An Oasis in the Desert

This blog will be quiet for the next few days. My two older sons and I are headed to Demontreville to make a silent retreat.

Yesterday was my fortieth day without steady work. Forty days in the desert, hungry and tempted to turn back. But I chose to follow this path. I have such sympathy now for those who are without work by no choice of their own, whose families go without because they can’t find a job.

I see this retreat as an oasis from the bustle and worry of the past six weeks that I’ve been seeking employment. I’m looking forward to solitude, rest, and time alone with God.

I will be praying for you in the silence of these next few days. If you pray for me, pray that I might find the way to abandon myself entirely to God’s will and the courage to follow it. Pray that Jodi be lifted up and loved and given peace during this uncertain time. Pray that our children continue to grow in virtue and holiness and stay open to God’s vocation for them. Pray that we all become saints and rejoice together in heaven.

See you next week!

We’ll Always Have Poland

Poland Family

Last Sunday we were blessed to host a party of sorts. What started as my attempt repay the “Poland daughters” who took me out to dinner for my birthday last fall  turned into a mini-World Youth Day reunion, with many of the teens and a couple of the adults from our trip to Krakow a year ago.

We visited, prayed together, and shared a meal: grilled kielbasa and pierogies, pasta and sauce and salad, cookies and root beer floats. We shared our favorite memories and laughed and laughed. We talked about future plans—many of my Poland daughters are starting college this year. And I think we all longed to go back to visit the Motherland.

The next morning I thought I should re-share the post I wrote after the pilgrimage—only to realize I never wrote a recap. I thought about doing a standard Top-10 list, but no matter how I counted or grouped things together, I had too much to share.

So I’ll keep this to three moments that stand out to me above the others. Continue reading

Addendum: The Science Behind Man-Cold

Blogger’s Note: In a recent post, I explored the symptoms, origins, and treatment of the the very real, though often ridiculed, affliction known as man-cold. In retrospect, I realize that I did not do justice to the prevailing scientific theories underlying this misunderstood illness. This post seeks to rectify that oversight.

As providence would have it, on the heels of my earlier post on man-colds, I was stricken by the dreaded disease myself. This first-hand experience, coupled with a striking observation by my son, Gabe, has shed new light on why man-colds happen in the first place.

First, the story: Almost at the same time I was posting the earlier writing, the symptoms began: sore throat, cough and congestion, alternating sweats and chills. At first these appeared to be little more than common cold symptoms, but at a certain point, they quickly escalated, leaving me a shell of the man I hoped to be the next morning. I was feverish, sleepless — near death in all things save fact — and did not know when (if ever) I might expect to be upright and functional again.

The following day, thankfully, my symptoms were reduced, and I was my typical jovial, carefree self — ready to take on the world despite a constant and singularly non-productive cough that plagues me even now, and the periodic sensation that I am about to drown in my own fluids.

During a coughing jag while I was out and about with my family, I shook my head and muttered, “Man-cold…” Gabe looked at me with a sympathetic smile, but gently corrected me: “Clearly not, or you wouldn’t be here.”

He’s right. What I was experiencing was no longer a man-cold, but the common-cold symptoms left behind by the more virulent strain. The question then became, how? How is it that that what manifests itself as a common cold in women and children — and even in men both before and after the man-cold — is so devastating to grown men at its symptomatic peak?

The prevailing theory is so simple it is often overlooked: the man-cold virus is a strain of common cold that feeds particularly on testosterone. When the virus infects a grown man, the testosterone available for consumption causes this strain to outperform all others. The manlier the man, the worse the man-cold, as the bug turns from a mild-mannered sniffle-inducer to a rampaging, rage-infused berserker virus, pillaging and burning everything in sight.

Now consider the effect of this rapid consumption of testosterone after the initial infection:

  • First, the man appears to have the same cold as the woman and/or children his life, with little impact on how he interacts with the world.
  • Next, the man-cold strain begins to feed on testosterone, outperforming the others strains in much the same way the healthy man would outperform lesser men, and quickly spreading through the man’s body, enhancing symptoms and overwhelming defenses. Instinctively the man lays low, knowing that, in nature, the weak and sick are killed and eaten.
  • As the man-cold virus multiplies rapidly, it consumes exponentially more testosterone, emasculating the patient and causing him to revert to a more childlike state of dependency. 
  • Furthermore, in particularly manly patients who are, by their profuse masculinity, prone to frequent man-colds, the immune system may itself reduce the supply of testosterone to starve the virus. The patient’s weak and pathetic appearance is, in fact, proportional to his typical strength and manliness and a testament to the quality of the man under attack by the virus.
  • Once the testosterone in the man’s system is sufficiently reduced, the man-cold strain quickly dies off, restoring the patient to common-cold status and relatively normal, manly functionality.
Of course, this theory need further investigation, but it’s elegant simplicity makes it the front-runner for explaining the truth of man-colds. Please share this information to continue to spread awareness and understanding!

A Father’s Joy

 One of the highlights of a relatively laid-back (for once) weekend was heading into the Cities for the 10 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul. Jodi, Trevor, Lily and I did this because the University of Mary contingent (including Brendan) from the March for Life in Washington D.C. was planning to attend Sunday Mass there at that time, as well.

We arrived moments before the buses rolled up. We stood on the sidewalk and peered through the tinted glass, trying to glimpse the woolly-headed college man we knew to be our own. Instead we saw his STMA classmate, Anna, who grinned and waved joyfully at us — and who got a bear-hug from Lily when she got off her bus. We waited for several minutes then, scanning the lines of students emerging from the buses, until at last a bearded, lumberjack-looking fellow in red-and-black plaid emerged and came our way.

Lily didn’t see him at first; when she did, she ran to him, and I don’t think it was my imagination that her voice caught in her throat as he swept her up. Several of his college colleagues smiled at the hairy young man and his little princess — and I did, too.

It was good to see him, even briefly: good to see him safe and sound, to see his patchy beard grown long enough to cover the bald spots, to see his hair growing still more Robert-Plantish, to see the sense of peace and comfort he has surrounded by his friends. The center sections of the Cathedral had been reserved for UMary, much to the surprise of the regular Sunday Mass goers, and it was good to see so many Minnesota families and friends turn out to greet the pilgrims and pray with them. It was good to see hundreds of college-age men and women enter a Catholic church in quiet reverence, kneel and pray, and receive the Holy Eucharist together.

Lily stayed as close as she could to Brendan — closer even than Jodi. Olivia and her brother Kyle came, too, and sat with us — and after Mass (after a massive group photo at the Cathedral rector’s request) we stood and visited a long while, soaking up what time we could with the young man so like and so different from our eldest son.

When they left to get on the buses, we went downstairs in the Cathedral to show Lily and Trevor, among other things, the massive Lego model of the building. Then we went out to lunch (far more affordable with just two children). While finishing at Chipotle, we got a text from Gabe that the bus from St. Michael and St. Albert was nearly back from D.C., as well, so we hustled home. Jodi dropped Trevor and I off so she would have room in the car for the teens and their stuff, then she and Lily headed to the church. A few minutes later she arrived with Gabe and Emma, joyful and tired, ready for home-cooking and a bed. For a moment it felt like years since we had seen them — and there they were, suddenly, as though they’d never left. I hadn’t noticed feeling partial until the moment I felt whole again. After we visited a bit, I lay down for a nap — and I took a father’s joy in just hearing their voices and noises of their passing as I drifted off to sleep. They were home and the world was centered once again.

Man Cold: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

A friend of ours was sick this past weekend. Actually, two friends: a man and his wife. They were supposed to join Jodi and me and two other couples for an evening of dinner and faith-building conversation, but (according to the message we received as the rest of us were gathering), he had the “man version” of the cold she had, so they were unable to come.

The men gathered for dinner immediately fell silent in sympathy and concern. The women laughed. They are not ordinarily so hard-hearted, so I began to wonder: why is the man-cold so misunderstood and easily dismissed by women?

When we returned home, my bride relayed the tale to my second son, Gabe, and that conversation yielded valuable insight into common misperceptions about man-colds.

Jodi (laughing): “She had the same cold that he had!”

Gabe: “That’s not possible. He has a man-cold, and she is not a man.”

Jodi (smiling): “Okay. She had the same SYMPTOMS as he did.”

Gabe: “That’s not true: she wasn’t bedridden.”

Jodi (exasperated): “Look, she was just as sick as he was!”

I was proud of my teenage son. Already at age 16, Gabe has come to understand that there are, in fact, fundamental differences between men and women and how they experience and interact with the world, and his polite but firm insistence that a man-cold is no laughing matter will one day garner his mother’s respect, even if in the moment she wanted to bean him with her Yeti tumbler.

At any rate, these two interactions led me to research and reflect upon the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the man-cold. Here’s what I discovered.

Symptoms
Perhaps the best summary of the symptoms of a man-cold appears in the classic YouTube video below:

In addition to the typical symptoms of the common cold (runny nose, congestion, fatigue), the victim of the man-cold—invariably men, not women or children—are nearly always bedridden, finding it nearly impossible to rise, and may also experience burning sensations especially in the head; vocal hoarseness, faintness, and strain sometimes experienced by the listener as whining; extreme lethargy and heaviness of limbs; intimations of impending mortality; and an overwhelming desire for maternal care and physical proximity and affection.

Diagnosis
The fact that these additional symptoms are so rarely experienced by women does not make them any less real for afflicted men, and this disconnect is the cause of much misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and marital strife, as evidenced by this more recent video. (Warning: What follows includes examples of inappropriate gender-based “humor” and is difficult to watch, but unless we confront the reality of misunderstanding and neglect, we cannot hope to treat man-colds properly.)

Let’s start with the positives, such as the are: the woman in this video is at least minimally responsive to the needs of her spouse and appears to have a sincere desire to keep the household functioning despite her own minor ailment and the absence of her husband’s no-doubt considerable contributions. But from the start, she equates her cold with his, despite the clear difference in symptoms and severity (most obviously, she is vertical; he is not), and the sarcasm and lack of sympathy demonstrated here is disturbing, but unfortunately all too typical.
It turns out that diagnosing a man-cold is actually relatively simple: If the patient is an adult male and has any of the symptoms of a common cold, plus any of the following additional symptoms, he has a man-cold:
  • Inability to rise from bed, couch, or recliner (or in some severe cases, the floor)
  • Inability to change positions without groaning, crying out, or otherwise vocalizing discomfort
  • Rapid fluctuation in felt temperature (“burniness” or chills) resulting in piling up or throwing off covers—again, accompanied by vocal expressions of discomfort
  • Concerns about obscure or unknown diseases, viruses, or parasites
  • Feelings or visions of doom or death
  • Intense limb heaviness, achiness, fatigue, lethargy, work avoidance and antisocial behaviors, depression, unhappiness, acedia, or ennui
  • Deep desire for physical contact (hand-holding, back or head rubs, forehead kisses, and the like) and child-like need for maternal warmth and affection
  • Fluctuating appetite and desire to eat only particular foods associated with past (especially childhood) recoveries
  • Any other manifestation of the victim’s inexplicably faltering body or immune system
Generally, the difficulty is not with the initial diagnosis itself, but with sustained confidence in the diagnosis, since the symptoms are so severe and persistent, and since in most cases the primary caregiver has no firsthand experience with a man-cold and no ability to measure these additional symptoms independently of the patient. 
This is why early diagnosis and treatment is so critically important: a man with an untended man-cold could potentially spiral into a more severe state in which he begins to hallucinate and his ability to gauge the severity of his own illness is compromised.

I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the possibility that some of these additional symptoms experienced by men may, in fact, be psychological. The reasons behind this are hazy, but are likely rooted in the man’s inherent role as provider and protector. Consider: especially in humanity’s early days, men were required to hunt and to kill, to provide for and defend their own lives and the lives of their family with their physical strength and prowess. And it is well known that both predators and enemies target the sick, the injured, and the weak—thus beginning in prehistoric times, men would have lain low at the slightest sign of infirmity, lest they be killed and leave their wife and brood utterly alone and undefended. 

That feeling of vulnerability and mortality is still manifested in today’s men, who are ordinarily bold, robust, strong, striving creatures unaffected by fear, fatigue, or pain. Imagine if you can the emotional impact on that heroic figure of being cut down in his prime by an invisible (microscopic, we now know) enemy and thereby exposed to saber-toothed cats and club-wielding neanderthals intent on dragging away their brides and children to who-knows-what brutal misfortune. That strength of purpose and fear of failure persists today, even in the lowliest pot-bellied office drone, and must not be regarded lightly.

Treatment

The good news is that treatment of the man-cold is simple: in addition to the steps and precautions one would take with a common cold, you need only supplement with patience, affection, and understanding—and though many people (men and women alike) insist that the man’s mother is the only suitable caregiver in cases of man-cold, this is not true. As awareness of the reality and seriousness of the man-cold spreads, wives can, in fact, become the preferred caregiver—especially for men who have already fathered children and find their mother’s affection for them diminished in favor of her grandchildren.
Wives are, in fact, naturally suited to this role and, when motivated, can be trained as effective man-cold caregivers. First, they have their own peculiar strength that enables them to persevere in loving service even at the cost of their own comfort and wellness. (It is worth noting that this can be a source of added tension in a marriage afflicted by illness, as in the second video above, or in the case of confused husbands who see their wives up and around and naturally assume they feel better: “If you’re sick, take something and lie down! The kids can fend for themselves— it’s good for them!”) Second, they are expert and efficient at taking in the worst in life, transforming it, and pouring it out again again in love (as evidenced by pregnancy and childbirth, leftover night, and their apparently honest affection for snot-crusted children, wilted dandelion bouquets, and abstract crayon drawings).
Advancing the treatment of man-colds requires that wives recognize these inherent strengths and abilities as such and apply them to the men in their lives. This can be challenging, given the difficulty of the caregiver ever truly understanding the magnitude of the patient’s illness in that moment—but it is not impossible. Visualization training can help female caregivers grow in sympathy and patience. Encourage the following visualization exercises:
  • Young Love. Your wife should envision you in your prime or when she first fell madly in love with you and recall how she desired nothing more at that time than to be near you and spend time with you—then awaken and apply that dormant desire to your current illness. Please note that back hair, bald spots, spare tires, and other natural signs of masculine maturity can unfortunately reduce the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Momma’s Here. Your wife should call to mind her affection for your children at there tiniest, cutest, and most vulnerable (or at whatever stage in development appeals most to her maternal instinct), then recall that the child she loves so dearly is a manifestation of her husband’s love for her. She should then recall that, in this moment, he is every bit as vulnerable and helpless as that child and needs her loving care and attention. At all costs, men should resist the urge to spark this maternal instinct in their brides by assuming the fetal position or reverting to crying or other forms of pre-verbal communication. These approaches have been known to backfire.
  • Martha Kent/Nurse of Heroes. Your wife should remember your natural call to protect and provide and envision you as the heroic figure you are meant to be—she need only restore you to health for you to strive and reach that magnificent potential. This approach requires the most imagination and effort on the part of your spouse; if undertaken seriously, it can be effective, but most early trials have resulted in eye-rolling and fits of hysterical laughter, which can be detrimental to the patient’s emotional well-being.
Man-colds are no laughing matter and, to the victims, can seem debilitating or even deadly. However, they are treatable. With further research and understanding, the scourge of man-colds and accompanying sarcasm and ridicule, can be, if not eliminated, at least effectively managed to the benefit of men, marriages, and families everywhere.