An Instruction Manual for the Penis. (Introduction)

(An essay for my son in the case that I or my brain bite it early. But also to be read, by he, only upon the occasion of I or my brain’s biting it early.

Otherwise it will most definitely probably be weird.)


I should start by saying the Universe lied to me about you.

I shouldn’t be dealing with this at all.

And no, I don’t mean dealing with the fact that I am half responsible for ferrying whatever the fuck a soul is into the physical plain.

Or that all my petty bunk is now forever secondary to your paltry bupkis.

Or that I’m now even more socially and morally obligated to throw someone else into the lifeboat in front of me. (Whereas before – well, in the quiet days we think of ourselves as unflinching heroes, but when the world breaks apart – not un-often have I seen courageous faces carried off on panicked legs.)

Or that change has drenched over everything, so much so, that I can no longer assume the composition of even the simplest scene.

What I mean is that I shouldn’t have to be dealing with a penis. Well, another penis at least.


The day I found out you were coming your mother was crapping her pants. We hadn’t known each other very long. And she was positive she was pregnant but she also wasn’t positive she was pregnant. And that is a very tough phone call to make.

It’s also a tough phone call to receive.

I was living in a cordoned off basement corner of a friend’s place, which doubled as a small film production company. There was just enough work for a lot of cheap wine accompanied by the occasional meal. But I enjoyed an otherwise spartan existence.

At night, I could not sleep. I would pace, and perform horrible interpretive dances, and invent fake martial arts, and generally try anything to exhaust myself. All while the hours fell away far and gone. I was in exile from the land of dreams.

In the mornings I would roll out of my bed; the sacred and mystical futon that has been passed around for eons through the hands of all creatures that wander the plains.

Stumble around paper replica walls erected out of a polite respect for the imaginary divide between private and social functions.

Cross the county-line from the checkered tile floor, a hold-over from the previous owner’s disco themed man-cave, to an office chair thirteen feet away.

And I would sip coffee and edit videos that mostly helped corporations feel better about themselves.

I had two talented unorthodox co-workers, who chose the life of the small business shuck and hustle, over the life of being lorded over. Crammed together, we could determine which way our chakras were spinning by the echoes of our bathroom habits, rumbling out of a thin doored shitter thirty feet away.

And it suited me fine.

I also had brilliant younger housemates, whose scattered revolving endeavors and acquaintances fanned a gentle breeze. My days and nights were punctuated by random welding projects, the flood of motorcycle exhaust, and the laughter of carefree moon lit summer porch women.

I wasn’t going anywhere. Or trying to accomplish anything. I spent most of my time lazily measuring the distance to the abyss.

And that also suited me fine.


Let’s talk for a moment about moments.

They are a rich glob of variables – time, significance. Locale. The actors present or not. The contextual congregation of particular seas.

Moments are at the same time incredibly elusive and vague, but also hyper specific and unique. Sometimes they can feel like you’re swimming in a flash flood. Sometimes you won’t be able to trace their edges until you’re ages away.

They can feel as if your skin is being flayed by a waterfall of sand. Or they can sit like an undrunk teacup, that waits for days and days.

Whatever they are, or however they’re shaped – what we most definitely know, is that they are the building blocks of every single one of our buildings.

And that we have an insufficient vocabulary for such things.

For example.

What’s the word for when you lose your job and you cave in your bedroom watching several seasons of a single mediocre television show because the steely mien of the lead role reminds the adolescent you of who you dreamed you’d become all while subsisting on the nearest convenience store’s selection of wine, peanuts, and cheese?

Shouldn’t there be a word for when someone leaves you and relief bubbles forth like an underground spring?

What’s the word for the pale eternities in the still frame of a suburban sky? Or when your soul is satisfied by the chaos of a violent storm?

Or for the times you scour the fragmented blueprints of the world and find no evidence of a gentle design.

My boy.

There will be moments and events in this life that will utterly stun you. That will shatter and shake everything you know. That will unroot all your defined. That will shoot your monkey to the moon.

Often they will come from love and loss. Sometimes failure and fucking up. Sometimes the dead are reluctant to release you. Sometimes you can’t pry your eyes from their patient, open arms.

I was in one. And I can only tell you that if you emerge from one of these, there is no real healing. You can never unlove a love. Or victory a defeat.

You just reconfigure the machine to work with the broken. Reappropriate the shattered pieces into the construction of other transient dreams. And let the conveyor take you down the line, as graceful as you can manage, with your  lumpy lopsided strides.

This little world has a moment to roll. It will split time with the shine and shadows. And with it, for a short while, so will you.


The friend I was bumming a bit of basement corner off of had a dog.

Some sort of – you tell people a golden retriever mix, but really it’s closer to a bull shark badger. So as not to terrify those that don’t know that the most dangerous and batshitcrazy make the very best of allies.

And I love this dog more than most humans, but good lord she is batshitcrazy.

I had the pleasure of walking this dog often. And by pleasure I mean constant state of adrenaline tinged paranoia that I would blink, and she would separate some curious puppy’s nose from their face. Or be the defining trauma of some ten year old’s childhood. Or the fabled end of some wisened octogenarian’s tale.

In my basement corner, I handled the news of your possible origin with astonishing calm. I was, of course,  the only one around to be astonished by my calm, so it’s possible my face wasn’t as marbled astronaut as the legends portend.

(Memory is a strange beast, which many people have many ideas on. I won’t plumb the depths here. But after four decades of life I can pass along only this: Never, ever, ever trust your own memory. While always, only, ever trusting your own memory. Good luck.)

Nonetheless, I was a bit wobbled. And sometimes the best thing to do, when you’re a bit wobbled, is to focus on a minute mechanism of an ordinary day. It can almost be a word game of sorts. Here, try it:

When you file for bankruptcy: Vacuum the stairs.

When you’re served divorce papers: Make a sandwich.

When you’re told you have colon cancer: Shave.

Or, when you find out you’ve knocked up someone you kind of sort of just met: Walk the dog.

Walk a lovely beast of a dog whose every twitch needs to be monitored and directed, so the brain can glide on beta waves, and not think about the bundle of cells swarming and clay. Don’t think about the gagillion wonder-twin-powers-uniting to form, amongst other things, a freaking penis.


The benefit of accompanying a powerful creature is that you can succumb to the drag. Let go of any ludicrous sense of control. And so, amidst a free-fall of sorts, being tugged around by life and a dog, and a lovely lady waiting for urine to interact with a stick. I came upon three small, young girls.

They were flowers and dirt smudges. They were balloons and juice boxes and half zipped backpacks.

I was trying to steer the beast to the other side of the street. But the beast was caught in a tractor beam of Chicago alley decay, and she would not abandon her path. She hunkered down in the way dogs and cats and babies only can, folding the nearest gravity around them like a robe, and tethering themselves to the pillar that holds every center.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you – this dog is also a shapeshifter. In one form, as far as I can tell, she is a massive bear or crocodile from which most children cower or run. In another she is a fawn in lamb’s wool. And some children have an inner directive to try to swim in her fur. Either way is fraught with its own set of perils.

These three girls floated by as easily as upturned umbrellas in a lounge room stream. Lost in their own conversations. Giving me an easy passing I did not design.

The beast and I had come to a short leash stand still truce. Facing off to the side of the walkway, near the entrance of the alley. The girls had gone by, and I was already zeroing out my levels to properly diagnose the next thing.

Do you have a daughter?

A tiny soprano from the world behind. I turned, and found the girls had paused, and were all facing me.

I’m sorry?

I said. My brain clacking, trying to fit this set of data into some pre-existing mold.

Do you have a daughter?

Repeated the closest of the girls. She had tan arms that hung leather chopsticks. And eyes that floated deep and bright, as though the first offerings from some distant cluster of stars. She was not the smallest of the trio, but she was so small. And so thin. There seemed an impossibility of growth. As though she could never possibly be anything other than that jumbled beauty, that desert vision that lay before me.

Why are you asking me that?

I laughed. The girl shrugged and patted her backpack.

I have an extra bag of chips. I thought your daughter might like them.

And so sometimes the world goes pop from bubblegum bombs. Of course I had a daughter. Of course I was a father. Wasn’t I always one?

No, but thank you very much for offering.

I said. And the girls floated down the way.

My mind was awash in a dance of pastel and daisy parasols. My arms swelled granite and oak, enough to shelter the sun’s innocent gentle glow. I felt like the father of all little girls.

And suddenly I could see the horizon and the valleys and the plains. I could see how all the in-betweens and the dalliances would play.

My daughter would be mischievous and unorthodox in her ways. She would be the kind of chick that would make everyone in the room smitten by calling them assholes. She would still always cry when Christopher Robin left Pooh.

Fuck pee on a stick. The only way to portend a seachange is the tremor underneath your feet. It’s always there for the important things. And if you learn to listen for it, it can be as the rattle of a snake.

And I rode that tremor back to your mother. And together, for a moment, we lived in the absolute, irrevocable certainty. That you were a she.


So, of course, the only discernable appendage from the fog of your very first ultrasound was your dingus.

And, of course, the first words out of the ultrasound technician, were:

Ok. Oh, jeez. There it is. Um. Do you guys want to know the sex?

Well, so much for quasi-mystical coincidental beginnings. And so much for bathing in that naive warm glow. As much as I was certain about the landscape of raising a strong, young woman –  is as clueless as I feel about guiding a young man.

I had a father for only a very short while. In truth, I’ve never even felt comfortable with the word. In my life – my dad was the Pooh bear I had to leave behind.

I do not know what makes a good man. That definition is complex and elusive for those who haven’t picked a set of already written words to cement their lives in.

But in my short time, I have been able to observe this world. I have lived where clouds slumber. I have lived where field is the only sea. I have cleaned the pots that others shit in, and I’ve had them cleaned for me. I have been the many. I’ve been the only one.

I own less than nothing. But I am humbled by my immense fortune.

So. You have a penis. And we, my friend, are together on unfamiliar ground.

But since I have had a chance to study the world, a world which includes penises, I’m going to write you a brief instruction manual. In the case that I, or my brain, bite it early.

Because when you’re tackling something huge, it’s good to start with a small bit. (Sorry, cheap joke.)

And because it’s only when you’re totally lost, that you can begin to define what it is you really know.

And that suits me fine.