My father had trouble persuading my mother to go along with the scheme. Tessie Zizmo had been a virgin when she married Milton Stephanides at the age of twenty-two. Their engagement, which coincided with the Second World War, had been a chaste affair. My mother was proud of the way she'd managed to simultaneously kindle and snuff my father's flame, keeping him at a low burn for the duration of a global cataclysm. This hadn't been all that difficult, however, since she was in Detroit and Milton was in Annapolis at the U.S. Naval Academy. For more than a year Tessie lit candles at the Greek church for her fiancé, while Milton gazed at her photographs pinned over his bunk. He liked to pose Tessie in the manner of the movie magazines, standing sideways, one high heel raised on a step, an expanse of black stocking visible. My mother looks surprisingly pliable in those old snapshots, as though she liked nothing better than to have her man in uniform arrange her against the porches and lampposts of their humble neighborhood.
She didn't surrender until after Japan had. Then, from their wedding night onward (according to what my brother told my covered ears), my parents made love regularly and enjoyably. When it came to having children, however, my mother had her own ideas. It was her belief that an embryo could sense the amount of love with which it had been created. For this reason, my father's suggestion didn't sit well with her.
"What do you think this is, Milt, the Olympics?"
"We were just speaking theoretically," said my father.
"What does Uncle Pete know about having babies?"
"He read this particular article in Scientific American," Milton said. And to bolster his case: "He's a subscriber."
"Listen, if my back went out, I'd go to Uncle Pete. If I had flat feet like you do, I'd go. But that's it."
"This has all been verified. Under the microscope. The male sperms are faster."
"I bet they're stupider, too."
"Go on. Malign the male sperms all you want. Feel free. We don't want a male sperm. What we want is a good old, slow, reliable female sperm."
"Even if it's true, it's still ridiculous. I can't just do it like clockwork, Milt."
"It'll be harder on me than you."
"I don't want to hear it."
"I thought you wanted a daughter."
"Well," said my father, "this is how we can get one."
Tessie laughed the suggestion off. But behind her sarcasm was a serious moral reservation. To tamper with something as mysterious and miraculous as the birth of a child was an act of hubris. In the first place, Tessie didn't believe you could do it. Even if you could, she didn't believe you should try.
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