The Birds & the Bees & the Dogs

in Culture by

This column first appeared on Latino Rebels

It’s nearly impossible to get my stepdaughter out of bed before noon. It’s just not happening.

You can’t even tempt her with food, cuz she’ll just tell you to bring her back something, either avocado toast or buffalo chicken strips, or a fried chicken sandwich, with ranch—depending on whether she’s dieting that day or not. And even when you bring back her order, she’ll just come downstairs and carry it back to her bed, the cat strutting right behind her too.

We told her to get up early this past Saturday—we’re talking nineish—so that she could come with us on our weekly walk through Sunset Park. It’s mostly for our little mutt, but it’s become an integral, de-stressing part of our week, my wife and I. A nice long walk through this big-ass park with a big pond and baseball diamonds, trees and big fields, hills, a little hidden area with this little building with a porch, the best kids’ playground you’ve ever seen, with sprinklers, and there’s the sand volleyball pits, soccer fields, basketball courts, people playing frisbee golf, people walking their dogs or the baby, coyotes and jackrabbits back among the dunes, another area with a brook running through it. It’s all pretty badass. And then afterward we’d go catch breakfast at this Honduran place I like, Rincón Catracho.

But come 9 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, my stepdaughter wasn’t having any of it. I barged into her room singing and telling her to get up, but she just stayed buried under the covers not moving, her cat meowing me to shut up and go away.

Then I mentioned to her how I wanted to swing by Dick’s later to check out their new spring gear—#ThreeStripeLife—and she perked up real quick, and poked her head out from under the covers, smiling.

Besides maybe a fire, shopping is the only way to get my stepdaughter out of bed in the morning.

So after the park we were driving to the Honduran spot, to eat before shopping so we could walk off the meal at the same time, when my stepdaughter asks her mom if she was a virgin when she met the baby daddy.

I remember I was driving into the tunnel under the airport and my wife and I shot a nervous glance at each other, not physically but spiritually.

“Why do you wanna know?”

“I’m just curious.”

“Well, yeah I was.”

And then my stepdaughter asks my wife: “How many bodies do you got?”

I understood what she meant before I’d heard what she said. But when I heard what she said, it was as if I hadn’t understood it.

Bodies?”

Guess I’m getting old, or becoming a square, which aren’t necessarily the same thing.

I’m not going to tell you what my wife said, but when the girl asked me, I just raised the volume on the stereo. Not that I’m ashamed of my number, I don’t think. My shame isn’t general, only specific—I was ashamed to tell her my number.

There are only three women whose opinions matter to a man: the one that made him, the one that chose him, and the one he’s raising. All the rest don’t matter, Grandma and Sis included. Your grandma’s opinion doesn’t matter much cuz she’s old and out of touch, and your sister’s don’t matter cuz what does she know anyway?

I care very much what my stepdaughter thinks of me, though. I want her to be proud of me, but mostly I want her to think I’m a good man, and good for her mom. I’m pretty sure she thinks those things about me already, but I have my doubts at times. Maybe that’s just my own crap, but who knows—not knowing is the problem.

But seeing as it was just International Women’s Day, and that it’s Women’s History Month, I guess I’ll tell you what I wish I would’ve told my stepdaughter when she asked about my bodies

She’s a smart kid, my stepdaughter. Kind. Perceptive. Intuitive. Sensitive, in the good way. She still feels deeply about things, even with this ever-intensifying batshit war for our souls. And so I hope she never crosses paths with a boy like the one I used to be, whose skeleton is buried in my closet with all the others.

I hope she falls in love with someone, whatever their sex or gender, who has a lot of her same qualities, if only more streetwise, for the sake of everyone involved—I know it’d give me more peace of mind if she were with someone who’s been around a bit and knows what time it is. Plus someone with drive, passion, what the French call “joy of life.” Someone who lives alive. Someone who likes to catch the morning, and greet the new day singing.

I hope she never gets her heart broken. But then again, that’s like watching your kid get sent off to war and hoping they never see hardship. What’s a war without hardship? Without pain and tears? And love is war, the oldest kind of war, only the good kind of war, a war between two souls. There’s still pain and tears, but it’s the pain and tears that come with shedding the child we were and growing into the person that’s in us to be.

Then again, I’m sure they say the same thing about joining the Marines. So maybe love and war are just two sides of the same coin.

There are a lot of good boys out there, but a lot of bad ones, too. And a lot of them lie like dogs, the good and the bad ones alike.

The bad ones lie, of course, because they just don’t give a shit. And the good ones lie, a lot of them, cuz they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

A lot of girls are insecure, too, or at least super sensitive in some ways. So when dating one of these girls, some good guys learn to lie about certain things, like how she looks in an outfit, or whether he thinks some other girl is pretty. At the end of the day he loves her, so it doesn’t matter to him how she looks in whatever outfit or if what’s her face is pretty. So rather than hurt her feelings, or trigger her insecurity, he’ll learn to say she’s beautiful in anything she wears and that every other girl is never pretty, or only pretty at most.

Some men never lie, I’ve heard, but a lot of women never fall in love with that kind of man. Not that women don’t value honesty, cuz they do. But the heart wants what it wants, and that doesn’t always match up with what the mind thinks is right.

And then we have the body wanting what it wants, too.

So between those three warring voices—mind, heart, body—the mind is outnumbered. It hardly stands a chance.

Love involves all three. Love is an agreement between all three voices, the three parts of every human being: “mind, body, and”—we know the rest.

I didn’t want my stepdaughter to know my number because I don’t want her thinking I’m a bad guy, a low-down dirty mangy shameless dog. Because a man doesn’t get to my number by being a pure and upstanding person.

Believe me, I tried the honesty route in my bachelor days, and sometimes I made a new friend. But most of the time the lady let it be known that all of my honesty was spoiling my chances with her. If only I were more careful in what I revealed to her, I’d get what I was after.

Facing our weaknesses first takes knowing what they are to begin with, which takes knowing who we are. And getting to know ourselves takes time. My stepdaughter’s only 16, going on 17—she just started getting to know herself. So she doesn’t know her blind spots, or how to tell whether her heart’s being crazy or her mind’s being chickenshit.

(The body is the only honest one, but honestly stupid.)

How do you prepare someone for war, or love? You teach him or her some basic virtues, I guess. Like fortitude. And courage. How to respond in certain situations, under certain conditions. Then you send them out.

But there’s really no preparing them for the real thing, is there? You can’t be sure who or what exactly they’re going to encounter, and where or when? A lot of it’s just luck, really, both war and love. You’re simply in the right place at the right time, or you’re another casualty.

Another statistic.

That’s the thing about love, the thing about war and even life itself. All we can do, my wife and I, is prepare my stepdaughter in every way a person can be prepared: mind, body, and soul. Because she will be tested out there.

She’s already being tested now in our house, thanks to technology allowing the world to intrude into our inner sanctum, making our home base feel more like a FOB. We’re under constant bombardment daily, from social media and the news media and pop culture.

Plus there’s what’s really going on all around us, not just the local evildoing but the melting ice caps and rising sea levels, the steady ruination of the planet, a global pandemic and economic recession, politics of the absurd, lies lies lies, lies on tap, and widespread anger and hatred.

The war for our souls, and everything else.

And yet, amidst all this chaos, this constant unraveling and spinning out of control, I hope my stepdaughter falls in love, and that it’s real love. The kind of love where both people grow and get stronger together. Mind, body and soul.

She’ll need it.

I have faith in her, and I always will. But I wish her all the luck in the world.

Cuz she’ll need that, too.

Hector is the editor of MANO. He's also the host of Latinish and Hits from the Brain. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's a former deputy editor of Latino Rebels, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, TIME and other outlets, and his writing was featured in Ricanstruction, a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Hector studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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