2010-03-12 / On Second Thought

Forty– something

Real men play with cacti
By Mike Maddock

My seven–year–old son came walking up to me at the soccer fields the other day. He had a big grin on his face and a cactus dangling from his two fingers. He was carefully holding it up by the roots, which he called the “safe” part. He called it that because my son had had a previous experience with a cactus on these same fields that was not so safe. We spent a good part of that day picking the spines out of his hands and clothing while he cried like someone who had – well – decided to play with a cactus.

He vowed never to touch one again. That was less than a year ago.

“Son, don’t you remember what happened the last time you played with a cactus?” I asked.

“It won’t get me this time,” he said. “I’ve got it by the root.”

That logic may have made sense if he hadn’t rubbed the cactus across his shirt for no apparent reason. When I questioned the intelligence of that move, he tried to wipe off the cactus residue from his shirt with his bare free hand. The problem was there was no residue – only spines. Once again my son learned a painful lesson, and I wondered why that lesson didn’t take the first time.

My two daughters tell me it’s because he’s a boy. My wife agrees as she intimates that the apple never falls far from the tree.

Is it that simple? Does my son feel the need to play with a cactus not once but twice because he has a Y chrom Is he destined for such genius because he is member of the male species? For that matter, am I?

There has to be a better explanation for why we’d play catch with a cactus twice. Is it the same reason we answer

yes every time someone asks if we want to see something gross? Is it why we take a big whiff if

someone screams oh

man, that stinks? Is it the reason we pull the proverbial finger each and every time someone requests it? Is it why Bear Grylls has his very own, very successful show? Is it simply because we can’t help ourselves? Is it because we’re men? Do the lessons have to come hard and often, and is disgusting just another way to get our attention?

Maybe … maybe not.

I know my son is a smart kid. He makes good grades and does well in school, but it’s hard to picture any future academic scholarships when I’m pulling cactus spines out of his hands for the second time. Of course, I did OK despite the fact a few years back I caused a blackout at my apartment complex when the decision to boil water in a tennis can went horribly wrong. I even graduated from college several years after I thought flipping multiple times from the second floor loft in my house to the couch on the first floor 15 feet below was a good idea.

There’s hope for us all. Maybe my son’s just in training to become a doctor. He’ll certainly know how to remove cactus spines when some other poor little boy chooses to make that decision.

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