Masculine protection

I grew up with three brothers and no sisters. Our home had about as much female energy as the Seahawks locker room. You could always tell when my mom was in the bathroom, because she was the only one who ever closed the door. The rest of us just treated it like a stall.

Of course, karma guaranteed that I would only have daughters. Being the enlightened, twenty-first century dad that I am, I made the best of it. I braided hair. I fixed doll houses. I did the voice for Ken when Barbie needed someone to drive her to Malibu. But none of that prepared me for the arrival of adolescence, and with it my daughters' "monthly visitor."

Men don't do periods. We believe they exist, but they lie beyond the boundaries of our experiential universe – like alien life forms, or dark matter, or Donald Trump's real hair. But for a man with daughters, ignorance is not an option. One day you meet your fate, as I did, scribbled on a grocery list, taped to the refrigerator door.

"Get pads and tampons."

The first time I paid a visit to the "feminine protection" aisle, I tried my best to look confident and nonchalant. But soon I came face-to-face with grim reality: a grocery store display with fifteen different brands and thirty varieties of each.

Stalling for time, I turned my body so I could pretend to be interested in the stuff on the other side of the aisle. Yep, I sure dig those Epson salts. And cotton balls – how about that giant bag of cotton balls?

There were an overwhelming number of variables to consider: length, absorbency, brand, recyclability and several features I didn't even understand. It was like ordering coffee in Seattle. In my panic and confusion, I imagined wandering into Starbucks and asking for a low-fat, decaf, long, unscented, super-plus cappuccino with wings. Wings? WTF!!??

And then there were the product names. "Natural Balance," "Always," "Poise," "Infinity," "Serenity," "Radiant," and "Barely There." The faces of the women on the boxes said it all. They were all so fresh-faced and vibrant, as if the life force contained in these products had transformed them into enlightened beings. Transcendence in a box – with two dozen "comfort smooth" plastic applicators.

I turned the boxes over and over in my hands, muttering strange incantations under my breath: "Maxi … ultra … extra … super … plus …" Mothers hurried by, clutching their children and avoiding eye contact.

Finally I found something that seemed to be what I was after, but my relief was short-lived. Now I had to actually buy them. I swept through the store, looking for something to camouflage the pink, flowery boxes at the bottom of my cart. I picked up a package of bacon and a six pack of beer. I don't even drink beer. Then I swung by the household aisle and got some duct tape, a screwdriver and some batteries. Size D. The big boys.

When I reached the front of the checkout line, I quickly unloaded my cart, making breezy small-talk with the young woman at the register.

"Oh no," she said, holding up an open box with tampons spilling out the end. The six-pack of beer had crushed it. "This one is damaged. I'll get you another." Before I could object, she was asking the teenaged bagger to get replacement. He looked at the box, then at me, then walked away holding it at arm's length, like a dead rat.

Time passed. I smiled at the checker. She smiled back. I picked up a magazine and pretended to read. It was Modern Bride. I shoved it back in the rack. She smiled again.

When the bagger came back with a replacement, I paid with cash and told the checker to keep the change. I hurried out the door and ran across the parking lot, propelling my cart like the brakeman on an Olympic bobsled team.

I'm happy to report that I've evolved since then. Now, I'm perfectly comfortable waltzing up to the checkout line with my super large economy size box of winged-flexi-maxi-ultra-thingies and plopping them right on the conveyor belt. But for all you dads of daughters who are new to this and still finding your way, I have two words of advice: "online shopping." You can pull down your blinds, sit down at your computer and do what you have to do in the privacy of your own home. You may have to pay shipping, but believe me, it's worth it.

Because sometimes, we men need a little protection, too.