leave disappointed. One reason is because I haven't made a final decision one way or the other. I'm still considering.

The main reason, however, is that I will leave it up to 3B to determine who he does or doesn't tell. I don't believe that it's my place, even as his father, to announce that news to the world. This is my blog, but it's his life.


  1. Maybe you could leave it up to 3B? Yeah! He could grow up, read up on it, and then see if he wants part of his wee-wee chopped off? Ha ha... (For some reason, I imagine he won't go for it later in life. Something about pain?) I don't know much about this subject though (really, NOTHING) so I can't offer any advice. Good luck with that one! (Maybe we can have a discussion over dinner about it? HA.)

  2. Anonymous7:31 PM

    Great post. I pray for girls so we don't have to make that decision. So that means we will have boy triplets or something.

  3. Anonymous9:01 PM

    I am glad this is something that both ZD and I agree on and never has been a debate or even required much thought from either of us. Good luck on your decision.

  4. It's a huge decision really, because it is surgery after all. We chose not to circumsize because it seemed like an unnecessary painful experience and we didn't feel any big cultural or other impetus for it.

    About those anti-Semitic comments...I am Jewish by heritage, and from what I understand, that heritage is passed through the mother. But is Duncan now not Jewish because we didn't "make the covenant with God"? Can he love lox and bagels and my homemade chicken matzoh ball soup anyway?

  5. Yeah, DW, I meant to say that this is one decision that Mama has left to me, which is fine by me. I didn't want it to seem like I had just taken over the decision, but the post was already too freakin' long, so I left that bit out.

    Now the only one I might not agree with is myself.

  6. Betcha plenty of folks will end up knowing, even if you don't tell. You and Mama will not be the only ones to ever change a diaper, and if he's like a lot of boys he'll spend most of his second year finding every excuse he can to parade around in his altogether, and then he'll repeat that as a college sophomore. So it won't end up being any big secret.

    I'm pretty illiterate about the world of Islam, but I believe the traditional Muslim circumcision is done when the boy reaches the age of manhood, at the same time as a Catholic boy might go through confirmation or a Jewish boy might have a bar mitzvah. There's a signal difference between having it done to you when you're too young (arguably) to understand it, and electing to let someone do it to you at an age where that part of your body has begun to take on an entirely new, and quite powerful, set of meanings.

    Speaking of fun things you can do with your kid's stuff, have you got a stroller yet? And have you done the thing yet where about a half-hour before sunset you push the stroller around the park, empty, looking behind bushes and stone walls and suchlike, calling out quietly but urgently--trying not to attract attention--"Patrick! Patrick! The game is over! Patrick!" You have to be sure not to meet anybody else's eyes, or they'll offer to help and ask for all kinds of details.

    It's easier to do when you don't actually have any kids to look after, and I understand those days are about to end for you.

  7. Anonymous5:14 PM

    "There's a signal difference between [being circumcised] when you're too young to understand it, and electing [or choosing it]... at an age where that part of your body has begun to take on an entirely new, and quite powerful, set of meanings."

    So true. I know I'm in a minority (in America, at least), but I strongly feel that boys should be educated about it and then offered the option when they are old enough to reason it out for themselves (around puberty, plus or minus).

  8. Anonymous: How should they be educated about circumcision? Told the traditional Jewish reasons for it? The traditional Muslim reasons for it? Told the history of circumcision in the U.S.? And whose version of those stories--Orthodox or Reform? Shi'a or Sunni? Pro- or anti-circumcision history?

    And who would do this educating? Parents have ceded sex education to the schools, so I doubt that parents would do it, but I can't imagine this becoming a part of the standard curriculum in the...whatever grade it would fall into.

    And that brings up would you define that? Also, why puberty? If you're waiting for the boy or man to reason his way through the decision, why not wait until he's old enough to reason, say 18? Or perhaps 21?

    It seems like a simple solution, but it begets more questions than it answers. For me, anyway.