Meeting her parents for the first time had been nerve-wracking. I expected their automatic disapproval and at first I received a cool reception. Mothers and daughters often have complicated, love/hate relationships and this was the case here. Her mother was a full generation older than my own, beholden to a time where quiet deference was the norm. In her world, there was always one more dish to put into the sink. Even in an advanced age, I could tell that her father was consumed by anger. In some ways, he looked like a hunched-over ogre. One could tell who wore the pants, and it surely wasn’t her.
With time, I learned that much of his hostility was directed at two key things. He had three daughters in the place of the son he desperately wanted. He was still furious at God because he lost a beloved younger brother in a car accident. Her father held sway over his oldest daughter in a way I could not understand and never would. The old man was difficult and gruff, but she never once uttered a word of criticism about him. It was her obliging mother who could do no right in her eyes. Her caustic remarks made me wonder where the source of the conflict really was. But tn great contrast, the two of us, she and I, formed a natural friendship that persisted for years.
It was my eventual mother-in-law who provided anecdotes that my soon-to-be wife never would. Flushing with pride, she informed me about her daughter’s ability as a seamstress. This was news to me. Apparently she had the ability to take almost any article of clothing and transform it into something better, something completely her own. She was the envy of all the girls in high school, or so I was told. A career housewife like herself assigned a completely different connotation, context, and value to the skill. In her eyes, it was part of a necessary, time-honored vocation. For those closer to my own age, it was a hobby and a trend. Perhaps it might be even have been a means of making a few extra dollars here and there.
Starting when I was in college, it became fashionable among some I knew to spin one’s own wool or knit. From a historical perspective, I’ve been told that these were both originally skills developed by men, but eventually dominated by women. Ironies in this matter are plentiful. Upon further research, I found that gender parity is often difficult to attain in many situations. Much like Lincoln’s House Divided against itself, gender makeup often tends to become all one thing or all another. Fields dominated by women at the outset like computer programming or nursing change when men enter. The rate of pay increases, and women are often forced out as a result.
But I digress. I’ve routinely gotten along better with mothers than fathers. My very first girlfriend, back in high school, liked me far less than her own mother by the end of our short relationship. I think this was because the mother was worried that her daughter had shown little to no interest in boys prior to us meeting. Fathers were often too consumed with their own protective desire to ever be anything more than a stiff handshake and a salutation. Should I ever have a daughter myself someday, I wonder how I’ll respond. I don’t begin to think I’ll understand until it happens. The foremost life lesson I’ve taken to heart is “never assume”.
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