Wednesday, September 21, 2005


My daughter and I signed up for Indian Princesses at the local YMCA. (Actually, in our town they drop the word "Indian" and call it Y-Princesses, but Indian Guides (for boys)and Princesses (for girls) are the more widely-known names.)

I read Adam's recent post about his son's interest in Cub Scouts, and Adam's mixed feelings since he has long disliked (for good reasons) the institution of Scouting. Maybe he and I can trade notes. I didn't know too much about Indian Princesses, other than it was roughly equivalent to Girl Scouts, until I went to the first dads-only orientation meeting. We heard the Creation Myth of the Indian Guides and Princesses program: the story goes, a white businessman in 1926 went on a fishing trip and got to talking with his Ojibwa fishing guide. In the course of a long meaningful discussion, the guide said that the problem with the white man is he lets his women-folk raise his sons. That chance encounter planted the seed, and the White Founder cooked up a plan for fathers to spend one-on-one time with their sons (daughters got their corresponding gig 30 years later) and for eight to ten father-son pairs to get together in "tribes" for bonding and wilderness tramping and stuff, and the rest is history, leading up to the venerable program that dads and their kids enjoy today.

That's fine. You got your condescending stereotype of the wise shaman-like Indian, plus your outdated sexist and classist assumptions that the wife is home with the young'uns while the husband earns the income all day then retires to his Barcalounger and his newspaper when he gets home. And therefore Dad needs an assignment in order to spend quality time with his child. Then there's a vague Christian overlay on the whole thing (the "C" in YMCA). That's all fine. For an opportunity for your kid to have fun, you overlook stuff like that. And though it's a little jarring to volunteer to join an institution you find politically incorrect and a little ridiculous, you rationalize: hell, if I boycotted every unfair or ridiculous social institution, I wouldn't have a drivers' license, I wouldn't use deodorant, my wife would never have consented to live with me, etc.

Here's the weirder thing. There was more testosterone in that room than anyplace I've been in a long time. Fathers only, remember, maybe 50 or 60 of us. The meeting was led by these YMCA employees, local or regional rec directors, who were all 30ish or older, but if ever a job didn't really require a guy to grow up, YMCA rec director is the job. Each of them had a nickname: the barrel-chested guy was Moose, another guy was Big Hair which was amusing because he's had that name for years but now he's balding and crops his hair short. We're all actually supposed to have Indian-like nicknames, but my ideas for my own name are things like Otter or Surfing Bird that pop into my head from "Animal House" or silly old rock 'n' roll songs. There's a strong whiff of the college fraternity about this meeting: Moose and Big Hair lead us in chants and songs and pledges and other little rituals. ("How-How" is the greeting--we are expected to shout it in a hearty fashion.) In fact, in my little tribe the experienced Y-Princess dads joshed the newbie dads that we were going to be hazed, like deprived of sleep for a week, ha ha.

So Moose and Big Hair gave their spiel, cutting up and teasing each other all the while, half-sincerely going through the motions. It was like watching George W. Bush saying what a shame about the suffering of poor people, but hey, Trent Lott's house will rise again and my friend Brownie (nicknames again) is doing a heck of a job. Trying to be serious but undercutting the message with jokes and backslapping.

Apparently a major challenge of Y-Guides and Princesses is keeping the fathers in line. Moose implored us to follow the correct format for meetings, follow the rules for awarding patches, etc., without seeming to believe we really will. He actually said that one of the rules is "no firewater," ha ha ha, but apparently some irrepressible dads will turn the father-daughter campout into a cocktail party.

The locker-room atmosphere surprised me, but what also surprised me was how out of place I felt. I've been in quite a few locker rooms in my life, I used to work in high-technology sales (though granted, I sucked at it), I was in a college fraternity myself for crying out loud--when did I lose the ability to hang out with a crowd of manly men? All I can figure is it's down to 11 years of having daughters, no sons, and almost as many years working in the de-gendered metrosexual atmosphere of a university. Plus having cats in the house, no dogs. No-dogs was probably what did me in.

Anyway, I'll try to keep you updated. And may the Great Spirit rise like the dawning sun in all your hearts, ha ha.

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