Real Men Say, “ Ask Your Mother”
I was having one of those moments the other night with my son. We were watching a Yankee game on Friday night. He was draped across my lap like a warm comforter. “Dad,” he asked. I waited like a proud father for his profound question – – perhaps about the meaning of life or whether we can do more to stop global warming. “what’s Playgirl magazine ?“
“What” I asked lurching up in my chair and vaulting him across the settee. “This kid in my class says he models for Playgirl magazine.” I hesitated. The air was thick with pregnant anticipation. While I was pretty sure no sixth grader in Saxe was doing extra curricular model work for Larry Flynt Enterprises, I decided to hedge my bets. It was the end of a long week. I was tired. “Better ask your mother….”
Like adroit wingbacks in a rugby match, husbands have for generations been skirting their duty to answer the tough questions for fear of losing their status as “the popular” parent. Moms get the grunt work – – the bitching, the cajoling, the punishments, the consequences – – they are the wardens of domesticity. Dads often act like the Red Cross coming in and meeting with the prisoners, asking how they are doing and if they need anything. They inadvertently undermine policy and morale. Dads get home later in the evening during “the witching hour” and are appalled by the suggestion that they should help after the hard day they have endured at the office or having to share a three seater on the Metro North. They are thinking, “where are the slippers, pipe and shaken martini ?”
As I was speaking to a friend on the phone the other evening, I could hear some yelling in the background. I could just make out a high pitched teenaged voice…” Dad ….was fine but …ruin everything….life. You…….my life…. prevent …….going out….night”
I asked my friend what the commotion was all about. “ I told my daughter it was ok to go to town tomorrow before I checked with the boss. I think I stepped in it. She’s in arguing with her Mom”. He realized too late, there is zero upside to saying “yes” to anything. My theory is this need to make domestic decisions without consultation stems from being in control all day at the office and wanting to bring that control home at night. “I have a lot of people reporting to me at work” complains one executive. “ but the way they react to my judgment at home, it’s as if they are amazed that I can find the office or get dressed each morning”.
Dad’s want rapid popularity and the kind of loyalty you get when you give someone a bonus at work. This explains agreeing to a sleep over, unaware or not paying attention to the fact that the boy has had two consecutive sleepovers, fell asleep in his mashed potatoes at dinner and was grounded less than two hours ago for going on to the computer using his sister’s email address. It could all have been avoided by just saying, “ better ask your mother “. Instead, Mom will override this uninformed intrusion, resulting in an irrational child and Mom being pegged as the bad guy. Dad’s response? “ What’d I do ?”
It is the same, day in and day out, each house a region overtaken by juvenile Taliban and Al Kidda – – irrational adolescent militants who believe in a theology of sugar, electronics and lack of accountability. Martial law seems to work best in these regions of dissent and the absence of authority creates chaos.
It has always been this way. On the battlefield of life, my Mom was the master sergeant and my father, the clueless second lieutenant right out of West Point. It was my mother who knew how to talk to the troops. She understood what they worried about and had a sixth sense about any slight change in behavior. If a kid was too quiet at dinner, something was weighing on them. She could lull anyone into a confession where you would share your deepest fears.
Doctor Ruth, as we called her, was the female incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Mrs. Freud – Sigmund’s mother. The Case of Wetted Wood is a Turpin holiday favorite recounted every year as we relive the adventures and interventions of Dr Ruth. In this particularly confounding case, the feminine sleuth could not locate the wafting odor of ammonia emanating from one of her young son’s bedrooms. The mystery was further complicated when aged shag rugs were removed in each boy’s room to be replaced with wooden floors. A rotted hole in the wood was discovered behind a bedroom door. The workers deduced that a leak from the adjacent bathroom shower was the culprit. Dr Ruth was not convinced.
Something was not right. The occupant of the room seemed too cooperative that week and very circumspect. Upon interrogation, the suspect cracked and confessed that for the last six months he had been urinating behind the door because he was too scared to walk to the toilet at night. This explained the ammonia smell, the rotten wood and the constant presence of the housecat in the boy’s room at night. Dr Ruth saved the family thousands of dollars and even went so far as to protect the identity of child – – the penalty for such an egregious act would have entailed more lashes than a conscripted sailor on a British Man Of War.
The difference between the 60’s Dad and today’s dad is that the upper case “D’s” felt no social or personal obligation to be helpful. They were the hunters. Everything else as far as they were concerned was gathering. They did not even disguise the fact that they were less engaged and basked in a sort of clueless nirvana on domestic issues. They abdicated everything and were informed on a need to know basis by their spouses. Today’s father is expected to participate more but it’s my theory that some out there secretly long for the era of less accountability and resist the siren’s call of equal duty. This breeds a passive aggressive behavior that is exhibited in eye rolls, partial listening, martyred sighs and incomplete grocery store runs. In the end, gents, we must grudgingly accept it is a new day. When it comes to movie and sports trivia, go ahead and blurt out the answer because you know it. But on all other things personal or domestic, it is the ultimate sign of self awareness to offer one pat response: “better ask your mother”.