I HAVE SEXUAL PROBLEMS. Serious sexual problems. Sexual problems the likes of which you would not believe. I think strange things about women. I think strange things about men. I think strange things about myself. I am strange. I know all this now. I learned it after I wrote about breast feeding.
Immediately the phone rang. "Richard, this is not you. Richard, you could not mean this. Richard, how could you?" I explained. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't, but always I tried to explain and usually the people were nice, listened to what I had to say, and bought my explanation.
Then came a certain call. I forget the name. I have it somewhere, but the name is not important. I'll use quotes because it reads better that way, but the fact of the matter is that I didn't take any notes. The caller turned out to be a New York woman from the La Leche League, which is to the cause of nursing what the NAACP is to civil rights. A friend of hers had sent her my column. She had read it. She had shown it to her friends. Do you know what they thought?
"Richard, you're sick. Richard, you've got sexual problems."
"Of course," I said, trying for a little humor. "I'm an American, too." Silence.
"Richard, this is not funny. Richard, I showed it to my husband. Do you know what he said?"
"Don't tell me."
"You're sick. You've got problems. We discussed you at a party. Everyone agreed. A person who writes something like this is sick. My God, have you thought about why you wrote this? Were you breastfed by your mother? Maybe this has something to do with your hostility to women. Maybe . . ."
You get the idea. I saw myself being passed around at a party, people saying what a weirdo, shaking their heads, tsk tsking, wondering about my childhood experiences, about the number of girls who had an urge to wash their hair whenever I called for a date, about whether I wasn't in fact a closet something-or-other -- male chauvinist pig, for instance.
Now I have to admit that some of this was fun. The mail was heavy and the calls were steady and and a column. I've been told, is about impact or controversy or whatever you would like to call it --that old business about how all that matters is that they spell your name right. And the fact of the matter is that there were people who really loved the column, who called me and told me what a truly wonderful person I was and how, for once, I did not take the so-called women's lib stand on an issue, but stood up for common sense, like a real man.
But now it is time to say something, something I thought of saying before but I kept being remined of what I think Henry Ford II said -- something about never explaining or never apologizing. I know what he meant and what he meant has nothing to do with arrogance. It has to do with how you never catch up with the first impression and how your explanation only tends to raise the issue once again and how you stand a good chance of being misinterpreted the second time around.
But Henry Ford runs an automobile company and I write a newspaper column and the two are not the same. My column is personal, sometimes as much about me as about others, and the column I wrote about breast feeding did not say what I thought it said. For awhile, I thought the issue would die, go away. But it continues to echo and the letter keep coming and I continue to run into people, as I did the other night, who ask, more or less, how could you. The answer is "I didn't mean to."
I did not mean to condemn public nursing, which is what some people read into the column, or to label it unnatural, which is what some others thought I did, when, in fact, I think just the opposite. What I meant to say is that nursing is, however, one of those things that makes some people uncomfortable some of the time and one of those times is when you somehow get the feeling that more than just the feeding of a baby is going on. IT is hard to say exactly what else is happening, but you get the feeling that a personal or political statement of some sort is being made -- something that has nothing at all to do with the child, and it is that that I criticized.
Anyway, I've had enough. I've been called a creep, and retrograde, and my sexual health has been examined in a Manhattan living room and found, need I say, wanting. I know deep down Henry Ford is right, but I just wanted to set the record straight. I am not against the public breast feeding of infants.