The Legend Begins
Picture it; Concord, NH, 1978. The most beautiful baby boy ever was born, at least in my Mom’s telling of the tale. She divorced my biological father something like 10 minutes later and we moved back home to Maine. We stayed with my grandmother, Nana. Nana babysat me while Mom went to work. Already the all-female influence had begun. When Mom re-married, and I was adopted by Dad, the struggles began. In a story oft-retold at family gatherings, there was discussion as to how to potty train me. Dad insisted I “shake it off” when I was done peeing in the potty, while Mom wanted me to “dab it with some toilet paper.” Ugh. In case it needs sharing, Dad won. Don’t tell Mom. Dad worked out of town on construction jobs for much of my formidable youth, so I was left home with Mom. When Dad was home, he fished and hunted, and all the other things men in these here parts do, but I was more into reading and staying home with Mom, so, I never went. We have never been a “sports” family, and I can’t remember even once the lot of us sitting around watching the Sox or the Pats or Bruins. It just didn’t happen.
By the time Dad was, in his own words, “asked to leave” when I was about eleven, the female indoctrination had set in pretty good. It’s safe to say my little sister Molly got Dad in the divorce, and I got Mom. She spent as much time as possible at his place. Mom worked 12 hour shifts 3 or 4 days a week, so when I was old enough to stay home and care for my sister, I did. The house was expected to be clean when Mom got home, Molly was to be fed, and she was to get help with homework if needed. No problem. I couldn’t go too far from home, because in the pre-cell phone early ’90s, I needed to be reachable if there was a Molly-based emergency. I had become the “man of the house”, but at the same time, the “woman of the house”, if only three or four days a week.
My awkward teen years didn’t help. I had never really played sports, and was too shy to get involved with them at that point. I was obviously rarely invited to parties as a result of not being part of the ‘cool crowd.’ Not that I’d have gone – I figured the best way to avoid drinking or smoking was to never be in a situation where I might be asked to do so.
Reading back over this, it seems kind of sad and pathetic. I assure you, that’s only half correct. But I mention it by way of explanation.
By the time I left home for college, I had mastered:
- hospital corners
- washing windows
- doing laundry
- cooking meals
- managing a home/cleaning house
I could not:
- change my own oil
- field dress a deer
- name 3 players on the Red Sox
- wire anything
- name most things in a hardware store
College and Beyond
I went to the University of New England for my Master’s in Physical Therapy. My freshman year, the ratio of women to men enrolled at UNE was 7:1. When the other kids were trudging off to the cafeteria for the latest offering, I was smothering beef and mushrooms to put over rice. When kids asked how I knew how to do that, I asked, “how do you NOT?” In my PT class, we graduated 9 guys and 31 women. My study partners were women, my first apartment was shared with 2 women roommates, and I work in Health Care – women everywhere! At my hospital, there are something like 5 guys, and 200 women. I never really got that chance to bond with men on a sports team, or over a sports team for that matter. My perfect Sunday is crafting a giant pot of jambalaya or stew while watching a movie on the TV that sits atop the refrigerator, not ‘hogging’ the couch and watching the Sox or the Celtics with my own kids. When Gabe said he wanted to play basketball, Beth offered her expertise. When something breaks around the house, I still call my Dad, but hey, I’m learning.
Like I mentioned, I work with a bunch of women. Everywhere I look, at the hospital, the outpatient clinic, the nursing homes I work in on the weekends – all women. Us few men share a unique bond, a brotherhood of displaced males. The girls will openly discuss their periods, their husbands, their issues. Once in a while a new one will look up at me with that ‘are you really saying that in front of him?’ look, but one of my girls will inevitably say, “that’s Ryan, he’s just one of the girls.” When our cycles synched-up, I knew I was in trouble.
Being ‘one of the girls’ isn’t bad. I am the biggest and strongest of all the ‘girls’ at work, so I usually get called on to twist apart the IV tubing, lift the patient, push the car out of the snowbank. When my friend Rachel got her new truck, I got to sit in the parking lot to figure out all the new buttons, so that I could go back in and give her a tutorial. When Hilary needed her headlight changed, I tore apart the VW Jetta to help out. I’m the one who jumps the cars in parking lot when needed.
UNE Physical Therapist Class of 2001
Now that I’ve got kids of my own, I’m an interesting breed of father. I go out of my way to be the kind of Dad I think they need. We go hiking, hunting, and fishing together. We also snuggle on the couch and watch Wizards of Waverly Place. I’ve found I prefer darker colored nail polish. I’m teaching my sons and daughter both to shoot guns and make breakfast. I’m the type of Dad who will play cars or Barbies, whichever is needed at the time. I make sure my kids read lots of books and appreciate the written word. I also make sure they take the time to splash in mud puddles, throw pies at each other, and respect their elders. They see me do laundry, make supper, and vacuum the house. I have a unique skill-set; and when I talk about the movie Steel Magnolias, or comment on the valances, I still get weird looks. I always tell people it’s because I was raised improperly … by women!