I always felt like Germany cultivates a culture of intellectualism while America … well we like hamburgers.
Nowhere did I see this more than when my wife was pregnant.
When we were awaiting our second child – our son – my German friends began to act strange.
“We’re having a boy,” I would say.
“Oh,” my German friends would say with alarm. “Poor you.” Some hugged me as if to say: It’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this too.
I never had any idea what they were talking about. But they said it so openly, so confidently, that I couldn’t profess ignorance. The way they said it, it sounded like all of Germany knew having a boy was a bad thing. Except me. I started to wonder if Germany was the anti-China. Girls only, bitte.
I was afraid that my ignorance of the pitfalls of boys would reflect poorly on me. So I didn’t admit I didn’t understand. I just said, “I know, right?” And changed the subject.
But I was prepared for this reaction because it’s the way a certain kind of American and Brit reacts to news that you’re having a daughter, which we did, right before we had a son.
“A daughter, huh?” Americans would say shortly after meeting me and hearing I was expecting a daughter. “Poor you.” Unlike my German friends, they didn’t hug me.
But poor me.
The assumption here is that I would suffer as my little girl grew up and became a woman and started having boyfriends and – gasp – sex. As if your daughter enjoying a cornerstone of the human experience is the worst thing. Ever.
The implication is that fathers have to protect their daughters and make their choices for them, while teaching their sons to be strong humans capable of making all the good and bad decisions on their own.
You know: sexism. Yuck.
I prefer instead to teach both of my children to be strong, confident people capable of making both good and bad decisions, just like other humans. Though, to be honest, I hope they make a few fewer bad decisions than I did. Like not having Steak Frites on Kurfürstendamm after a bucket of popcorn at the French cinema. You lose your gall bladder with decisions like that.
And they probably should decide against seeing Hangover 2 (come on, you know you liked Hangover).
So, in a way, I was ready when suddenly my German friends started acting the same way about my soon-to-be son. Poor me. Except I had no idea what they were talking about.
It happened so often that I decided I had to stop faking as if I knew. When my German documentary filmmaker friend – a leftist intellectual with little equal – made the same statement, I dropped my guard.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him between bands at White Trash Fast Food. And then I told him the story about Americans and daughters. He was repulsed.
“Nothing like that,” he said. “The Freud thing.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
No idea what he meant.
Luckily my generation invented this thing called Google and when I got home I put in “Freud son father” and was horrified at what the Germans were warning me about. You see, it’s Oedipus. It’s always Oedipus with these Germans.
In order to fulfill his mother fantasy, Oedipus had to kill his father. Germans (and Freud and even Jung, I discovered) extrapolate this on to the human condition to mean that a boy can’t become a man until he replaces his father in the world. Germans were trying to warn me that my son would become a murderer. And me, a murder victim.
Either way, people shouldn’t be warning anybody about the sex of their baby, though a warning or two about babies as a species is certainly warranted. Anyone who’s ever had one – or shared an airplane with one – knows what I’m talking about.
Poor me indeed!