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Volume 14, Issue 24 ~ June 15 - June 21, 2006


Dada Mama

Mom can’t be a dude. She’s Methodist.

by Mark Burns

On a lazy afternoon, I’ve made myself comfortably useless, flipping through my copy of Why Do Men Have Nipples when the phone deedles.

“Your mother,” says Pop, “is a male.”

I swap ears. Surely I must have misunderstood. What’s this, something about Mom and the mail?

His voice carries a note of levity with a bite of frustration. He sighs heavily. I can nearly see him on the other end, heavy eyebrows sinking into a grave expression as he flicks the hair atop his head.

What? Mom can’t be a dude. She’s Methodist.

But it’s true. Pop — the stubbly one — explains. My parents had recently applied for their first-ever passports, and Mom’s was denied for her claim to being female.

So I have two dads. A cacophonous twirl of Aerosmith and Culture Club and Austin Powers and Mrs. Doubtfire ricochet through my imagination. I’m bitten by a strange twinge of guilt: All those Father’s Days, and I never got her so much as a Leatherman. I find myself dazedly flipping through my trivia book for some inkling of plausibility. All I can find is a passage on why some older ladies grow beards. This much proves unhelpful, as my mother is neither wizened nor scruffy.

My curiosity leads me online, and there at Wikipedia I learn that there are perhaps more than two genders. Various biological degrees of native masculinity and femininity have been discovered, and gender may not be so black and white. Certainly not socially; several million hijras in India constitute a third gender believed to be bearers of blessings. Some sociologists have proffered the idea of five or more genders, rated on degrees of self-identity.

Now, Mom’s definitely no hijra, but she was a confessed tomboy, enjoys watching the odd football game and drinks a little beer now and then. Is this to blame for the government’s stance? But she sews …

My own perplexity is small by comparison. Until the passport incident, Dad — the pretty one — was somehow ignorant of this gender issue. So elaborate was the misunderstanding that he lived up the lady life in dresses and church hats and flowery perfumes and perms. He, in a burst of momness, painted all my friends blue for my Smurf birthday party during elementary school. And you have to wonder how an earlier gender revelation might have complicated his membership in Business and Professional Women during the ’80s. Of course, there’s also the birthing of three children. Silly man.

The implications continue to astound. Dad never signed up for selective service, in effect dodging the Vietnam draft; he seemed so moderate. The license for his marriage to Pop in 1961 was a gift from grandfather Pop-Pop (prophetic?), then the clerk of Calvert County’s court. This bypassed the need for any birth certificate and paved the way for a rather revolutionary union. In a church no less. Zounds. Then there’s that whole kids thing, lending the Arnold Schwarzenegger farce Junior (he gets pregnant) a strange sense of relevance.

Of course, Dad is no Tootsie. To Pop falls the mission to reclaim his husband from manhood.

Turns out the cause of all this was a confused doctor, one who apparently believed Brenda Lois was a fine name for a boy. Birth certificate is law, and by law Mom was deemed dude.

The fix is no simple one. Already, Calvert Memorial Hospital has proved a dead-end; they keep no birth records dating back to the 1940s.

Pop drops $500 in legal fees for counsel and a court order to correct the certificate. The whole tangle saps Pop’s patience, leaving him distrustful of the man (government, not Mom). So he hand-delivers the court order to Maryland’s Division of Vital Records in Baltimore.

Mom was lucky, says the vital record keeper. Some people end up discovering alternate parentage. Pop does not feel lucky. While scanning the streetside for building numbers, he rear-ends a car, crumpling his pickup some $4,000 worth.

Wreck or no, Dad is Mom and Pop is Pop and there’s no penalty for Mom skipping out of Vietnam. The State Department clears Mom’s passport; she’s later stopped at Seattle’s customs for transporting a souvenir ulu blade home from Alaska via Canada. Dude! But her gender checks out.

Mark Burns’s true stories have kept Bay Weekly readers laughing since the last century. He also takes a turn reviewing movies.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.