Friday, December 20, 2013

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Protected sleeping (Why does my husband sleep with his hands down his pants?)

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Megan asks: Can you write/ explain why men and boys sit and sleep with their hands down their pants like Al Bundy. I'd love to read a blog about that.

When I was twelve and my older brother was about fifteen we got into the nasty habit of punching each other in the junk during the night. I can recall regularly waking up after midnight with an intense pain between my legs, and as soon as I buckled over, I’d hear the wheezy high-pitched laugh of my older brother.
At fifteen Ryan was a long lanky kid with brown hair that was cut into a bowl and an awkward smile. He’d lost fifty pounds during the previous year, which had helped improve his confidence, but he still held some shyness because of his earlier weight. He didn’t have a lot of friends, or maturity, and he talked a lot about computers and Star Trek, two topics that were notoriously nerdy in the early 90s. He spent most of his time with me, his younger brother by three years. I recall really enjoying spending time with Ryan, but looking back I realize it may have caused permanent damage to my body. He had a real obsession with hitting me in the crotch. He seemed to think it was the funniest thing, but he almost never did it while I was awake.
This is not to say that I was not guilty of punching Ryan in the crotch while he slept, but I feel it is relevant to add that he threw the first punch. I was sleeping on the blue flower print sofa that sat in our living room the first time it happened. It was on a Saturday around noon. Our mother was at work, struggling to make ends meet because our father had walked out a few years earlier. We were alone a lot back then, just two boys making ridiculous decisions.
All I really recall was waking up in pain, and then looking up to see my brother curled up on the living room floor laughing.
“Why did you do that,” I said, my voice strained, hands between my legs.
“Because it was funny,” he said.
Sadly his answer made a lot of sense. Once the pain subsided, I started to laugh, too, an uncontrollably crazy laugh. It was so absurd what he’d done. I wanted to get mad about it, but instead I laughed, and I am still not sure why. And in all honesty, if he were to do it again, now, with me being 31 and he being 34, I’d probably still laugh.
I have to assume that female readers will be lost by this interaction, and it is with good reason. To this day I don’t fully understand why men find it so hilarious to punch each other in the balls. Perhaps it’s the exhilaration of sneaking past another man’s defenses to score some kind of a point against him, or maybe it is the uncontrolled buckling over that is so funny. All I do know is that there is something hilarious, primal, masculine, and brotherly about hitting another man in the balls. Something similar to a high five or a punch in the arm, although I can’t do those actions with just anyone. The first time I meet another man, I can give him a high five. But I can’t slap him in the balls without getting a punch to the face. That little show of friendship is saved only for men I am really close with. In a really strange way it’s like saying, our friendship is strong enough for me to punch you in the balls.   
Now I don’t want this to be a blanket statement. Not all men find it funny to punch another man in the balls. I have to assume that some men are civilized and have never subscribed to this kind of humor. I have not met these civilized men, but I have to assume that they are out there. And I would like to say that most men, myself included, become mature enough to stop this kind of childish behavior, even if it is funny.

Things escalated between my brother and me. We started getting creative, waiting until the middle of the night and then dropping objects on each other: paper weights, soccer balls, text books, cordless phones, work boots, staplers, and so on. If Ryan fell asleep in the car, like he often did on long drives, I whipped him between the legs with the heavy block end of the seatbelt. And if I fell asleep while watching TV, like I often did, Ryan would wind up and pitch a golf ball between my legs from across the room.
Eventually, we both got used to sleeping with our hand in our pants for protection. And strangly, it worked. In order for Ryan to hit me in the crotch while I slept, he had to get my hand out of the way. The second he touched my hand, I woke up. Every time.
Slowly I just got used to having it there, and for a long time I even forgot why I slept with my hand in my pants. It just seemed natural. Warm. Cozy. And I didn’t stop until I was in my late teens, probably eighteen, when a girl I was dating questioned it.
“I’ve noticed that you often sleep with your hand…” She paused for a moment, not sure what to say. “Over your thing.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Is that a problem?”
“It’s gross,” she said. “Really gross.”
So I stopped.
I cannot say that this is why all men sleep with their hands in their pants, but I know that it was my reasoning. It started out of protection and evolved into a habit. I am grateful to the girl who commented, and I have to assume that Mel, my wife, is also a little grateful because she doesn’t have to look at me sleeping on the sofa with my hand in my pants, shake her head, and wonder why she married me.

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University.