Okay, so maybe the title for this blog is hyperbolic, but when I went grocery shopping on Sunday evening with my nails painted hot pink, I felt a little odd. And maybe it was just my imagination running away with me (another song allusion) but I felt like I had a few strange looks. Its okay, I think I would have looked at me strangely too. Picture this for a moment – a 6 foot 2 inch man with a big belly, a 56 inch chest and athletic-looking arms and legs wearing a pair of gym shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt, pushing a shopping cart with a 11-month old baby in it. Then you see him reach for a bunch of bananas and you see it – hot pink fingernails, a few with purple glitter too.
I had to be a strange sight. It was strange for me too. Whenever I forgot that my fingernails were painted, I would see them out of the corner of my eye and have a double take – at my own hands! It made me wonder, why? What is so disconcerting about a man that – on the surface at least – is 100% masculine wearing fingernail polish (and what, I might add, does it mean to be 100% masculine? Is that even a real thing?).
I mean seriously, was I somehow less manly because I was wearing fingernail polish? Would someone see me wonder about my sexuality? What if they connected my fingernails and the clergy sticker on my car? Would they deem me unfit for the ordained ministry? Nevermind the fact that my two most recent hobbies are playing football and boxing. Did the color of my fingernails somehow change me?
To be honest, I don’t have the answers to all of these questions. I’m not sure why I felt so out of place. Why does something as menial as finger nail polish seem to matter? Why was I sure to remove it before I went into church on Monday? It made me wonder about all sorts of gender issues. What makes one thing feminine and another thing masculine? Who defines these things? It seems like some traits of gender are more about society than biology, but I think there are important evolutionary differences between our genders. And why does crossing those gender lines make us so uncomfortable? It made me think briefly of Jesus telling Martha to come and sit with him and the guys – breaking down important gender barriers. Like I said, the whole thing made my head spin a little, and I have more questions then answers.
The fact is, going out in public with my nails painted was probably one of the “manliest” things I’ve ever done. My four-year-old daughter painted them. When she approached me, the conversation went something like this:
“Daddy, I know that boys usually don’t where fingernail polish, but I think you should try new things. You should try finger nail polish and see if you like it.” She expertly used my own words against me. I have told her dozens of times that it is good to try new things – whether it is food, games, or meeting new friends, I tell her all the time, “it is good to try new things.” So how could I argue with her?
So I let her crawl up on my lap, and I helped her paint my nails. Of course she picked out the loudest color possible. She did a great job. She was so careful and so proud of how great my nails looked afterward. Later that day I was washing my hands, and she told me, “be careful Daddy, don’t wash the polish off.” So I told her that I would probably take it off pretty soon. She looked at me and said, “But I want you to wear it to church so everyone can see.” I promised her that I would leave it on for the rest of the day.
That night when I was going to the grocery store, I was going to bring both girls. I figured she would provide great coverage for me. But then she decided to go with my wife, so it was just me, the baby, and my hot pink nails at the Hy-Vee.
Afterwards, I felt strange sense of pride. I realized how silly it was to feel bad about how my nails looked. It made my daughter happy, and she might always remember that lesson, “its good to try new things.” I reinforced it to her in a very powerful way. The next morning I told her, “Well, I tried it, but I don’t think I like it.” She was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to leave it on until next Sunday, but she respected that I at least gave it a try. Plus there was a small consolation – I bumped into the head usher of our church at Hy-Vee, and he promised that he would “tell everybody.”