Why Is John Wearing a Dress?


Before we get started…

This particular post is not really about teaching, education, or leadership. I have been in a nostalgic mood the past few months and I came across this short story I wrote many years ago. I wanted to share it because it reveals a little but about my dad and my sister Clara.

You may know a little bit about my dad from Thankful for All The Things, a collaborative blog post from November 2018. He was most definitely very strict and regimented, surely a result of his time in the army. Our family friends would refer to my siblings and I as “los soldaditos de Eduardo” (Edward’s little soldiers) because we carried out his expectations to a T.  I have so many memories that highlight how strict and unwavering about decisions my dad could be and those that know me well have heard the stories countless times. They are hilarious now, though at the time my blood would boil from the anger or injustice I felt. But that’s not the whole story of my dad. He was extremely generous to others, he modeled daily the values of determination and hard work, and from time to time, he was quite the jokester. In fact, the root of this story stems from a prank he played.  I’ll get to that shortly.

Thinking about these various dimensions about my dad caused me to think about ideas I learned about in The End of Average by Todd Rose. Rose describes two opposing ideas that  psychologists attribute human behavior to, traits and situations. The first view holds that our personality traits determine our behavior; the second states that the environment is the driving factor for behavior. Rose posits the context principle of individuality, which states that “behavior is not determined by traits or situations, but emerges out of the unique interaction of the two.” As applied to my dad, we could say that at home and with regard to rules, my dad was rigid and unbending. At a party, you would not see those qualities, instead you’d see my dad yucking it up and very possibly wearing a wig or a lamp shade over his head. Just as is the case for all individuals, my dad’s behavior resulted from the interaction of traits and situations.

Ok, so let me set this story up and explain the photo. It was 1970 and we were living in Los Angeles. Since it was pre-internet, communication with family in Colombia was almost exclusively carried out via letters and photos (long distance phone calls were rare due to the cost). My family in Colombia knew that I was born a couple years earlier, but my dad wanted them to believe that there was a new child in the Martinez family and that this one was a girl. Yup, I was at the center of this prank, so I had the honor of wearing the yellow dress complete with gloves, handbag, necklace, earrings, and bow. And yes, I crushed it, just look at that expression on my face!

This story is told from my sister Clara’s point of view. It is a monolog that my sister is having with herself. I pretended that she was the one who dressed me up and this retelling has nothing to do with my dad. Clara has a nickname for me (Juanita Banana). I don’t know the origin of the nickname. Since the dress I’m wearing is yellow and bananas are yellow, it’s plausible that this story could have happened the way I tell it. Clara ismy oldest sister and we share a special bond. She has always called me her baby due to her caring for me extensively my first two years on the planet while my mom recovered from some serious health issues. She has always been my champion and defender. If you know me, you might guess that I got into a fair amount of trouble as a kid. She always stepped in and saved the day, or my hide. There were many times that my two big brothers wanted to pummel me for something I did. Clara would get between us and like a force field, they would shrink back. That was due to my dad’s influence. Luis and Jairo knew that if they did anything to my sisters, they would have to answer to him, and NOBODY wanted that.

Thanks for sticking with me on this post, I hope you enjoy the story.


Juanita Banana

Juanito, you’re such a cute baby. Eres tan linda como una muñeca, you’re as cute as a doll.  

Hey I know, today you really will be a doll.  My very own dress up doll that walks and talks.  

Having a baby brother when mamá isn’t home can be lots of fun!  Hmm…what can I do? I can dress you up! Should you be un vaquero, a cowboy?  Darn, we don’t have a cowboy hat or boots for you.  Maybe un payaso, a clown – we can use Luis’s costume from last Halloween. It’s here in this closet somewhere. Ah, I found it!  Ohno, it’s too big, it won’t fit you.

Hmm… Luis and Jairo are my size, none of their clothes will fit you.  Maria’s clothes will fit you. Too bad you are not a girl, I could have dressed you up all sorts of ways…  That’s it! Who says you have to be Juanito?  You can be Juanita – at least until mamá  gets home.

Let’s see, Maria has lots of clothes. What do you like mi hijo, my child?  That is a pretty dress, but I don’t think that pink is your color. What about this yellow one? Let’s put it on you and see. It’s perfect. Mi bebé precioso, my precious baby!  

Now we’ll put on white gloves, white earrings, and a white necklace. Oh mi hijo, que elegancia, such elegance!  Look at yourself in the mirror. You look beautiful. You really do look like a little girl in that yellow dress Juanito. You look more like a Juanita.   

Juanito… Juanita… yellow banana… Juanita Banana, that’s who you are now!!  

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