CHAPTER TWO: Cargo Shorts
Twenty years went by very quickly after that first sonogram.
During that time I learned some things about women that I didn’t know when I was young and single. Raising three daughters will do that. Maybe if I had known of these things I would have made fewer mistakes, but collision learner that I am, for me there was probably no other way. Some of what I have learned has been large and philosophical. Other things I would put in the category of small but practical, like the fact that women don’t like pockets. That’s a practical thing to know as a man.
There might be a bit of philosophy to the female antipathy to pockets, but I don’t know what it is. I no more understand why women don’t like pockets than I understand why cats don’t like the water. I just know they don’t, because they (almost) never buy any clothes that have pockets in them.
A man would never buy a pair of pants without any pockets. That would be a distinctly un-masculine act, like taking more luggage on a trip than he could carry without help. But It’s not that men like pockets in the way that women don’t like them. It’s just that we know we need them to stay in the fight. A man without pockets isn’t much good to himself or anyone else. He’s not an asset.
Before I was married pockets were a simple matter. The right front pocket was for my keys, the right back pocket was for my wallet and the left front pocket was for my change. That arrangement provided the left back pocket for contingencies—a just-in-case pocket, When I travel overseas I put my passport in there. During the COVID pandemic I used my contingency pocket to hold my mask (and an extra mask for my wife if she forgot hers). It’s good to have that extra pocket because you don’t know when you will need it.
With small variations, I’ll bet it is the same with most men, although (in the mid to late 2000s) it changed a bit for most of us. We stopped paying cash for most transactions (which meant no change to carry) and we gave in to the reality that we couldn’t function without a smart phone. So the left front pocket morphed from the change pocket into the phone pocket. Everything else remained the same. We still have the contingency pocket.
When a man comes home from work at night he takes his wallet and his keys out of his pockets and puts them in a specific place where they remain until he leaves again. That’s the first part of his ritual. The location of that place may vary among men, but there is always a place. Nearby to the place is a man’s phone charger, because that’s where he puts his phone when he empties his pockets at night. If a man’s keys, wallet and phone aren’t in his pockets than they are in that place.
When a man leaves for work in the morning, the last thing he does is go to his place and put his keys, wallet and phone in his pockets. Just before he gets in his car, he taps his pockets to make sure he did that, even though he knows he did. It’s just good to check. That’s the second part of his ritual.
Women don’t have a place or a ritual, because they don’t have any pockets. Their keys, wallet and phone could be anywhere. My wife or daughters will sometimes ask me to call their phone so that they can use the ring to find it. When they do find it, they text the rest of us to ask if we have seen their keys.
Unless he is a janitor (in which case his keys would be hanging off his belt on one of those retractable contraptions that look like fishing reel) a man’s set of keys have to be small enough to fit into his right front pocket, so he doesn’t have much more on his key chain than the keys to the car, his office and the house. A woman’s key chain has no such restriction because she doesn’t have any pockets into which they must fit. She might have any manner of things on her key chain that have nothing to do with her car, office or house.
Sometimes I’ll pull my wife’s giant set of keys out of my pocket (because I’m holding them for her) and ask her what a specific key is supposed to open.
“I don’t know,” she will reply.
“Why don’t you take it off the chain then,” I’ll ask.
“Because I might need it someday.” She’ll say, even though she doesn’t know what it’s for.
One of my daughters has a pink leather octopus on her key chain that is the size of a grown man’s fist. When I asked her why she said “so I don’t lose my keys—everybody knows that’s my octopus”.
Lacking pockets, a place and a ritual my daughter relies upon her community to return her keys to her when she leaves them someplace. Because they are distinctive, the process works better. That’s a pretty rational tactic, but not something a man would need to do because we have pockets. We are also generally adverse to relying on the community for small things. And big things. That often works to our detriment, so it’s a good thing we have wives and daughters. They keep us from trying to go it alone all the time.
In addition to not having big keys, men also have small wallets. In fact, given the millennial preference for tighter pants, wallets are getting skinnier. I like a skinny-wallet even though I’m a baby boomer who doesn’t wear tight pants. But even a fat-wallet guy doesn’t have a wallet like a woman’s wallet because it still has to fit into his back pocket.
There’s no such restriction for a woman’s wallet. My wife’s wallet is about five times the size of my wallet. I would describe its contents but I am afraid to go in there. I might find something that would get us into a fight.
I would also never buy a phone that I couldn’t fit into the left front pocket of my not-skinny jeans, no matter how smart it was. There was a time (before they got smart) that phones were getting smaller like wallets are now. That time ended when we began cramming everything we used to have to buy individually at the Radio Shack into one device that we now get from the Apple store.
Given that we now keep every photo, song, book, a detailed map of the Earth, the Library of Congress and pretty much all of the knowledge and information in the known world sitting in our phones, it’s not surprising that they are bigger. But it still has to fit into my pocket. My wife could not care less, because she has no pockets.
But she does have me.
Long ago, before she was my wife (or even my girlfriend really), she made ready use of my contingency pocket. If we were going to get something to eat, she’d ask me to hold her drivers license and money for her. If we were going to a bar she’d add her lipstick to that. As our relationship evolved, I began asking for her keys (if she drove) so that we wouldn’t have to search for them when it was time to leave wherever we were going. That all felt very natural to me, like a service a man is born to provide for a woman. It made me feel useful and men like that feeling. We have an inner drive to be an asset.
When Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem so that Jesus could be born there, he probably carried her stuff for her. I’ll bet that there were pockets in those desert tunics the Galilean men wore, but the Galilean women didn’t have any pockets because they don’t like them and never have. Nothing changes under the sun. Mary was the star of that show, so Joseph did what he could to be an asset.
After my oldest daughter turned about one or so I bought my first pair of cargo shorts. I didn’t buy them because I liked the way they looked—they made me look like a dad, which is (of course) exactly what I was even though I didn’t necessarily want to look like one. I bought them because I needed the extra pockets. I couldn’t fit all the stuff a father needs into the contingency pocket of my not-skinny jeans. I needed more space for the pacifier and wipes and snacks and swim goggles and (well, the list was long).
When my second and third daughters were born I had to buy more cargo shorts with bigger pockets. As soon as they were old enough to do so, my girls started thrusting things in my hand and saying “here Daddy, hold this” just like my wife did when we started dating.
It might have been a toy or a hair band. Sometimes it was just a rock they thought was pretty. But whatever it was, I’d stuff it into my cargo pockets with the rest of the things I was holding for them. Often they would forget what they had given me, but I would hold onto it all anyway—just in case. I couldn’t bear the look in their eyes if they asked for something they had entrusted to me and I couldn’t produce it. A betrayal of the highest order.
Our girls are grown now, but I still wear those cargo shorts sometimes. When I do, my wife will snort and say “hah, cargo shorts! Why are you wearing those crazy things?” Because she hates pockets, she hates cargo shorts even more.
“I don’t know,” I respond and laugh.
But I do know. I wear them on the off chance (as remote as it now is) that somebody I love might need me to hold something for them, because that is what I am supposed to do. Holding things for the people he loves is what a man does. So he can be an asset.
That’s why a man needs pockets.