The other day I took my daughter to a performance of The Sound of Music. It was just the kind of outing that's supposed to elicit a beleaguered, sitcom-ready eye roll from the prototypical suburban dad. I should, according to custom, dread the "do-re-mi." I should prefer to be at home watching the play-offs, or out on an autumnal field tossing the pigskin back and forth with a few fellas from the office. But nothe quaint pleasures of the Von Trapp family were right up my cobblestoned alley. I like any task that keeps me from having to play golf, I'm bored to distraction by professional sports, and if there's anything I do dread, it's that moment when one of the Briefcase Bobs on the morning commuter train corners me with "So, did ya watch the game last night?"
Which means I'm screwed. Because I also have a son, and he, at 2, just might be the most jockish toddler on the block. We first noticed it during baseball season. One morning over breakfast, just as I grabbed the sports section of the newspaperin order to toss it into the recycling pileToby saw a photo of A-Rod swinging a bat. He reacted to this image the way Neanderthals probably reacted as they prepared to kill a mastodon. He pointed, hollered "AHT AHT AHT!" and started swinging his cereal spoon back and forth as if hitting a homer. I have no idea where he learned that gesture. Certainly not from his father.
By now Toby unleashes the primal "AHT AHT AHT" whenever we pass a football field, or a basketball court, or a fleet of Hells Angels gunning their Hogs up the expressway. He goes nuts over any activity that involves ripping, running, hitting, tackling, and crashing. While his sister has a fondness for Caillou, a nice cartoon boy on PBS who just might be the wimpiest character in the history of television, the only show Toby likes is Bigfoot Presents: Meteor and the Mighty Monster Trucks, a half-hour of loud, gargantuan vehicles racing around crushing shit.
Despite my own poetry-reading tendencies, I can't help but feel the instinctual surge of pride of a cave dweller who has spawned the tribal alpha male. On the other hand, I'm sort of freaked out. At this point in human history, male softness is commonplace, even virtuous. Dads engage in things that would've been viewed as risibly girly just a couple of decades agodoing yoga, watching Project Runway, trading recipes. For new 21st-century fathers, brined in years of Take Back the Night sensitivity training and political correctness, having a son can be a bit like finding yourself inside that classic scene from Animal House: You're the hippie on the staircase strumming a guitar and singing "I Gave My Love a Cherry," and your toddler is John Belushi, grabbing the guitar and smashing it to smithereens.