Macho Macho Men

October 1, 2012


In addition to establishing the world’s first man cave, my Dad is an extremely macho guy. A mixture of The Fonz, Burt Reynolds and with a little Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson thrown in for good measure, he truly is the last of a dying breed that eats red meat, smokes non-filtered cigarettes and still doesn’t understand why “those tree hugging animal lovers” disapprove of his leather jackets and alligator cowboy boots.

He thinks the metrosexual movement is a sissy response to emotional men not being to control their emotions during “chick flicks” and that wearing a shirt with “one of those damn horses on it” is worse than a Nazi war camp bar code tattoo. He is of a different time; one that has always seemed to elude me.

When my brothers and I were young, we’d sit inside Dad’s old beat up white Pontiac Grand Prix (that we un-affectionately called The Titanic) and stare in wonder as he stood outside the car, pumping gas with one hand and smoking a cigarette with the other. He’d look up at one of the many ‘No Smoking’ signs and exhale a large plume of smoke as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m man enough to survive an explosion.’

Another time when I was growing up, I was playing on the jungle gym in our front yard. Being gangly and awkward, I fell, smashed my head on the ground and ended up in the Emergency Room. Turned out there was nothing wrong with me, but since we had been there so long, Mom and Dad decided to pick up some fast food on the way home. We pulled up to the McDonald’s drive thru and my eyes fixated on the current Happy Meal toy accessories: Hot Wheels. Being me, I didn’t want the fire-red corvette intended for the boy, but instead the hot pink VW convertible with flowers emblazoned on the front hood. After begging and pleading with Mom and even grabbing my arm and wincing in pain to gain sympathy, she acquiesced and asked Dad to order two boy Happy Meals for my brothers and a girl one for me. Dad rolled down his window and when asked for his order he shouted out “Yeah, give me three of those things the kids eat.” When asked for the sex, he responded “Ah, hell. I don’t care.” At the time I was mortified, but in the years that have followed, I realized that Dad wasn’t embarrassed to order his nancy boy son a girl Happy Meal, he was embarrassed at all to order a Happy Meal. Maybe he was afraid the checkout girl would think he wasn’t man enough to eat at Big Mac; or maybe didn’t want to give the illusion that he had emotions. Who knows…

But the best expression of Dad’s macho man-ness happened when I was in college. He and Mom came to visit me my freshman year and they took me out to dinner. As usual, I ordered too much food and had to take my desert home in a doggie bag. As we were getting ready to leave, I asked Dad to hold my left overs while I fished through my backpack for my car keys. “I’m not holding that,’ he said as if I had just asked him to grab onto a stick of lit dynamite. I stared at him, wondering why he couldn’t fulfill this most simple request when Mom turned to me and explained “Real men finish their meals, dear.”

So anyway, I finished college, moved away from my parents and, until recently thought Dad was really the last of the Macho Macho Men.

But that was, until I moved to the south.

I was on the Park-N-Ride bus with other home bound travelers at the airport, driving through the sea of cars in the parking lot. The attendant would call out row numbers, prompting car owners to shout out the make, model and color of their cars. I heard “White Ford Truck” and “Silver Audi A4” and such. When the bus was about half empty they bus driver shouted out “Row 6D” and a Bumpkin (for more clarification, please read Inexperienced Air Travelers) piped up “Cadillac.” Not satisfied with the level of information provided, the driver simply asked “Make and model, sir?” Bumpkin did not reply. The driver repeated his question and Bumpkin finally answered “It’s one of them make up cars.” That was when his wife elbowed him and, as proudly as a mother on her child’s graduation day from Harvard said “It’s a pink Mary Kay Cadillac. I’m the top sales person in the district.”

I chuckled to myself, knowing that even though this Bumpkin was definitely a macho macho man, things had softened a bit since Dad’s time…Dad wouldn’t have ever, and still to this day, been seen in a pink car, let alone allow Mom to announce its color to a bus full of strangers. He would have preferred to walk to and from the airport instead.

My advice to Macho Macho Men:

The sexual revolution is over and you lost. Suck it up and learn to cry.

My advice to everyone else:

If you have a Macho Macho Man in your life, put him in those situations (Happy Meal, leftovers, pink cars, etc…) and see how he reacts. It will be entertaining.


Mom and Mrs. Henderson

February 24, 2011

When I was young my teeth were seriously jacked up.  I’m not talking about a minor gap or that my eye teeth stuck out. I mean my mouth looked like I was the half-brother of Sloth from “The Goonies”. I never smiled in pictures and, when I talked in school, always had one hand covering my mouth. It got to the point where I’d cover my face with a bandana at the dinner table so my family wouldn’t have to look at my Frankenstein grill.

Thankfully, when I was thirteen, my parents decided to have me fitted with braces. Being the precocious brat that I was and because they were totally vogue, I demanded I get the new translucent braces. My parents acquiesced and I went to the orthodontist, Dr. Ronk, for my fitting. Although he said I was a perfect candidate for the new clear braces, he informed me that my upper jaw was too narrow and did not line up with its lower counterpart. He gave me two options: break my lower jaw or expand my upper jaw. Without hesitation I opted for option number two.

A couple of weeks later I sat in Dr. Ronk’s chair, my mouth wide open, waiting to begin my dental transformation. From out of a drawer he pulled a shiny metal device that looked something like a spider, but with only four prongs protruding from a flat center.  Figuring he made a mistake, I informed him that I had ordered the clear braces. He assured me that the braces he would install were clear, but that, before the braces, he needed to install the palette extender he held in his hand.

Other than being a way of slightly expanding one’s jaw, a palette expander is basically a torture device. Twice a day I had to stick a small metal key in the expander, twist it half a turn and move my upper jaw apart a fraction of a millimeter. It was uncomfortable at first, then painful, then more painful and, when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, more painful still. Every time my tongue moved around my mouth or touched my teeth, I winced in pain and prayed to God that she put me out of my misery. The only thing that helped was if I gently rested my tongue on top of my bottom lip. It made me look a little bit “duh” but I didn’t care; as long as it subsided some of the agony.

That same year I started public high school. Up until that point, I attended a small, Catholic school with a total of 110 students spread throughout nine grades. It was quite a shock went I went from an eighth grade class of thirteen to a freshman class of 300. Being one of the “catholic kids” on top of being painstakingly gay made me very undesirable to be around, so I threw myself in my studies, especially English. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Henderson. She was one of those teachers who married rich and chose teaching so she could have summers free to spend at her family’s summer home on the lake. But she was a good teacher and fairly respectful of her students, until…

One morning in class, right after I had turned the key of my palette extender, we were discussing George Orwell’s seminal classic “1984”. Knowing that I’d have the answer to her question, Mrs. Henderson called on me to discuss the dangers of Communism and its long-term effects on society.

I sat there, my tongue resting on my lower lip, panicked that any explanation was going to cause my mouth great pain when Mrs. Henderson stuck out her tongue at me and demanded “Stick your tongue back in your mouth, Michael. You’re not a caveman.” The class erupted in a fit of laughter and I slinked down into the bottom of my seat cursing Dr. Ronk and the genetics that caused my crooked teeth in the first place.

That night at dinner, my mom (for more information on her, read Mom) knew something was up. After a few rounds of her asking me what was wrong and me saying nothing, she dragged the truth out of me. I had barely finished my story when she bolted from her chair and marched to the phone in the hallway. Knowing her intent, I followed her, begging her no to call Mrs. Henderson, saying that it would just make things worse.

She flipped through the phone book, found Mrs. Henderson’s number and punched it in on her phone. “Mrs. Henderson,” she said in the fakest voice she could muster “this is Michael Phillips’ mother.” She gave me a wink and continued “We were just eating dinner and Michael told me the most ridiculous story.” She laughed one of those canned laughs they use for sitcoms not filmed before a live studio audience and continued, “He said that you actually stuck your tongue out at him today in class and called him a caveman. Now, this can’t be true, is it?” Mrs. Henderson said something to her that I couldn’t hear; probably her version of what happened. “I guess you’re not aware” my mom shot back “but Michael has a serious orthodontic condition that requires him to wear a substantial piece of metal equipment in his mouth that causes him great pain.” My mom smiled as, what I can only assume, was Mrs. Henderson’s most embarrassing apology. “I appreciate that” mom responded, “But I really think you owe that to Michael.”  She hung up, looked at me said “That’s one teacher that’ll never mess with you again.”

The next day Mrs. Henderson apologized to me in front of the entire class.

My advice to Mrs. Henderson: None. She learned her lesson.

My advice to my mom: Keep up the good work. There are plenty of assholes out there that enjoy making others feel bad about themselves. I’m glad you’re out there to stop them and I’m even gladder that you’ve got my back.

My advice to everyone else: Although I’m a huge fan of making fun of people, watch out. You never know who has a protective mother ready to strike.


May 3, 2010

My mom has two mottos that, according to her, are the cornerstones for living a happy, healthy and productive life:”Remember who you are.” and “Make good choices.” Whenever I left the house, no matter what age or where I was going and no matter who I was with, she’d peek her head out the front door and yell out her two mantras to me. Being a snot who, by code is supposed to be mortally embarrassed by his parents and everything they say and do, I’d go about my business, trying not to let her unsolicited advice echo in my ears. But not matter how hard I tried to ignore it, her words seems to follow me wherever I went and influence whatever I did.

They were there when I was seven years old, stuck playing pee-wee baseball. My dad, doing what dad’s do with their sons, enrolled me in the local league, not realizing that I’d rather be on the sidelines in a mini skirt and a set of pom poms than stuck in right field in a pair of polyester pants, wearing a smelly leather glove. After I’d had enough of screaming and flinching whenever a ball was thrown my way or complaining that all the bats were too heavy for me to hold, I called my coach. “Sorry, coach,” I said with the courage only a clueless pre-pubescent could muster, “but I think my life is too short to waste it playing baseball.”

They helped me decide not to allow the Big Man On Campus cheat off my trigonometry homework in high school. When I transferred to a public high school from a small private middle school, I quickly learned that I had a social disease that even alienated me from the band geeks. When the BMOC nudged me in trig class one day, lamenting that he hadn’t studied for our quiz and he’d really appreciate it if I’d share my answers with him, I knew I had an important decision to make. I could let him cheat and, hopefully, weasel my way from social ostricization into the mainstream of high school pop culture or refuse his request and face the consequences. I chose the latter, and even though I spent the next year eating lunch by myself and spending every weekend with my younger cousin, Laura, I knew I had made the right decision. My choice was confirmed when, later that year, the BMOC and the lemming he scammed into letting him cheat, were caught, failed the course and had to attend summer school to make up for the lost credits.

And mom’s words were with me when, at the age of twenty, I sat across from Homo Honey in her dorm room and uttered the words “I’m gay” for the very first time.
But it never occurred to me that mom’s advice also applied to her.

My mom was always a die-hard Republican and social conservative. Although she loved her gay son, moi, and her gay brother, I’m sure she still believed in traditional marriage and, what I call, Rush Limbaugh values. She was even a regular contributor to a local radio program that lambasted Liberals and threw around the word “socialism” as often as Papa Smurf said “smurfy”. But that all changed two years ago when mom agreed to attend Atlanta’s annual Human Rights Campaign dinner.

At the dinner, we sat at a table with three other same sex couples and a single woman who seemed close to mom’s age; they sat next to one another. At one point in the evening, a young gay man approached the podium and delivered his story of surviving the social Darwinic halls of high school. As he spoke the woman beside mom started crying. Always prepared, mom pulled a Kleenex from her purse and passed it to her crying neighbor. They shared a few words then I saw a single tear fall from mom’s cheek, too.
Afterwards, we attended a post-dinner cocktail party where mom seemed to disappear for minutes at a time. Thinking she was going to the bathroom or topping off her cocktail, we thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until we arrived home that she told us where she’d been and what caused that tear.

The woman sitting next to mom was the young speakers mother. When mom gave her the Kleenex the woman told her that she’d loved her son so much, but had wasted too many years trying to change him because that’s what she thought God wanted her to do. And her disappearances at the cocktail party were to conference with a young man on how and when to come out to his mother. Her advice was just to tell her because mother’s always know. As mom finished her stories, she wiped fresh tears from her cheeks and pronounced “I think it’s time for me to rethink my political affiliations.”

And that’s not all she rethought.

Not only is mom a staunch Democrat now, bordering on Liberalism, she’s also become infamous in the hometown for calling into that radio program, promoting high taxes, gay marriage and universal healthcare.

Thanks, mom for remembering that you’re the proud parent of a gay child and for making the good choice to support him in everything he does.

My advice to mom: I have no advice for you, mom, as you are a perfect parent and friend.

My advice to everyone else: Be very jealous of me because I have my mom as a parent, and you don’t.