Just the Four of Us

For the first time in more than 20 years—near as we can figure—my mom, dad, sister, and I are alone together in my parents’ house.* The last time this happened, according to Jill’s recollection, was just before I left for South Dakota to marry Jodi. Jill was pregnant with my niece and goddaughter Kayla (hence the asterisk above) and couldn’t travel; she recalls sitting together in the loft overlooking the great round beams of my folks’ house, talking with me and giving me a old penny from her coin collection that had belonged to Grandpa Thorp. I don’t recall the exact moment as clearly as she, but I have the penny still, and the timing seems right.

And now here we are again, just the four of us, talking and laughing together. Births, holidays, weddings, funerals. Decades pass like minutes. We are entirely different people than the last time, and just the same.

I’m not sure I have a point tonight, other than to commemorate this day and note the speed with which time’s arrow flies, the swift fluidity of life, and the beautiful permanence of family.

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!

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.

The Still, Small Voice of God

There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. –1 Kings 19:11-13


It is Tuesday afternoon, and I am writing from home. This column should have been done and in already. It is not, because even a job working for the church is not as important as some things.

Around 9 p.m. last night my youngest son threw up, and my bride informed me she didn’t feel well either.  Between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. or so, my son was sick probably two dozen times. Jodi did not get as sick, but was as sleepless as Trevor—and I tried to stay clear so that hopefully I could handle little Lily in the morning and keep her from catching whatever this was.

I rose and prayed with Jodi at 5:30. She felt a bit better, and Trevor was sleeping, at last.  At around 6, Emma was sick the first time, and by 8, Lily was complaining that she didn’t feel well either. I was getting ready for work—Day 2 with our new faith formation coordinator, Andrea Zachman—but had the sinking feeling that it was only a matter of time before it hit me, and that my colleagues might rather I stayed home. I was torn—I felt fine, but so had Trevor and Emma before it hit, and I had plenty of work to do. Lily seemed fine, but if she were on the verge, I didn’t want her spreading it to her friends and their families. Jodi was torn, too—she didn’t feel great, but had a mountain of work waiting for her and didn’t feel she could afford to miss a day.

And as fate would have it, we had a blanket of fresh snow on the walk, cars, and roads.

Ultimately we compromised: we both went to work briefly to take care of a few things and bring some additional work home to do around our other duties. We were out of several basic food items in our house, so I fought the blowing snow to stock up on a few things—and now here I sit, writing furiously.

We are all called by God—do you hear Him? I often imagine the God of the prophets speaking to them in a deep, thundering voice, but that’s not what we hear in first Kings, above. Elijah recognizes the Lord in “a light, silent sound”—other translations say “a sound of sheer silence” or “a still, small voice.” God whispers, as it were, drawing us close with his words, into an intimate conversation with Him.

Unfortunately, the noise of the world too often drowns Him out. We hear the voices of our colleagues and bosses ringing in our ears; the ringing of the phone and ping of emails, IMs, and texts…the traffic report…the weather…and nothing of the still, small voice of God.

Excuse me a minute: my other high-schooler, Gabe, just called—he’s sick and can’t drive himself home. Jodi and I need to go get him and the Suburban.

We are all called to a first and universal vocation of holiness. Most of us are called to live out that first vocation in terms of a second vocation to marriage and family life—we sanctify ourselves, our spouses, and our children by imaging God Who is Love. Everything else we do and are come in below that. We are created from Love, and Love is our purpose and end. That’s all. That’s enough.

Because that’s everything.

Tolstoy, or Three Things to Love About Anna Karenina

Blogger’s Note: Several years ago, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. Though 15 weeks is long past, the end is near, this being number 14 of 15.

I am not like other men (or at least, not like many that I know). I have just past my forty-second birthday, and just read Leo Tolstoy’s immense novel Anna Karenina, by personal choice—and I loved it. 

My friend Fr. Tyler (from the Prairie Father blog) recommended it to me as “the greatest love story ever born in the mind of man and put to paper.” He has never led me astray in terms of fiction, but other men might not see that as a recommendation. I mentioned to a friend a week or so ago that I was reading it, and asked if he had ever. He laughed and said, “Ah…no.”

“It’s a great book,” I said, and again he smiled: “I don’t doubt it.” And that was that.

It is a big book (736 pages in my edition, with narrow margins and smallish type), full of Russian names and nicknames—Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Lëvin, Prince Stepan “Stiva” Arkadyevich Oblonsky, Russian place names and politics, and Russian aristocrats who flavor their conversations with French and occasionally German. (Thank goodness for Google Translate!)

Despite these difficulties, I struggled to put it down. It manages to be an amazingly detailed portrait of time, place, and people, and yet remarkably universal and relevant to this time and place: 21st century America and even the 2016 election. It is heartbreakingly tragic, and incredible hopeful and uplifting. It is newly ranked among my favorite books of all time.

Without further ado, Three Things to Love About Anna Karenina:

  • Complexity of Characterization: Tolstoy sees his characters clearly and portrays them in all their complexity. Think of this: Anna is written as captivatingly beautiful; men and women alike can’t help but respond to her appearance and charm—and neither can you. This beauty could seem stereotypical or convenient for the sake of the story. It could be hammered away at like a one-note tune. But Anna is never simply beautiful.* She is captivating and tragic: people are drawn to her and repelled; her passions are apparent; her motives unknown even to herself. Tolstoy makes you love her and despair, much like her husband. And all of the characters are this way. Tolstoy is a keen observer of people: his descriptions are not of men, but of  intellectual men, simple men, dashing and pasty men, dandies and duds (sometimes within the same character).The worst have their qualities; the best have their faults. None are flawless, and so we believe in them.
  • The Art of Pacing: Tolstoy’s novel is peopled by people, and they live as we do, in time, lost in thought and out in the world. He details the lives, habits, thoughts and appearances of his characters and weaves together different story lines in a way that is simultaneous clear and keeps the reader wanting more. I had to fight the urge to flip forward when he jumped from one thread to another. As a writer, I realized in reading this that I rush everything: descriptions, details, day-to-day life. I leap from scene to scene, dialogue to dialogue, crisis to crisis—and only sketch the people involved. Tolstoy takes the time it takes. I could learn something here.
  • Religion and Culture. In March of 2011, I wrote of The Brother Karamazov, “Dostoevsky does not shy away from religion and philosophy, permitting his characters to speak at length (and in character, so not always clearly) about the existence of God, morality, humanity, science, psychology, justice, the state, and more. I was struck by how a book written circa 1880 could have so much to say about our world in 2011.” Replace Dostoevsky with Tolstoy and 2011 with 2016, and it applies here. I have been struck throughout this challenge by the fact that the true classics of literature capture the universal condition of humanity. They are not old, but timeless. It’s a pity that increasingly these books appear not to be read.
One final note: What I loved most about the book (but didn’t share as one of the Three Things, because it’s so personal to me) is that I saw myself in it. Anna’s story is obviously the focus, but the protagonist of the main parallel story, Konstantin Levin, is an idealistic, emotional man who wants to understand how the world works, but when he engages in society, in politics, it makes no sense. He drives himself to the brink by contemplating what it all means; he wants marriage and family and life in the country—and yet he struggles to enjoy these things with all the pressures he puts on his heart. 
The description of Levin before and during the birth of his first son brought me to tears. (I am not like most other men.) And finally, this:

I’ll get angry in the same way with the coachman Ivan, argue in the same way, speak my mind inappropriately, there will be the same wall between my soul’s holy of holies and other people, even my wife, I’ll accuse her in the same way of my own fear and then regret it, I’ll fail in the same way to understand with my reason why I pray, and yet I will pray—but my life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to me, every minute of it, is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it!

My list of 15 classics has changed somewhat over time; my next and final book will be much shorter: The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor. Back soon!
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* I’m free-associating now: we recently watched an old Western on Netflix, The River of No Return, with Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe. God bless Monroe, but she is a kind cinematic shorthand. She does what’s required: sing, seduce, weep, laugh, but her role in the story is, as our elder daughter once characterized her job as a toddler, to sit here and look beautiful. Anna is not that. At all.