Technically, it wasn’t the first pair I’d ever seen, if you counted all of the slides of mangled penises and testicles my father would accidentally leave in the slide carousel he often borrowed from the office. During family slideshows, they popped up like grisly jack-in-the-boxes between shots of our annual ski trips.
At the time, I wanted to be a doctor, just like my father. I wanted to be important like he was, even if I had no intention of pursuing the same specialty. I knew my father dealt in male genitalia, but I tended to focus on his kidney work, for that seemed much more palatable and noble when describing his livelihood to classmates. In the pre-Viagra ’80s, urology didn’t quite have the caché that some other surgical specialties enjoyed.
Sometimes, when answering the question of what my father did for a living, I’d respond so quietly and quickly the interrogator would often assume I’d said “neurologist,” a misunderstanding I rarely corrected. Being the daughter of a “dick doctor” caused me some embarrassment; however, my mother always liked to remind me that it could always be worse: We could be a proctologist’s family instead. In the pecking order of undignified medical professions, proctology was, literally, at the end.
Still, my father was my hero. He left for work before we were off to school and returned long after the dinner dishes were put away. My paternal grandmother, during her biannual visits, would cry “The King is home,” when he finally returned after a long day saving lives.
During a rare evening when he came home early enough to dine with us, he asked if I wanted to go to work with him and watch a surgery.
“Would I have to miss school?” I asked, feigning concern for my academic career.
“It’s just one day, and you’ll learn a thing or two at the hospital,” he said, winking at me.
The following week, on a Monday—for Mondays and Thursdays were his surgery days—I got up long before the rest of the family and joined my father for a quick bowl of Ancient Grains standing at the kitchen counter. He’d wisely selected a wholesome, family-friendly kidney transplant for my observation that day.
At the hospital, I raced down the corridors to keep pace with my father, who slowed for no one. The endless white linoleum squeaked beneath my Hush Puppies, and every few steps I had to skip a little to keep up. We pushed through double doors, then down another hallway, then more double doors until I lost track of the turns. Then the colors of the walls changed from tan to blue, and the hallway narrowed. We were nearing the operating room, and I could feel my face warming with anticipation.
In the operating room, the lights were bright and hot, and we all formed a circle around a small, pink square of flesh. My feet ached from standing on tiptoe to peer in at delicate, gloved hands dipping in and out of a bloody hole. Occasionally, my father looked up to catch my eye and smile.
The surgery didn’t last long. I’d been hoping to see some real action, with blood and entrails everywhere, but the procedure had been more boring than church. I was certain I’d have a story worth telling my friends, but I began to wonder if I would need to fabricate a code red-worthy saga. My father and his residents left the room. No one said anything to me, so I stayed put.
The nurses were all business. It was like teardown after a play. The lights were turned off and pulled away, tables of instruments scooted into a corner, and the blue sheets removed to reveal the backside of a small man. I had forgotten there was an actual person buried beneath the sheets. He looked dead to me. The nurses called in a male orderly, and they all moved in to flip the man over.
My gaze immediately landed wide-eyed on that purplish mound of flesh between his legs. It looked like turkey gizzards. The head nurse, a big, Greek woman, wheeled a cart over by me. I thought she was going to chastise me for staring, but she just squirted Betadine on his groin, slathering it generously over the area. Then she started slapping his balls around, as though she were tenderizing meat. I wasn’t certain, but based on my limited experience kicking my own brothers in the nuts, I was pretty sure that would have hurt had the man been awake. I heard him groan once and turn his head, but she just kept going with the vigor of Julia Child. When my father returned to the room, it was clear from his expression that he’d forgotten all about the vasectomy. He whisked me out of the room and took me to lunch in the cafeteria.
Once we returned home, I recounted my day in excruciating detail to my mother and younger brothers. Nobody cared about the kidney part of the story. Everyone wanted to hear about the balls—even my mother, who tried not to laugh so she could properly scold my father. Though the humiliation of being the child of a “dick doctor” was still a few years from wearing off, I began to see the comedic potential of my father’s work.
My father worked long hours, and we saw little of him beyond the tuft of salt and pepper hair just visible above the evening paper. He didn’t know much about children—that was my mother’s realm—but he knew how to entertain us. We’d spend dinners when he was home coming up with ridiculous names—”Harry Butz” was an all-around favorite. He’d regale us with his gory urology stories as we got older, many of which I still tell today.
There were times growing up when I wished my father could have been something simpler—a banker or an insurance salesman who kept regular hours, like my friends’ dads, and who would not wax on about erectile dysfunction at the dinner table.
Though I may have wished for a different type of father when I was younger, I can see now how tiresome our family dinners would have been. I am grateful to him for teaching me to laugh freely at indelicate subjects. I’ll admit that it can be difficult to overcome the general hilarity of balls, even during moments of intimacy, but I certainly have learned to handle them with care.