Coming-of-Age: Unintentional Training Since I am not a morning person, I need to warm up to my first meal of the day. Warming up beside me is Chance, the Royal Rascal of a beagle. He announces his appearance, or presence, at my seated side by gently swiping my leg with his nose, and then his flews, usually after he has emptied the water bowl. I do not wish to be too graphic, but his flews are drool cups that runneth over . . . with love. I have therefore established a few rules at the table, one of which is that he does not get within a 6-inch circumference of my thigh. I even told him so this morning. And then I laughed, thinking that the dictate sounds like the rules for what used to be called “dating”.
In the delightful and utterly beguiling 1942 Hollywood film, The Major and the Minor, Susan Applegate, played by Ginger Rogers, has just learned the rules of engagement for the males and females at the upcoming dance at the military academy where she has become a guest through a fiendishly female prank. There are 23 “musts” and 24 “must nots”. In hopes of preventing any further decline in the rapidly deteriorating relations between the sexes, I offer some advice to females — from my distant past. These tips helped me enormously to figure out the male of the species.
One book that I carried with me from my young childhood into full adulthood was a small, blue-cloth-bound manual entitled HOW TO TRAIN A DOG. It belonged to my father whom, I would all too heart-achingly realize, was a prince, if not a king, among men. After dealing with one too many cads (feckless boys and infantile men), I came to the vexing conclusion that experience had become a timely, costly and inadequate teacher. I wanted answers. I got them, from this book.
My quest for economic and emotional independence had included years of working at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the brief phase when I did not take a bus or walk or bicycle to work, I drove my jalopy at the crack of dawn to the Tower Bridge in Sacramento to park this junker that no one would vandalize along the Sacramento River. I then walked to the Federal Building on Capitol Mall with several other co-workers who were in the same fix financially — of not having enough quarters to periodically plug the meters surrounding the office building for parked cars.
At the back of the spacious cafeteria in the Federal Building, one long table was the site of many a book-reading involving me, full-time Federal employee, part-time college senior (at last), and the only female amidst the male engineers at this table. I was the one reading the book; the engineers were the curious onlookers. Their thoughts might have been, “Oh, look! She’s sitting there with a book!” “I wonder what she’s doing with it?” “Reading?” “Those pages do not appear to have any pictures, just words!” Frightened-rabbit-faces faced me. The bravest among the scared bunnies usually asked the questions. Upon one early morning, at 7:15 of the clock, I held in my little technical writing hands my treasured blue-fabric hardcover book, How to Train A Dog. One brave, friendly engineer quipped his question, “Oh, are you thinking of getting a dog?”
“No,” I stated, “A husband.” The engineers looked at one another. They knew I was not joking. After I silently read the subtitle of one section, I queried, “Do you know there is such a thing as unintentional training?” No verbal response but some smiles came my way. I stated: “This result occurs when you unknowingly reward the dog for doing something that he ought not do.” And there, my friends, was the answer to ending my years of frustrated attempts at understanding the opposite sex. These male engineers knew precisely what unintentional training meant, and although they liked playing dumb, none of them rolled over! They tried to look completely unaware and looked totally uncomfortable!
It amazed me that the male of the species would knowingly and willingly permit a female to unintentionally train him, either through her acquiescing to bad habits that thus were not likely to be easily broken, or by passively accepting things she felt she could not change. The female rarely understood this tacit permission of undesirable attitudes and annoying actions. I nonetheless got the feeling from these adult males that this sort of tomfoolery is to be expected or abided during the course of a marriage. And I, with my book on dog training, was the female upsetting the apple cart of the male stacking the deck in romance and conjugal bliss! (I know that’s a terribly mixed metaphor but I like it!) You may wonder why this dog training book was so necessary to me at this point of my young adult life. I proffer the extraordinary explanation: I missed adolescence as an adolescent. My ideal of the ideal male is, quite naturally, my father, a man who was in the autumn of his life when I was born. I therefore expected boys to be men when they were boys. Some of them never became men, but that problem, I eventually realized, was their problem!
I therefore find coming-of-age-books difficult to understand, at best; and frustrating, at worst. And I have read half a dozen of them, some in English, some in French. My most frequent questions were: “Why doesn’t she know . . . ?” “How can she not understand . . . ?” and “Can’t she see . . . !?” I have re-classified these books as mystery novels. They’re a mystery to me! After thoroughly reading my book on dog training, I set out to learn how to positively and intentionally train a male to understand the ways in which to not get his nose rubbed in his own behavior. Three rules, or consistent principles, suffice. They can be applied to the female as well as to the male of the species. They also work quite well for dogs!
First, there is the Cute-sy (as opposed to the Curtsy). If the guy does something that you think is cute at the time, but is not A-OK in the manners or morals category, and you gush over how cute it is, I can guarantee you that the Cute-sy will not be so cute five years, or even five months, later.
Next is the Negative Reinforcement Rule. If you give positive attention for negative behavior, or for the sake of just giving attention, you are asking for trouble. The more negative the deeds and the dudes you reinforce, the more trouble you will receive!
Finally, there is the First & Forever Formula: If you let him get away with “It” the first time, you let him get away with “It” forever. Males are consistent, if nothing else. The testing begins early. And if you are okey-dokey with questionable character, you will be expected to accept even more questionable character as time goes by. Nip it, nip it, nip it! If you do not nip it, time will not go by: it will drag . . . you . . . down!
In the business arena I learned to apply this principle as well. I was about to work on a contract for engineering technical writing and I discovered that the job was not as had been described to me and I’d agreed upon. Even though I needed the money, I terminated the contract!
You have to put your foot down, even if you don’t like your footprint the first time you see it. It’s better than getting walked on! By the time that I was reading the dog-training book in my single, singular life, it was said of me regarding the opposite sex: “You don’t take any prisoners, do you?” My response was, “Whatever would I do with them?” I then, of course, had to look up that idiom because I did not understand it, literally or figuratively! And while I am not a man-killer, I do not take lightly the idea of being held hostage by my own mistakes, especially the unintentional ones! Once I learned those common-sense principles from that very basic book on dog training, I was a woman liberated from her own woeful ignorance. That book changed my life!
I gladly offer those ground rules to any female who wishes to avoid being a prisoner of her own unwitting device; and who does not want to take any prisoners where love and romance and marriage are concerned. These rules also helped me as a mother. And when my first beagle came into my life, those fundamental principles were a firm foundation for training this willful scent hound, a breed that has been deemed unintelligent by certain surveys.
I fault the methodology: Dog intelligence was being measured by the ability to obey! Surely, my own intelligence was misgauged and misunderstood for the same reason! I do, recall, however, an amused and astonished comment granted to my husband by a co-worker when I called The Office and left a message to say that I was asked to call and leave that message. “An obedient wife: What a quaint notion!” Perhaps my husband read the book on dog training too!