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Jewish World Review June 26, 2000 /23 Sivan, 5760

Tony Snow

Tony Snow
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Consumer Reports

Fatherhood after Father's Day -- JUNE IS THE CRUELEST MONTH for fathers my age -- not because we fret about job security or the lengthening shadows of our years, but because recreation mocks us with unavoidable humiliations.

Now, I have demonstrated manly equanimity after suffering through pulled muscles, aching joints and increasing levels of uncoordination. But one particular ritual causes me to tremble with indignation and fear: When I go to the swimming pool with my family, I must stand up in the presence of friends, neighbors and perfect strangers -- and remove my shirt.

There was a time, not long ago, when this wasn't a problem. I liked shedding tops to display what little physique I possessed. But that was then. I am older. I've found profitable employment. I don't have vast stretches of leisure time. So gravity has taken hold. My sketchy little abs are gone -- along with the gumdrop biceps and squared-off deltoids -- and in their place, a substance eerily reminiscent of bread dough.

Alas, I have become something I swore I would never be: Jabba the Papa, more manatee than man. My love handles look like inner tubes. I have more cleavage than most of the bikini-clad hotties who bronze themselves beside the pool. The only thing that happens when I pull in my stomach is that I look like a belted water balloon.

I remember daydreaming as a young man about how cool it would be to go out and play sports with my son. My dad did it all the time. Many of my fondest childhood memories involve tossing a football, hitting a baseball and learning the finer points of hitting a backhand (he was a college tennis player).

On the other hand, Dad was 24 when I was born, and I was nearly 42 when our youngest entered the world. So instead of having my children coo about my competitive prowess and cheer me on from the sidelines, my boy takes pride in announcing before his buddies: "Dad, you're fat!"

In addition, his two sisters kindly inform me that the top of my head has begun to shine. They're right: These days, I have more success growing hair on my back, ears and eyebrows than on my pate. I fear that if I bought one of those hair-growing compounds, it would affect my entire body and make me look like a Furby.

My old buddy Ed Jones has tried to allay my apprehensions by looking on the bright side. He says that although we grow blinder with age, there's one compensation. Our ear-hair can serve as feelers -- like cricket antlers.

In addition, my skin has become so pale that people put on sunglasses when I pass. (This is a purely beginning-of-season phenomenon, however. By next week, I will look more like a cherry tomato; the following week, I'll be as splotchy as birch bark.)

I am not the only person to suffer these indignities. In the life cycle of men and women, we have hit one of those periods when women generally become trimmer and more beautiful, and guys start oozing out of their clothes.

Codgerdom beckons. I have seen men my age wearing socks and sandals at the same time. I have seen old friends diving into the pool clad in what appear to be recycled maternity frocks. And most tellingly: hats. They're everywhere.

Some guys don baseball caps or tennis caps. Some affect coolness by slapping on headgear from scenic resorts. Others put on fishing hats -- fabric buckets, basically -- and a few, resigned to their biological destiny, outfit themselves in straw sombreros. And every guy knows: These guys haven't resorted to haberdashery for fashion. They don't want to sunburn their scalps.

I confess these things here because it's my only outlet. Guys never talk about stuff this personal. Women discuss their physical and mental woes in horrific detail, but guys communicate through grunts and winks.

We don't do introspection. Instead, we have an implicit compact. We say nothing. When one of us shows up at the pool looking like a pastry sack, we do something we never do around women. We carefully refrain from examining the bodies.

We also have unspoken rules. Here are the most essential.

When in the pool, find water deep enough that only your head pokes out. That way, nobody can be sure whether you look like the star of "Free Willie."

Purchase towels the size of Rhode Island and hike them up to your armpits. And never, ever, EVER buy or wear one of those tiny little racing swimsuits -- unless you want to see what happens when hundreds of people get sick in a swimming pool.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate