You know, most societal traditions are just fine in their current form. Many of them have remained basically unchanged since they found their groove hundreds of years ago, and with good reason. The major kinks got worked out a while back. They do what they're supposed to. End of story.
Some people, though, are just tinkerers by nature. So every once in a while, they start acting like the generational equivalent of Pizza Hut, and try to mess with perfection. They love Christmas, but they know exactly what it's missing: a ring of melted cheese in its crust. They're aware that millions of others don't have a problem with the standard bar mitzvah format, but they're absolutely certain it would be even better if it were square, cut into finger slices, and served up with an assortment of dipping sauces.
But in most cases, tradition, like pizza, needs no improvement. Inevitably, unnecessary "improvements" on tradition, like Pizza Hut's various culinary bells and whistles, quickly fade, and New Year's Eve goes back to being flat, round, and cheesy all over.
The tradition my generation seems intent on reinventing is the baby shower.
While the concepts of celebrating new life and bestowing gifts upon new parents are probably as old as religion itself (there's evidence that ancient Egyptian and Roman cultures were quite into it), the baby shower as we know it is a surprisingly new thing. Most sources vaguely pin its appearance in American culture at large somewhere around the end of World War II. Given its comparative newness, I guess it's understandable that some still view the baby shower as a work in progress. Still, by now, some elements should be recognized as set in stone. There will be gifts. There will be games. And there will be women.
I don't know why some men in their 20s and 30s feel the need to either involve themselves in the baby shower, or respond to it with some sort of equal-and-opposite ceremony of their own. Perhaps it's the new, sensitive man's desire to dance on the grave of the kitchen-and-nursery gender segregation of the era in which the baby shower was born, or maybe just a show of loving support for the mother - we're in this together, honey.
I suspect, however, that it boils down to two things: an almost pathological need to know what a dozen chicks really do when there aren't any dudes around (I know, it flies in the face of reality and logic - what are they gonna do, make out while they flog the pregnant lady with dildos? - but we're talking about men here), and a simple, stubborn refusal to let one's partner have one more party than one gets.
Several weeks ago, I attended a guys-only prenatal rite of passage organized for a friend and coworker about to have his first child. It was called a "man shower," but it wasn't as "prison movie" as that sounds. It was both a reclamation of contemporary man's ever-fading primal masculinity and a bestowing of the responsibilities of fatherhood to the new head of a clan, but it wasn't as "Braveheart" as that sounds.
Actually, it was as "Braveheart" as that sounds. There was fire, and a cleansing ritual, and a menagerie of gifted organic objects, and a couple of really cool kilts so modern and equipped that they could only be called UtiliKilts, which they actually were.
I enjoyed the "man shower" immensely. The man who performed the ceremony - it was the father-in-law of the father-to-be - said a lot of empowering, bluntly man-centric things that all in attendance wholeheartedly agreed with, but would never repeat to our girlfriends and wives when we got home, for fear of mockery and/or violent reprisal.
Also, it seems like a really good way to find out who your true friends are. They're the ones who show up to something called a "man shower."
Then, last Sunday, I went to a co-ed baby shower. Because invitations were sent to both men and women - and because most of the friends of the couple of honor are fun-loving, beer-guzzling, tattooed hellraisers of the first order - I assumed it would be nothing like a regular, girls-only baby shower.
Well, you know what they say about assuming.
I enjoyed this get-together, too, but much more for the opportunity to meet my friends' relatives and other friends than for the actual event, which, aside from the wife's thoughtfully paring the games down to one painless group exercise, was pretty much, you know, a baby shower.
The only real difference was the presence of a dozen uneasily loitering young men who spent a lot of time going out into the front yard for a smoke and asking the father-to-be when it would be OK for them to have a beer. Many of them made use of the opportunity for escape presented by the hoopla surrounding the gift-opening portion of the program; this was fine with the father-to-be, who got to go outside and direct the complicated vehicle maneuvering that accompanied the exodus.
These two disparate occasions, while fun in their own ways, haven't changed my opinion about tradition in general, and the baby shower in particular - I think it's all about the ladies, and should stay that way. While the "man shower" was definitely pretty rad, I couldn't really see myself having one. It would be hypocritical.
For one thing, I'm not Scottish, or Irish, or Wiccan; for another, I don't need or deserve to boisterously reclaim my primal manhood if I'm just going to leave it out on the deck when I get home and go inside to do the dishes Peaches keeps reminding me I keep forgetting to do.
And I'm not sure we'll need a co-ed version of a traditional baby shower, either. It would basically just be a party, which would rob the mother-to-be of something I think she'll need - an intimate, meaningful ritual to be enjoyed with those of her closest friends who can really relate to the circumstances. I can bring the boys and the bottles home after that, if she likes.
No, when the time comes, I'll enjoy the tradition of the baby shower the same way men have for 60 years, the way, I think, men were meant to: By going to the strip club farthest from whichever house is hosting the shower, then stumbling home hours later to fall asleep while the mother of my child attempts to elicit my enthusiasm for all the cool baby stuff we got.