A coworker came to me yesterday with a question I wasn’t expecting. He asked if my kids had ever seen me naked. Apparently, he had just finished toweling off that morning when his toddler appeared to take him in, in all his glory.
“She pointed at it,” he said.
“That happens,” I said.
“I thought she was going to grab it.”
“That’s not an irrational fear.”
“No shit.” He sounded dejected. I could only offer comfort.
But the truth is that I didn’t give him the comfort he really needed, so I hope this post goes a ways towards making amends.
My children have seen me naked more times than I’m really ready to admit to. They’ve seen me naked and wet, naked and dry, naked and clean and naked and dirty. I’ve locked the door to no avail. They’re problem solvers and tool users, like crows or chimps, and a cheap door lock is no match for a determined kid with a paper clip.
I’ve shouted and stomped, screamed and ran. They find it hilarious, not shameful, not scary, not wrong that I was wiggling parts at them that no one but me or my wife want to see, and my wife doesn’t really want to see them anyway. Where is the guilt, the Biblical detest written of in the book of Genesis? Where is my personal proxy for the forbidden fruit?
I think we should step back, perhaps, because I’m getting emotional and overblown, and consider some context. The question I’m going to pose is unorthodox, but I’m curious:
Do you remember what your father’s shit smelled like?
If you said no, I feel like I should either offer my condolences on never having met your father, or call you out as a fucking liar. Because if you had a dad, and he did indeed shit at your house, then you remember.
My father was a proponent of the four S’s: shit, shave, shower, shampoo, typically in that order. On Saturday mornings my parent’s bathroom smelled like someone had just whipped up a shit, Brut, and Barbasol smoothie.
It’s what I imagine Hell smells like.
It also provided a kind of psychic barbed wire, an invisible fence of disgust as effective as anything the engineers of super-max prisons design, and it taught me to equate the adult body with the fire and brimstone it was meant to evoke in the very young.
My kids waltz in to ask me questions right in the middle of the evacuation. They exhibit no outward signs of disgust; they barely register the act. Their need is tantamount. I am simply sitting, as if I were in the living room. At one point last week, they were all there, surrounding me mid-shit, asking me questions like I was Santa Claus or a benign uncle and not their father, their father who at that exact moment was as filthy as he had been all that day.
Showers are an even sketchier affair. I used to enjoy the shower, taking my time, singing, letting the water run over me like a baptism. Now I run through the spray like a Navy SEAL, barely getting wet, barely even waiting for the water to warm. I know they’re out there, separated from me by a plank of flimsy pine and a cheap doorknob. I’ve tried to lock the bedroom and bathroom door, but our bedroom has only a sliding latch because our bedroom is the only room in the house without a doorknob that locks (in a cruel ironic twist), and throwing the slide leaves my wife with no escape. I’ve got to think of her, because if they get her, then I am alone.
Now, at this point, if I were an objective observer, I would point out two obvious solutions: the subject in question could either change the offensive behavior or change the situation. In other words, I could convince my children, through words and acts, that their behavior is inappropriate and will no longer be tolerated. I am a thirty-five-year-old man, and thirty-five-year-old-men should be allowed the freedom of naked time or poopy time without dealing with children. Or I could change the locks and doors in my house so no one can get in.
The second option is not really an option. I have children, and they are by nature furtive, careless, destructive beings and I need to get into the bathroom when they’re in the bathroom because they are probably fucking up my bathroom. If they’re naked I don’t care. They’re my kids and ALLOWED to see them naked. I met them naked, and until they’re old enough to have the requisite parts that come with embarrassment and shame or the requisite habits that engender the same I am entitled to check on them. Many would say that I am duty-bound.
And as far as the first option: are my children really so dense that they don’t realize that seeing me naked is just fucking wrong? Aren’t we all children of Adam and Eve? Didn’t I read in the Bible that when they bit into the apple or pear or pomegranate or whatever it was they immediately got embarrassed and headed for the bushes? Are my children such heathens that they cannot understand that when I am naked it is inappropriate to stand so close to me that if I were to turn around I could slap them in the face with my tallywhacker? Isn’t that terrifying?
Because that’s the real horror, isn’t it? It’s not really them seeing me naked that scares me, it’s that kids have no boundaries. These are beings, after all, that put shit in their mouth out of curiosity, and I don’t mean “shit” as a euphemism.
This morning I stepped out of the shower and my son was there, blocking my way. He was close enough to shank me, a four-year-old assassin. Not even my scream could faze him.
My wife doesn’t seem to have these kinds of problems. She’s naked all the time and the kids never seem to bother her. Maybe I’m too self-involved to notice.
In addition, my kids don’t seem to bother each other when they’re naked. Maybe it’s because they’re naked a lot. They find their nakedness both glorious and hilarious. It’s probably healthy, but they can abuse it and do. Last night I found my son dancing to Lil Wayne, buck naked and standing on our kitchen table. This probably says more about my incompetence as a father, and it was wrong in so many ways (Lil Wayne? Really? The kitchen table? Seriously?), but the main thing to report was that my son, naked except for tube socks, seemed completely at peace with himself. He wasn’t even being exhibitionist about it. It’s reasonable to assume that he would’ve done the same thing had he been alone.
My wife and kids still bathe together. I find this incomprehensible. And my wife welcomes it. I don’t imagine she’s going to continue the practice when they’re in high school or anything, but it’s still a viable option come bath time. There’s definitely a double standard, and I think it has to do with the basic structure and engineering of our privates. She’s sleek and compact while I’m, well, not. They’re out there, and putting myself in a situation where there’s nothing between them and my kids is absolute fucking lunacy.
I’ve taken one bath with one of my kids. It was on vacation, in a hotel after the beach, to get all the sand off of us. I still wore my trunks.
I have showered with my son, and that’s an absolute nightmare. He comes to about mid-thigh on me, or as I like to put it, “prime tea-bagging height.” It’s odd how little space your dick and balls really take up on your body if viewed objectively, but they seem gargantuan and ever-present when there’s the very real risk that a naked, wet, four-year old boy is going to get a face full of them. If I turn my back it’s even worse: now it’s nose-to-butt-crack action. It’s hopeless.
This is really a problem I’ve always had, I guess. My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder doesn’t really help, nor my propensity to use shame and self-flagellation as driving factors in most of my decisions regarding right and wrong. I can’t use washcloths that have been used by other people, or towels. When I was young it got so bad that I would wipe down the toilet seat with moist towelettes before I sat, not because I worried about disease, but because I couldn’t stand the thought that my sister’s sloughed-off ass skin, even on a cellular level, would stick to my ass skin.
So perhaps the problem is me. Maybe I’m too uptight. Maybe it’s that distress that my kids feed off of. Maybe I am the forbidden fruit, and if I just loosened up a bit it wouldn’t be such a big deal. The very living arrangement we, as humans, have decided upon as ideal, that of the nuclear-family unit, lends itself to a certain messiness. We have decided that we as a race are OK sharing the spaces we live and die, fuck and fart, shit, shower, shave, and shampoo with those we love. Shame is useless and counterproductive and maybe even deforming.
It’s tempting to believe, but I’m still uncomfortable showing off my apples or pears or pomegranates to just anyone.
So, I hope this helps my colleague, who seemed so distressed. Do as I say, not as I do, unnamed colleague (Drew, to his friends)!
Or buy a deadbolt for your bathroom door.