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Caught Between Casanovas

Susan Ashby Mergler January 22, 2015
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Standing in the condom aisle after a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner, I turn to ask my husband how many he thinks we need. Maybe because he thinks that the vasectomy he endured fifteen years ago has exempted him from this conversation, he is no longer standing next to me. By the way, he is definitely misguided in thinking that his little procedure came close to evening the score with my birthing of two babies.

Wasn’t he the one who just yesterday after witnessing the signs of a budding romance between our son and his girlfriend came nervously running into the kitchen, announcing that a trip to prophylactic paradise was urgently needed? Is this the same man, who upon our daughter’s entry into adulthood, assured me that continuing to preach the birds and the bees until she was twenty-five was all that was necessary? Yes, all this from the man who I would later find hiding in the feminine products aisle, so rattled by kid number two’s ascent or descent, depending upon how you look at it, into the perils of early adulthood, mindlessly reading labels on a Summers Eve product.

Are we ever really ready to confront the harsh reality that our little creations are maturing into sexual beings? Suddenly all those sleepless nights and piles of diapers followed by endless hours in the carpool line don’t seem so daunting after all when compared to the loss of sleep that occurs once diapers turn into bikinis and carpools give way to drivers’ licenses. Back in those earlier days of parenting, I also had the luxury of a stalwart force in my parents’ dependability as backup. Whether they were called upon for emergencies or much needed breaks from the daily grind, my husband and I knew that they were only a phone call away when reinforcements were needed.

Several years past diapers and even carpools, I now find myself trying to navigate this new era of parenting often referred to as the sandwich generation. Actually, I  prefer to more appropriately label it the Panini generation as those of us at this point of life will hotly attest to feeling pressed upon from both sides of opposing forces versus being comfortably wedged between two soft pieces of bread. On one side are my teenaged children. On the other, my aging parents where more often than not, my experiences in raising my own kids these days seem to mirror the interactions I keep having with them.

Take sex for example. It’s hard enough to figure out what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to your kids and the birds and the bees, but your own parents? Despite the fact that I do not own one, I seem to be making more decisions lately involving penises than my own husband has ever had to do as I am continually being pulled down the slippery slope of geriatric antics while already overwhelmed with trying to raise the two human beings I brought into this world.

Let me explain as we back up a few years to a time when my 80-year-old father had begun mentally declining in a way that was hugely noticeable to everyone but him. Sometimes nature can be unpredictably kind. Comfortably hidden in nothing but his own awareness, even in his advanced age, he must still have felt like he did when he was a young buck, decades earlier. To say he was stubborn would be the equivalent of labeling Mother Teresa just a woman. He exercised his right to confound everyone almost daily. His car keys perpetually glued to his body, he had no intentions of giving up driving like Mario Andretti in the middle of both lanes of every road, regardless of whether the lines were dashed or solid, yellow or white, because quite frankly according to him, he paid taxes on the entire road.

Trips back home became much more frequent as my mother, the always submissive and obedient wife, began to enlist, sometimes even begging for my help or rather my inherited stubbornness to get the doctor to persuade my father to give up driving. Mom had had about enough of risking her life and limb on a daily basis for such necessities as groceries all the while being chauffeured by the progressively declining king of control.

These doctor’s appointments were often preceded by a desperately faxed letter explaining our plight of uncooperative motor vehicle administrations and elderly family practitioners too inclined to empathize more with dad, followed up with a phone call to the receptionist with instructions to place the faxed plea front and center in my dad’s medical chart. We then would hope against hope that this particular doctor might understand and join us in trying to save my father and the rest of humanity sharing the road with him.

Our optimistic intention was that by the time we would arrive at Dad’s appointment, things would be in place for this less than obvious intervention. My father, however, so focused on the latest promise of a penis perking pill recently seen on TV, would arrive at his appointment unable to hear a word the doctor was speaking about his blood pressure reading or his cholesterol levels, never mind his need to permanently slide on over to the passenger seat. Like a toddler who cannot seem to hear his mother urging him to sit down in the shopping cart because he is close to falling out and hurting himself, all he wants is the newest, most colorful piece of candy at the checkout counter along with the pleasure that it promises.

And what is so wrong with the man getting a little assistance in the virility department even at age 80 you ask? Let’s go back yet again a few more years and you will begin to understand why keeping my dad away from penis pills ranked right up there with the campaign to get him off all the highways and byways.

It’s a steamy summer evening and I’m feeling pretty good about walking into the restaurant for my twenty-fifth high school reunion. By now, I am mostly refined and grownup and looking forward to a classy evening, a far cry from the high school days of Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink screw top bottles of wine and aimless hours spent riding the back roads as entertainment in my small Virginia hometown without a single stoplight.

Less than five minutes after walking into my reunion, I find myself shaking hands over introductions with a classmate’s new husband who somehow recognizes my maiden name and where I grew up and immediately chuckles uncontrollably. That certainly is never a good sign since I haven’t lived anywhere near my hometown in over a quarter of a century. My teenaged reputation surely has ceased to precede me, or so I hoped.

As my classmate’s husband’s laughter subsides, he begins to tell me how he and an entire ambulance entourage had recently been summonsed to my parents’ home where they encountered my father, passed out in a tub full of water. You see, this wonderful and confounding father of mine whose visit to every chiropractor, optometrist, dentist and hearing aid technician was also a side mission to hopefully score an illicit prescription for Levitra, Viagra, or Cialis. If you aren’t familiar with these brand names, I can simplify it for you. Pills that can help any man remain a man; regardless of how many sperm he still has left in his bank.

Being a heart patient and having endured two open heart surgeries in twelve years, one of which was a quadruple artery bypass and the other where Dad was the very fortunate recipient of a mitral valve from a pig, Dad’s cardiologist had long ago told him he would never be a candidate for this type of medication. If he wanted better action, he should concentrate on lowering his blood pressure was the expert’s advice. As if a medical doctor knew better than dad. Well, you would think so. Did I mention that my dad was stubborn? So, if the cardiologist says no, surely there’s the off chance that the orthopedic surgeon seen over ten years ago for a fractured vertebrae just might say yes. And proof that the squeaky wheel really does get the grease, with dad’s persistence and energy to defy the odds as he later would by outliving the expiration on the pig valve by five years, Dad somehow convinced the orthopedic doctor to finally say yes.

So, this is how it came to pass that I am standing with a swanky adult cocktail in my hand, thinking how far in life I had come from the days of swigging wine from the gallon bottle of Gallo, as the details unfold of just why the cardiologist had continued to deny dad of having his very own prescription for penis pills all these years.

Like a train wreck that you don’t want to see but at the same time feel compelled to look anyway, once the reunion dinner was over, I returned to my parents’ home and attempted to extract the rest of the horrid details that had made for the local volunteer fire company’s Comedy Central. According to Mom, my father, who in addition to being stubborn was slightly impatient over most things, thought that if one pill didn’t do the trick quickly enough, then two pills would surely get the job done. And to his initial delight, the two pills definitely got the job done. However, to his inevitable discomfort, the two pills got the job done a tad too well.

To counteract the extreme effects of what was certain to happen (and in his excitement of a quick fix, had he in fact listened to the entire television commercial or actually read the patient pamphlet accompanying his prescription, he would have known this about such side effects), Dad decided to crawl into a tub of hot water. Why not cold water, you ask? I can only guess at this point that because of his history of high blood pressure and the fact that his blood supply was being diverted to places other than his brain, doing so in a cold tub would not have made for as interesting a story. Anyway, by the time my mother realized his mistake, Dad was already slumped unconsciously in the steaming tub. After quickly summoning the necessary medical intervention, this EMT at my high school reunion now shaking my hand and laughing was accompanied that night by an entire emergency crew appearing at my parents’ house, rolling out my father with his flag flying at full mast beneath the white gurney sheet, all the way to the local hospital.

The details of how this medical situation was finally resolved once they arrived at the emergency room remain a mystery to me. Not so much because my mother was less than eager to elaborate, but more because I fully believe that some things are better left to one’s own imagination or better yet, avoided lest the images of what actually happened become seared into the mind’s eye forever. So I passed on the opportunity to learn more at this point.

This nonsense continued almost until Dad’s death, 3 years later, because as it is also with childbirth, cycles repeat themselves since humans tend to have a very limited capacity to truly remember the painful parts of our pleasurable pursuits. Looking back, I suppose the positive to be gained from all of this is that my father lived life to the end as he always had—chasing his dreams even if not as vigorously as he had chased my helpless mother in his earlier days.

Which brings me back to the current dilemma in the condom aisle. As mothers, we all must walk that fine line when it comes to our kids growing up. On the one hand, this is a positive time as I contemplate the glaringly obvious truth that my son is growing into a healthy adult. On the flipside, if I over think this unexpected field trip, I can quickly turn it into a monumental crisis of potentially knocked up females and unthinkable STDs that will surely guarantee death, unfolding right in front of my eyes. My sweet, chubby cheeked baby boy has suddenly been caught in the crosshairs of a 17-year-old blonde.

Trying to keep a proper perspective on this two-sided dilemma, I am convinced that we as mothers tend to see our children frozen in time as the little angels they once were, even when they have long outgrown the training wheels and sippy cups. This is evidenced even so in my own eighty-year old mother who just last summer launched into a fifteen-minute lecture of why I should be wearing a bike helmet as my daughter and I struck out on a leisurely jaunt around town. I remind her that I am not still five and that even when I was, there were no bike helmets to be worn in this tiny town sans a single stoplight.

Continuing to scan the condom display, which by the way spans three-quarters of an entire pharmacy aisle, I suddenly feel as if I should have done a little research before actually venturing out for this purchase. My earlier days as a pharmacy tech certainly had not prepared me for this parade of options. Back in the 1980s, the condoms were relegated to a discreet corner near the pharmacy counter as I suddenly remember one particular customer who had me searching for ten minutes for the extra-large Trojans. Eventually my boss, the registered pharmacist on duty that evening, tired of this man’s comical charade at my expense and finally informed me as discreetly as she could that one size actually did fit all.

Condoms surely have come a long way since those days. Packaged in every sized box from three all the way up to boxes as large as small car trunks, the little prophylactics practically scream to “pick me”! In various sizes (guess one size actually didn’t fit all), shapes, colors, flavors, and promises to do everything but sing and dance, I wonder what my father would think about this. How does a mother decide? And where the hell is that husband when you need a male’s perspective on what will help protect but at the same time temper anything that might be perceived as unbridled consent? Not wanting to be wrapping up too much permission into too fancy a package, I also know that burying my head in the sand (or in my husband’s case, the feminine protection aisle) isn’t a realistic or smart option either.

Reaching for a medium sized, blue box of the plainest little penis protectors that I can find, I head back to the feminine aisle to retrieve my husband, only to find that he has moved on and is now wandering amongst the Depends. That’s okay for him if he wants to distort reality of which stage of adulthood we are in at this moment, but I think I’ll take condoms over adult diapers for now. Then again, I guess I should be happy that he hasn’t crossed over into the Land of Levitra just yet.

Photo Credit: National Archives of Australia’s 1958 Two Men and A Woman Running (reference #A1200, L26833) www.vroom.naa.gov.au/records/?ID=19399


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  1. James Warren January 22, 2015

    What a fantastic story! I’m sure lots of parents – and children of elderly parents – can relate to your experiences! Thanks for sharing!


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