Up until I was lifted out of my mother via C-section, I was supposed to be a boy.
My name was to be Joseph Paul Lunzer. Paul after my dad’s first name and Joseph after his middle name. So clearly my dad was thrilled to be having a son. A son just made sense to a guy like my dad, who is the definition of a Midwestern “guy’s guy.” He built himself a man-cave in the basement of his home equipped with a bar (stocked full of whiskey, vodka, bourbon and a “fine” Arbor Hill Mrs. Brahm’s Very Blueberry Wine that he purchased one Christmas to add a touch of class; however, I just don’t think my family was ready for that much class in a glass). My dad’s man-cave also has a tiny bathroom with just a toilet so that he is freed from the social pressures of putting down the toilet seat and washing his hands. My dad believes that fancy couches consist of two reclining seats connected together by storage-type unit in the middle that holds his sacred remote control, a half-eaten bag of chips and empty peanut shells. And let us not forget the importance of cup holders on said fancy couch. Without cup holders my dad would be expected to actually hold his beverage…with his own hands!
Mounted on the walls of his man-cave are several award-winning fish he caught in various Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canadian lakes. These prized fish hang upon the walls with their mouths open and shock in their eyes. As if their last thoughts were, “Damn! I promised myself that I wouldn’t fall for that minnow on a hook again.” My dad has an array of plastered and molded dead Walleye, Bass and Northern fish for all of his friends to marvel at when they visit. “That’s a nice looking bass you got there, Paul.” Once his friend Hokey had a few too many shots of whiskey and forgot to pronounce the B in bass while giving my dad this compliment, which I think only made their friendship stronger. My dad’s just the kind of guy who only has friends named Hokey, Corky, The Old Indian Guide and Peterson. In the Midwest there’s always a Peterson.
So on that cold day in February of 1980 while waiting for his son’s arrival, my dad sat with my mom while she powered through contractions with no epidural. Instead she chose to play the songs of Diana Ross and The Supremes in her hospital room to get her through the pain. Several hours into her labor, the doctor made the announcement that I had gone breech, which was the first indication of my stubborn nature. When I could have easily rewarded my mother for her hours of hard labor by finally exiting her body, I chose to instead do somersaults in her belly as I attempted to come out butt first. Because of this, they rushed my mother into the operating room for an emergency C-section. My mom was pretty doped up during the surgical procedure, which she remembers fondly. “That was one of the best highs ever.” So when then the doctor lifted me up and announced, “It’s a girl!” My dad was the first to hold me. “Are you sure it’s a girl?” I imagine he asked over and over and over again. But there I was in all my female glory. The scariest thing my dad had ever seen, a baby girl whom he had no idea what to do with.
After the initial shock wore off, my dad devised a plan to raise me as if I were born a boy. He taught me how to fight, spit, successfully slide into third base, play hockey and do push-ups. “Not the girly way,” he’d say as I did push-ups for allowance. I could even do one-handed push-ups and the kind where you clap your hands together on the way up. I was the only 10-year-old girl at my elementary school with biceps. I dominated the presidential physical fitness tests and could flex arm hang until the dismissal bell rang. My dad couldn’t have been prouder of his daught-son creation.
However, once I turned 14, an even bigger fear of his came knocking, boys. Not many boys, but a few and his advice on dating was more terrifying than helpful. “Remember Jo, if one of these guys gets too close, just count down the buttons on his shirt. One, two, three buttons down and then BAM! Hit him in his chest. It’ll knock the wind right out of him.” And then once I started high school he’d say things like, “Sure you can have sex in high school, but then you’ll be forced to move to an island far away with the rest of the people who have leprosy.” What? I didn’t even know what leprosy was until I looked it up in the set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s that my dad purchased as a gift to the family in 1990. For those unfamiliar with an Encyclopedia Britannica, it was the paper predecessor to Google. They were giant books you’d open and look stuff up in. If it wasn’t in the EB, it didn’t exist.
I was an emotional teen girl going through drama and he had few solutions to my problems besides, “Just punch ‘em in the face, but never throw the first punch,” or “Calm down. It’s not like it’s the second coming of Christ.” He said this after coming home from work only to find me in a fit of hysterics on the floor after my first “love” had broken up with me. However, my father’s piece de resistance was what he said when I came home crying (again) after being picked on by two 14-year-old boys at the local rec center. “Dad, they kept saying ‘you’re ugly’ and pointing at me in front of everyone. Why do I have to be so ugly?”
My dad just looked at me confused. Rather than advising me to knock the wind out of them, he said, “What are you talking about Jo? You got such a strong neck.” I didn’t know what to say. A strong neck!?! That is not what a ninth grade girl wants to hear about her body. Then he cupped his hand around the back of my neck and looked at me with sincerity in his eyes. “And you got that strong Lunzer chin,” which only meant that there were more chins coming.
The boys who called me ugly didn’t stop once I informed them of the beauty of my “strong neck.” Instead they said I had a hump on my back and laughed in my face, but I never told my dad. Instead I kept him happy by continuing my push-up regime and prepping for my “one, two, three buttons down” moment. It made my dad proud to instill a physical strength in me and I didn’t want to let him down. I was reminded of this on Father’s Day when I inadvertently gave my dad the best present ever, I carried a one-hundred pound rock from my brother’s backyard to the backseat of his Nissan Sentra that was parked in the driveway. “You’ve still got it,” he said with a huge smile on his face.