How I Got Gelded and Respected

We all recall that Rodney Dangerfield’s one-liner, “I get no respect,” became his middle name. His fans (including me) suspected that before turning pro, Rodney worked countless, tedious day jobs. But there was (and still is) something that any man can do to summon for himself beaucoup respect, one that will knock him on his back— somewhat literally.

I refer to vasectomy at one of Guatemala’s APROFAM clinics.

The arrival of my third son, Aaron, was unplanned, but I rejoice hourly for his presence. He and his brothers have channeled so much joy into my life, even prenatally, that I could wish the stork could continue to visit at 40-month intervals. But the wife and I are quite middle-aged, and I realized that if this keeps up, I might be in Depends before my kids are out of Pampers.

So, further pregnancies would have to be averted. Not that there was any big risk, since at my age marital congress can be as infrequent as blue moons. Even so, next time that it really is that time of the decade, morning sickness must not follow. So I volunteered to be neutered, to save the wife from being spayed. It seemed like the, uh, manly thing to do.

Most people think APROFAM is governmental, but it is in fact a foundation seeking to reduce Guatemala’s soaring natural increase, which rivals the Dominican Republic for first place in the Americas. Countrywide, APROFAM has dozens of clinics; these provide operations for folks wanting to avoid pregnancies, and pre- and post-natal care for those who do not.

We were brothers in what is apparently Central America’s second-smallest fraternity. The social worker remarked that this was the first time she had seen two men on the same day.

At the time of my own visit (2007), men were fixed for Q25—cheaper than a Mac Attack, yet better both for posterity and for one’s arteries. Women were fixed for Q75.

My arrival on the appointed day was cause for elation among the clinic employees, almost all of whom were women. The reason was not “Look girls! Mr. Expat Make-out Man, whose fame precedes him, is through sewing wild oats!” No, it was more like, “Look girls! There are two men here today!”

And so there were. In the packed waiting room, myself and one other dude, among dozens of women, held appointment cards. Other men were present, but not as patients. They were there to provide bedside support or to see for themselves that the thing would be done.

I had spoken over the previous weeks with the APROFAM file clerk, the secretary, the nurse and the social worker—all women. Each treated me as if I were the Pope granting them a private audience. Each adored me with the same fixation as did women in the old Charles Atlas ads—where the 97-pound weakling chases off the bully after undergoing body-building. Are you Rodney Dangerfields paying attention?

A one point I was surveyed, since APROFAM wants to know who their customers are. They asked about how many children I already had, about my age, about my profession—and even about my religion. That raised my eyebrows a little. But these people were on a good mission, so I had best cooperate.

The women’s operation entails not only more invasiveness, but more preparation. So, a whole room is set aside for them to recline in after the nurse administers injections on the shoulder and in the groin. The waiting women were all led off for this, leaving me alone with Pablo (the other guy) and his wife, Yoli. We chatted and became fast friends. We were brothers in what is apparently Central America’s second-smallest fraternity (the smallest being tuk-tuk operators who read Miss Manners). The social worker remarked that this was the first time she had seen two men on the same day. On most days, she added, they see none. She estimated, unofficially, that spay patients outnumber neuter patients by 45ish to one.

Pablo, the braver of us two, went first. Yoli and I talked some more. She told me how much she appreciated Pablo for insisting that he, not she, would have an operation. And she gave me the same “You are a real man!” smile that I got from the clinic workers.

After 15 minutes, however, Pablo emerged from the operating room, taking tiny steps and cupping his, uh, jewels. Oops! The real man in me began to falter. The nurse apparently noticed, for she said, “Pues, it’s not what you think. He’s not in pain. Just following doctor’s orders.” Pablo himself gave me a look that said, “If I could, you’d better.”

And so I did. It was not wholly painless, as zero-growth campaigners sometimes claim. But it was easier than many trips to the dentist. The harder part was that the operation was performed by a boy surgeon under the observation of two young female medical students. In my state of full blush, I was still fully clothed by the time I was on the table. The medical crew had seen this before, evidently. So, with some determined wrenching they dropped my drawers for me without any hint of “oh-he’s-one-of-those!”

I thought, “Wow—strange women are undressing me!” The wife thinks this happens a lot (PS: it never happens even with unstrange women). I could not look these women in the eye; maybe I was afraid to see them seeing me. But their dispassion and professionalism calmed me, unexpectedly. Weeks later I recognized one of them on a Sololá street, coming my direction, so I altered my course just in time. My inner voice exclaimed, “That chick has seen me naked!” Later I regretted this, since the manhood that such women must admire is not about anatomy but character, and it is always good to meet admirers.

And so, four years later, Aaron remains my baby. Marital congress remains rare, but the door may be opening for my greatest hope: adopting a little girl who will grow up counting her Dad a real man.

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