Friday, March 7, 2014

Menstruation - yes, I am a man and I said the word out loud!

I am a man and I have two daughters.  When my daughters were born, I vowed that I would not shy way from topics such genitals, sex, reproduction etc., and yes ... wait for it, menstruation.  Yep, I, a man, said the word out loud (ok, wrote the word, but trust me, I actually said the word out loud as I typed this). To me, menstruation is just a natural part of being human.  Yes, it is specific to women - in the sense that men do not have a menstrual cycle, but it is just part of life, and to ignore it or pretend it does not exist is stupid, at best, and dangerous, at worst.

I, in particular, wanted my daughters to understand that menstruation is not something to be ashamed about or to hide, but rather, it is a part of who they are.  Every woman needs to come to a good place in their heads with this for the sake of their mental health. And every man, needs to understand that this is something that women have as part of their physiology; it is just what their bodies do.

As my daughters approached puberty, my wife and I talked very frankly with our daughters about what to expect and how to handle the menstruation once it happens for the first time.  Now granted, my wife has significantly more experience with this than I do - ok, infinitely more experience -  but, we wanted to prepare our girls that Mom might not be around when it starts and that it might be Dad who is there and that is ok.

To this day, I still see a shuttering of people's shoulders when the word menstruation is used - and, in fact, a euphemism (e.g., period, cycle, that time of the month) is often used in its place. For goodness sake, we can not even refer to a dog in heat without using a euphemism.  Look at this image I found on the internet ... "For Female Dogs in Season"; we can not even say estrous cycle for dogs.

And I simply do not get it.  I am not saying that a woman has to broadcast to the world that she is menstruating, but for the love of god, there is no need for a woman to be ashamed or embarrassed.  Are we ashamed for going to the bathroom and having a bowel movement?

So why am I writing this?  Well, I came across this BBC news item regarding one man's development of an inexpensive sanitary pad.  His desire was to improve the quality of health of women in rural and relative poor areas of the world so that they do not have to choose between food for their families and basic hygiene.  Here in the United States and elsewhere in the prosperous parts of world, there is a huge array of choices for feminine hygiene products that do not include old used rags or sand or ash (you think I am making that up? - read the article) and choices between food and sanitary pads is not an everyday problem.

I hope in some small way, I have made a dent in the mystique of menstruation so that women, in general, and my daughters, in particular, can say the word menstruation, and more importantly have their menstrual cycle, without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.  

Now maybe we can get the world to accept the words semen, vagina, orgasm, ejaculation, or penis.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Curious Stars

My wife, who teaches physics and astronomy at a nearby college, came home with a treasure this week.  The librarian at the college handed her a book with the comment, "I know you teach astronomy and this book is really cool.  But no one ever checks it out and we are thinking about moving it to the inactive shelves."   My wife, with her uncanny knack of recognizing something special - even if she has never previously seen that "thing", brought the book home and asked if I recognized the book. With a gasp of delight, I immediately recognized "The Stars: A New Way to See Them" by H. R. Rey.

Most of you reading this post probably just said to yourselves "Huh?".  But, if I mentioned "Curious George", you likely would immediately know of whom and of what I am speaking.  That's right; the Curious George author also wrote a book about star gazing for beginners (in fact, he wrote two: the other beginning "Find the Constellations").  The book was more than just an amateur's guide to the night sky; the book was intended to introduce the night sky to anyone who ever looks up and wants to know the answer to the question "What star is that?" 

Written in 1952, at the dawn of the space age, the spirit of the book is to bring the night sky to the curious child found inside each of us - regardless of our age - by capitalizing on our imagination and innate love of beauty.  The science background is in the book but it does not lead the book.  

Rey redefined the drawing of the constellations.  Prior to this book, the constellations were either drawn as ornate figures or abstract geometric connections of stars - neither of which is very useful for finding your way around the night sky.  By drawing geometric figures that connected the stars within a constellation but also resembled a human view of the figure the constellation represented, he brought a human touch to an abstract view of the night sky.  To this day, his constellation drawings still stand and many are used in other "more serious" publications.

But the book goes beyond pretty depictions of mythological characters, and delves into explanations of the seasons, the phases of the Moon, the diurnal cycle etc ... all the things that we notice on a daily basis but don't always really notice or, perhaps, understand. Rey's book instills in the reader a love of the stars by making the stars part of our world.  It is love of knowledge that fires curiosity, and it is curiosity from which we grow and expand.  Rey's books are not about stars, per se, but rather about who we are and from where we come.

There are only a few books ever published that have explored a topic in such a way that the book is aimed at children, but is also well-appreciated by adults, and capable of changing a child's (and an adult's) view of the world such that the child would then go on to explore the topic in more detail.  "The Stars" is one of those books - and it would be a shame to lose this book to the ages on some random, dusty, inactive book shelf.

Thanks for bringing it home ...

Night after night they [the stars] are there.  And night after night they arouse our curiosity, our urge for knowledge.

Stone age or space age, man will be asking the question his grandparents have asked before him and his grandchildren will ask after him: "What star is that?"

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Curiosity views Earth ... from Mars.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory - aka, the Curiosity Rover - has been on Mars for approximately 18 months.  One of Curiosity's main science goals is to assess the habitability of Mars in the past - particularly, in areas where evidence for water flow in the past exists.  Over the years, I have followed the progress of the Mars landers and rovers with keen interest.  Understanding how/if life may have formed on Mars, an environment once possibly rich in water and now barren of surface water, could have remarkable consequences for our own understanding of how life formed on the Earth.  While we study Mars to understand Mars, we also study Mars to understand ourselves and from where we originated, how we have evolved, and what our future may hold. once in a while, a remarkable moment is captured in our exploration of other worlds - as if that sentence is not remarkable in and of itself.  Curiosity looked up and caught a glimpse of the Earth and Moon in the Martian evening sky. Two bright stars in the evening sky - much akin to us looking up in the eastern sky in the morning and seeing Venus just before sunrise.

By studying the Universe, we study ourselves.  To understand the Universe is to understand ourselves.  

We truly live in remarkable times ...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dog Therapy: The Nose Knows ...

I am a dog person ... well, really an animal person, but dogs are and have been my constant companions for more than 20 years (um ... in addition to my spouse).   They are my therapy - every weekend, I join a group of dog owners, and we let our dogs romp around.  Interestingly, my dog goes for the people as much as the dogs, and I go for the dogs as much as the people.  I saw this article on CNN and thought what an awesome idea; I wish I had access to a dog when I was in college.  

This is no huge surprise; the healing power of animals on people is well documented and is used for much more serious afflictions than stress.  Therapy Dogs International is just one organization that helps bring comfort and noses to those that need it.  Just one more way to give back ... and this time it is ok that your nose is wet.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dear Dad ... thank you

22 December 2013

Dear Dad,

As a dad myself of two nearly grown daughters, I have a much greater understanding of how much you gave of yourself to your children, to their spouses, to your grandchildren, and to Mom, but also just how much you lived.  While every memory is not perfect (as one would expect of real life and not Hallmark-card life), I look back and realize just how much you had accomplished as a dad, a spouse, and a human being.  You lived a principled life on your terms and never forgot your responsibilities, your compassion, or your laughter.  

If I do half as well as you have done, I will have succeeded.  Over the years, I have told you all of this many times - usually over many glasses (sometimes bottles) of wine and just before you left us.  But now, I want to share these thoughts with the world - so they know what I have always known about you.

One of my fondest memories was a time in Florida.  You were visiting, and we went to go get food or something, and we stopped at a bar to have drink while waiting.  It was a moment of laughter and friendship and, for me, a moment of understanding of you as a man as a person, and not just as a parent.

And so while I said this last month to you directly, I want to say this one more time and for the entire world to hear.

Thank you!  Thank you for the sacrifices.  Thank you for the lessons.  Thank you for speaking your mind, especially when I did or said something stupid.  Thank you for biting your tongue, while I made and experienced my own mistakes. Thank you for quietly nudging me in the right direction. Thank you for the support.  Thank you for teaching me the value of family.  Thank you for the freedom of family. Thank you for the pride you had in me.  Thank you for the wings.  Thank you for keeping me grounded.  Thank you for the wisdom - even if I didn't hear you the first time. Thank you for the laughter.  Thank you for passing on your love of life. Thank you for the tears when we parted. Thank you for the smiles when we met. 

Most of all thank you for the love and being my Dad.

I love you and I know you loved me ... always your son,