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A tribute to my ex-husband’s hairy back — and to my kids

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hairy back single mom

The past few months Helena has been obsessed with family stories. “Mommy, tell me a story about when I was  a baby,” she’ll ask, and I’ll tell her about how once, as a sleeping infant, her laugh broke the pin-drop silence of one of New York Public Library’s reading rooms, eliciting a symphony of chuckles. “Tell me a story about when you were a little girl,” she says. And I tell her about being 5 and cutting the acres of lawn on my grandparents’ farm with a riding mower. I can see her putting together the pieces of my history, the family history, and how the elements come together to help her understand herself.

Then last week she took it up a notch. “Mommy, tell me a story about you and daddy before you were married.”

I took a deep breath. I spend a lot of energy on not being bitter about things. I pay attention to where I put my energy — I don’t want to be one of those women still grumbling about some argument with their ex, 30 years after the fact. Sometimes I worry I swing too far in the opposite direction and tuck away memories all together, afraid that should I pull one one — even a funny or sweet or tender one — all the bad ones will come bursting out in a flood of emotion.

But there are so, so many good memories. And I want my children to know those stories because they are also their stories. But more than that, I want them to have a sense of the love that brought their dad and me together, because that is also their love.

And so I told Helena about a road trip her dad and I took when we were dating. We drove from Phoenix to San Diego and on the way home decided it would be fun to play Name That Tune. The key was each of was to whistle a song, and the other would guess. The catch was that I can’t whistle. I’ve heard there is a genetic defect that makes this so, and I don’t know, but no whistling Dixie for me. But that didn’t stop us, and so for most of the six hour drive, we took turns whistling Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” or David Gray’s “The Other Side” or Ray Charles’s “I’ve Gotta Woman” and when it was my turn Emmanuel would listen very, verrrry carefully and try to guess as I earnestly huffed out a hollow whisper of a melody until we couldn’t take it any more and would burst out laughing. And then we would start again.

Helena totally understood the hilarity of the story, and teased me about not being able to whistle (incidentally, she learned when she was 2). Then she sat back on the sofa with a satisfied look on her face, and I knew that she really got it — the whole big story is really about her, and that that story is indeed full of love.

Today, December 31, is Emmauel’s birth date, but in light of his brain injury decided instead to celebrate the date of his accident in April. I still associate today with him, and got thinking more about the good times we had together. I’m posting this essay I wrote about him, and us, from before we had kids. And it makes me think of him reading it for the first time, then standing up from the computer, smiling, and giving me a hug, and saying “thank you.”

In Defense of Back Hair

My husband’s hairy—and I love it

Shortly after I started dating my husband, a colleague forwarded around one of those jokey emails to women in the office. The subject: “The morning after: Reason No. 249 why you shouldn’t drink so much.” In the email was a photo of the backside of a naked man, curled into a semi-fetal position, innocently asleep in a mussed up bed.

He was hairy as hell – covered from the nape of his neck to his ankles. That was the extent of the joke.

My boyfriend, I thought, could beat this guy in a follicle count, hands down. “Too bad women everywhere are laughing at this poor guy,” I said to myself. “Too bad for the women.”

While the covers of many men’s magazines are graced by slick-chested bucks with glistening biceps designed to make women swoon, I savor the virile-yet-cuddly nature of my Mediterranean husband’s equally buff body, which happens to be totally encased in a healthy coat of fur.

I love my husband’s body hair. I love that it is soft. I love that it is a little bit rough. I love that it is the epitome of masculine. I love running my fingers through it and nuzzling my nose in it. I love the look of it.

It really is tragic that more women a) don’t also love hairy men; and b) that those who do are not encouraged to express it. After all, in single circles, women often cite hairy backs as a reason for dismissal, akin to living with one’s mother or wearing a high school class ring. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carell’s character is persuaded that he can get laid only after he rids himself of his luxurious chest sweater. While watching Carell scream a shrill “Como se llama!!” as chunks of black wool are waxed from his pink flesh, I couldn’t help but pity the many fuzzy men who are subjected to the nation’s bigotry against the hairy.

It’s interesting that women spend so much time and money ridding their own bodies of hair in an effort to purge themselves of anything masculine. And yet we persecute men whose bodies flaunt their Y chromosome.

After all, being hairy is like being bald: there isn’t a thing you can do about it. And if you do try to do a lot with it, there’s a good chance you’ll do something ridiculous (like shave, wax or Nair some unspeakable body part, swim with your shirt on, or, worst of all, let shame drive you to become a 40-year-old virgin). Instead, a man who can conquer the world despite possessing a physical characteristic that is widely accepted as ugly has a certain inner strength, a certain charm, and a definite sex appeal. And if he can laugh at the bush that is his body, all the better.

Not long after my colleague emailed around the hairy-man warning, I was examining Emmanuel’s hands. They are strong, with appropriately trimmed nails and a slick of mane on each finger. “Why does your knuckle hair grow sideways?” I asked. “They’re comb-overs for my bald spots,” he said. Since then, we’ve taken to exploring the unusual Moon Pie-sized swirls his body whiskers form on the sides of his torso, jawline and elbows. He calls them crop circles and I pretend my finger is getting sucked into them like a whirlpool. Lying in bed one morning, I asked him how he gets the hairs out of his nose. “I coax them out with treats,” he said. Instead of hiding behind his hair or, worse, being shamed by it, my man’s turned his hirsute nature into a source of self-deprecating humor that I find sexy as hell.

And then there is the part of him that is beat down by body-hair hate. I appreciate his vulnerability as I listen to his childhood woes of playing pickup shirts–and-skins basketball and peeling off his jersey only to have one of the guys snark, “We said skins.” Or overhearing his junior-high crush trash talk another guy with a hairy back. Or how he enjoys sunbathing only on the beach in Greece, where he can relax among the other shaggy dudes.

Of course, being the wife of a hairy guy is not all snuggles and testosterone. There are the furballs that drift menacingly across our apartment’s wood floors. I buy more Drano than permitted by the EPA.  Short and curlies wind up in most salads I make. Recently I was at Crate and Barrel, and became enchanted by a white shag rug. Then I thought: ”How am I going to keep this clean?” There was no sale.

But such hassles are the price you pay to enjoy the company of a hairy man. I sometimes wonder if I really do love the hair—or do I just love Emmanuel, and have learned to love the things that go along with him? After all, it’s not like he is overweight or wears Old Spice or has white-guy dreadlocks. Maybe along the way I just passively accepted it as part of the package?

Once in a while I imagine what it would be like to be with a guy with a smooth, hair-free back. In my mind it’s as pudgy and clammy as a fetal pig. So maybe there is something to that hair. Not only is that web of fuzz the lense through which I came to see, know and love Emmanuel, it’s also a bonus point, a toy at the bottom of your favorite box of cereal, or realizing that the funky mold growing on a lovely cheese actually makes it all the more delicious.

This essay was originally published in Fits, Starts & Matters of the Heart – 28 True Stories of Love, Loss and Everything in Between.

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  1. Tiffany
    Tiffany01-05-2013

    “But there are so, so many good memories. And I want my children to know those stories because they are also their stories. But more than that, I want them to have a sense of the love that brought their dad and me together, because that is also their love.”
    This is an excellent point, and your insight came at the perfect time for me! I’m finally past the “every time his name comes up I want to scream” stage, and can talk about him as “Dad” now. My children are teenagers and they have grown-up with me as the storyteller for both sides of the family. I realized that if I stopped the “other sides” stories now, that they would be losing out on a valuable part of their history. However, the ugly side also made me think that “he doesn’t deserve this”-but that’s what we continually need to push aside so that our children will continue to understand their own story. My love for my children is my strongest motivator. I realize that in sharing stories about their father, I am ensuring that their own stories remain whole and full of love!

  2. Emma
    Emma01-05-2013

    Tiffany – thanks so much for sharing. Your note is so eloquent and true. I’m feeling a little choked up reading it.

    “they have grown-up with me as the storyteller for both sides of the family.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance and power of stories, and this really hit home with me.

  3. Pamlet
    Pamlet08-17-2013

    What a beautiful post, Emma! I tell my youngest stories about his folks all the time. He was so young when we split that I don’t think he realizes sometimes that there was so much love between the two people he now knows to be cordial, yet separate.

  4. Emma
    Emma08-18-2013

    Thanks Pam. I think it can be hard for divorced families to keep those good memories alive — so much hurt can get in the way, and the parties involved are not hanging out and naturally chatting about old times. It takes extra effort on our part to keep these family stories of-mind.

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