Tuesday-- March 19, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 189
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
Mar. 19--Young men and women around the world face a great moment of
Terror in their lives--it's when they reach puberty. The
question that arises is: "Am I a man?" "Am I a woman?"
In both situations, young men and
women compare themselves to others. They want to be "normal," that
is, not different from others. They want their breasts, if
they are a girl, to be like the "others." If a boy, they want their
manhood to be "like the others." What Terrorizes a young man
or woman is when his or her body isn't quite like the others, or, in some
cases, such as mine, is totally different from others.
The rite of manhood and womanhood, that is, when the evolution
of the body shifts from child to adult, and the hormones start
to develop a young person's sexuality, can be traumatic.
The metamorphism can be traumatic.
I was reminded of
my childhood Puberty Terror by an article in the March 18 issue
of Time Magazine. The subject was "Do infertility
treatments damage babies' genes?" The thrust of the
article was new research about test tube babies, and children
born as a result of libratory assisted sperm injection into
The facts presented
in the new studies showed an increase in the percentage of birth
defects when fertilization of an egg is induced, rather than
created naturally. Statistics from the research
indicated that a baby born through in fertilization of the egg
had an 8.6% chance of a birth defect versus a 4.2% rate when
conceived the old fashioned way.
listed included heart and kidney abnormalities, cleft palate
and un-descended testicles.
My wife, ever
Vigilant for news that might help me in my daily construction
of the Vigilance Voice, marked the article for my perusal.
As I scanned down the information, I jumped up and shouted:
"un-descended testicles....why...why I'm a test-tube baby!"
She knew my story
well. My entire family knows the story because I tell
it with great panache when the occasion for such a conversation
arises. It was about me being born with only one testicle.
While it is
funny today, it wasn't so funny forty some years ago when I
was in the process of going through puberty, and unlike all
the other boys in the bathroom examining themselves for signs
of genital evolution, I was hiding in the nearest stall avoiding
the "show and tell" sessions.
I was different!
I was a freak! I had only one testicle.
Now, that's Terrorism for an adolescent.
I was born with one
un-descended testicle, my right one. Besides being
lopsided, I was sure I wasn't going to be a "man,"--not
in the full sense of the word. Half a man, yes!
Full man, no! How could I be, thought my pubescent brain,
I only have one testicle!
Sexual appearances, the
size of a male's penis or a woman's breasts, the amount of pubic
hair one has, whether you have whiskers, the hair on your chest
or under your arms, your period (if you are a woman),
all play an integral part in the chemistry of your psyche as
For me, it was Terror.
I didn't want anyone else to know I was different.
I kept my secret closely guarded, or so I thought.
At age 11, just on the
cusp of the testosterone transformation, my parents told me
I was going to have an operation to fix my "un-descended
testicle!" I was elated. Normally,
a kid would do anything to avoid the hospital and an operation,
but in this case, I could hardly wait. I was "ready
for anything, counting on nothing." Well, I was counting
on being "normal."
What I didn't know was
that my operation was going to be reviewed in depth by my classmates,
and that my 5th Grade teacher was going to draw a picture of
it on the blackboard for the entire class to review.
Neither did I fully realize the full Terrorism of the operation.
The surgery was done at
Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii. My father was stationed
at Hickam Air Force Base. The operation involved
the slitting of the scrotum, pulling the testicle down, and
then making an incision in the inner part of my right thigh
where my scrotum
was tied to my thigh. For the next three months I would
have to walk around with my scrotum surgically implanted
into my thigh. This allowed the testicle to heal.
After three months I would return to the hospital for another
operation to remove the testicle from the thigh--and then and
only then, would I be "normal."
I thought I kept what was happening
to me a great secret. I didn't want anyone to know for
obvious reasons. But after my return from the hospital
to recuperate at home, a couple of my friends dropped by and
told me the teacher had drawn pictures of the operation on the
blackboard for the entire class, specifically focusing on my
scrotum being tied into my leg, and telling the class to not
play "rough" with me during recess.
My friends all wanted to see
the incision and sutures, which I denied them the right to view
because they were laughing and snickering. Also,
the doctors had circumcised me, a total shock when I woke up
for I had no idea that was going to happen.
The lower part of my body--the
center of my manhood--was sore, full of stitches, and I screamed
when I went to the bathroom for nearly three days. Manhood
and "normalcy" was a very expensive proposition.
Upon returning to school, I was
met with giggles and whispers, as everyone gave me funny looks.
I had been exempted from activities at recess, such as soccer
and kickball, forced to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone
This Terror went on for ninety
days as the incision healed. Finally, I returned to have
the scrotum removed from my thigh and return me back to "normal."
During that three-month period,
I went through literal Hell. I felt a lot like Sissy Spacek
in the movie Carrie. But, I had no powers of revenge.
I just took the brunt of the jokes.
Decades later, the experience
was buried deep in my mind. It was one of those:
"better-to-forget-than-remember" events in a person's
Perhaps the operation had something to do with me joining the
Marine Corps when I saw their big poster of U.S. Marine in dress
blues and three bold letters under the photo: WE
I certainly wanted that!
Unfortunately, most forms one
fills out asks in the medical history section if you've ever
had an operation, and if so, what kind. I
was compelled to reveal my secret every time I filled out a
form asking those questions.
I remained chaste until I got
married--partly because I wasn't sure whether that part of my
body worked properly, and the last thing I wanted was for someone
to say: "Get away from me, you are a victim of a
Fortunately, my wife loved me
despite my infirmary, and more importantly, everything worked
quite well. I have two beautiful daughters
to prove it.
The main point of this story
is about Terrorism and Vigilance. Young people transforming
to adults when their hormones kick in go through a massive cycle
of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency. There is
the Fear they will not bud into a "normal" adult physically.
There is Intimidation that others will look upon them with less
acceptance if they are too big, too small, shaped the wrong
way. And, there is the Complacency that they will "be
that way" the rest of their lives, victims of some genetic
flaw that caused them to misshapen.
My wife, who attended Catholic
schooling, had such an experience. Her home economics-sewing
nun/teacher told her how sorry she was that my wife had
such small breasts, and that she would be small breasted all
her life. For years my wife walked around with a
feeling of insecurity about her breasts, however, the nun was
totally wrong. My wife had beautiful breasts, perfectly
proportioned. A few years ago she had one of her breasts
removed after suffering breast cancer, and she framed a picture
of her mammogram of it when it was "normal."
I have it hanging above my dresser. Last year
she went with our younger daughter to a tattoo artist who scrolled
two beautiful butterflies where her breast had been, a way in
which she was able to turn what many women consider is a Terroristic
situation into one of beauty, sensuality and confidence.
As Parents of Vigilance,
one of the most important areas of concern we face is helping
our children's self worth be protected from comparisons.
My idea of "normal" was to compare myself to others.
I have learned over the years that to compare myself to others
is "abnormal." If I am a unique organism,
biologically special, bearing fingerprints that no one on earth
has now, ever had before, or will never have in the future (excluding
clones), then I shouldn't "look like others."
My self-worth should not be contingent on how closely I appear
to be "like another."
However, we live
in a society of cloning. We try to "look like"
others whom we consider "cool" or "right on!"
Our desire to be accepted by "others" overrides our
individuality, and sometimes leads vulnerable, impressionable
children to think they are "less than" another because
of something about them that is different from what they think
they should be.
I can't argue the
power of peer pressure, especially with teenagers.
Puberty is about exerting one's individuality as well as one's
sexuality. It is the coming out of the adult from the
child, the shaping of the persona.
To help a child through
this transition, Fear of being a "nobody" must be
replaced with the Courage that they are "somebody special."
The Intimidation of not being "like others" requires
they understand their uniqueness as an individual. This
requires Conviction that being special to themselves is a worthy
goal. To achieve it one must be reminded that no
one can intimidate one but oneself, and no one can make one
feel lowly unless one, the child, allows it. Being
convinced one is special just as one is, is the goal of every
Parent of Vigilance in this situation.
Finally, there is Action
to overcome Complacency. If a child is too heavy, then
the family can take action to help reduce that problem.
Everyone can diet--not to 'be like others," but to be more
"who you are." Overweight conditions are only
layers of oneself piled on layers of oneself. Reducing
weight just sheds the masks hiding the beauty. Action
also includes selecting quality role models not necessarily
those on MTV. Famous men and women from history
run a range of appearances. Eleanor Roosevelt
never let looks stand in her way, and neither did Amelia Earhart,
the woman pioneer of aviation. Winston Churchill looked
like a cartoon character, yet his words ring as true today as
they did when he spoke them to a war-torn world.
Vigilance for a child's
self worth shouldn't start at puberty, but long before.
Teaching a child that he or she is unique, different from all
other children, and what he or she looks like physically has
nothing to do with who one is, should be instilled at the earliest
of ages. Posture training helps enormously. Teaching
a child to walk with dignity and pride is a gift, creating eloquence
in his or her being. Hobbies, sports, outside interests
guided by a
parent or guardian enrich a child's sense of purpose, so that
the MTV images or those of Che Guevara, or Marylyn Manson don't
fill a vacuum a Parent of Vigilance could plug by keeping a
child's interest in the world, not just one part of it.
And perhaps the most critical
of all lessons in this department is the one of choice.
Teaching a child the responsibility of choice is vital.
I always told our children, as did my wife, that they had a
duty to not go along with the "crowd."
If they chose to give up their right to say "no" in
favor of the crowd or herd's decision to do whatever, then they
became a sheep, and lost their individuality. If consequences
resulted from "following the crowd," then they would
have to suffer them and never tell us: "Well, everyone
else is doing it, wearing it, listening to it, so why can't
we said, was herd mentality.
If they were pressured
by a group to do something, they had to step back and choose
to give up their individuality. They had to know
they had a choice.
To me, this gives a child the
authority they seek, while constraining them to the guidelines
of responsibility. I knew as a parent I could
not stop my children from choking whatever it was they were
going to do once they were out of my sight. I only wanted
to take away any hiding places from them if they chose to follow
the crowd, to be assimilated into the "collective conscious"
of the herd.
To achieve such Vigilance
requires a Parent of Vigilance take on the role also of Sentinel
of Vigilance for his or her children.
The motivating questions
is: What is it you want most for your child? Isn't
it to be able to have the Courage to make a choice, and not
be a victim to the herd instinct?
That was always our family
goal. We extended that philosophy to our chidren's
school work, reminding them: "You are not in school
to just learn the information--your real goal is to learn
to think for yourself, to be able to make sound decisions based
on quality information. That's what school is about--learning
how to think for yourself!"
Today, were I to have just
one testicle, I would be proud of it. I would chose to.
Even though I have two,
I know the other one is there by default.
I'm proud of it too!
I choose to!
Go To Mar. 18--Terrorism & Child
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