The Circumcision Decision

The last good memoir I read was Neal Pollack’s Alternadad.

It’s an amusing tale of fatherhood, told from the point of view of a slacker, Gen-X rocker who eventually comes to grips with the responsibilities of fatherhood. Since I know very little about music, I thought the slant toward alternative rock might alienate me. Instead I found plenty I could relate with about parenting. In particular was the family decision on whether to have their son circumcised.

When my son was born, my wife wanted to leave him uncut. Since I am cut, I felt mildly reluctant. I asked my wife for time to think about it. To help make up my mind, I solicited people’s opinions. I even called my mom, who raised us Catholic but then converted to fundamentalist Christian while I was in the Navy.

Talking to Mom decided it for me. This is pretty much how the conversation went:

Mom: Well, if you don’t, it’s eternal damnation.
Me: Really? I thought that was just for the Jews.
Mom: Nope, it’s for everyone. Eternal damnation.
Me: Jesus, I didn’t know.
Mom: You do what you want. I’m just saying.

We decided to leave the boy’s penis alone.

When he grew old enough to talk, one of the first things he asked me was why our penises looked so different. I put him off until one day when he was about three and my mom was just about to visit our house for the first time.

My son and I were both having a squirt into the bowl and he asked again why we looked so dissimilar. I knew the time had come. After we finished up our business, I put the lid down, took a seat, and looked him in the eye.

“Right after I was born,” I said, “the doctors asked my mom if they could cut off the end of my penis.” My son’s eyes grew big as half dollars. “My mom told the doctors, ‘Sure! Go head.’ And then she handed me over to them.”

My son’s mouth fell open. “Did it hurt?” He asked.

“I don’t remember,” I said. “But when you were born, the doctor asked me if he should cut off the end of your penis. I said, ‘No, that’s okay. We like him just the way he is.'”

My three-year old just stood there quiet for a few minutes. Then he reached up, grabbed me around the neck, and gave me a hug. After a few seconds he let go and quietly walked out of the room.

To this date, he has never asked me about his penis again.

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5 thoughts on “The Circumcision Decision

  1. Eternally grateful for eternal damnation. 🙂

  2. […] Earlier this year I read another memoir about fatherhood by Neal Pollack that I enjoyed. But why are Jewish, male, memoirists so fixated on their penis?  […]

  3. Sharing my first born’s circumcision story:

    Weird . . . the whole business.

  4. Tim Elhajj says:

    Ruth, I read that when you first posted it and mentioned the time my ex-wife handed me my oldest son’s foreskin, which she had brought home from the hospital. Talk about mementos!

  5. […] AlternaDad: Neal Pollack’s memoir about becoming a father convinced me that I should try to market some of my own essays about parenting. What I have noticed is that the best memoir always seems to inspires me to write my own.  […]

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