Sunday, July 25, 2010

Long Division (Part 2 of 2)

Boom Goes the Dynamite
As you probably know, Michelle and I are Boomers. We’re a part of the vast, so-called Baby Boom Generation, generally tagged as including all persons born of American parents between 1946 and 1963 — those years of tremendous optimism and economic expansion following the Allied victory in World War II. The soldiers came home from the war to launch a brave new world and started making babies like there was no tomorrow.

I was part of a five-boy family while Michelle had two siblings. All the children in our respective families were born during that Boomer period.

What I’ve always found to be fascinating about my extended peer group is how widely-varying our respective worldview seems to be. My generation is the generation of change. We started and have fought for the Civil Rights movement and Affirmative Action, the Ecology movement and various ‘Green’ and other governmental initiatives and reforms; we initiated the battle to achieve equal rights for women, including their reproductive rights and ethical redress of equal pay for equal work.

I’m kinda proud of that.

However, we Boomers have also screwed up a bunch ‘a stuff as well, in my opinion.

We’ve led the way for the distortion of personal responsibility as a traditional concept, and instead of truly embracing it, have passed it off in an enormously irresponsible game of ‘hot potato,’ shrugging off our failures with of the insistence that nothing is ‘our fault.’

After all, The devil made us do it; we weren’t hugged enough as children; we were terrorized by the Nuns in our parochial schools. We’re all just victims, being held down by The Man, don’cha know…

We have conveniently reduced morality, in large part, to a relative equation, which, while imminently plausible, can cause a lot more problems than it solves if used as an excuse — which it is, all too often.

And while the above statements are indeed another topic for another time, they correspond poignantly to the subject of my story; the relative roles between men and women in our society, and in particular, my marriage.

Rolling With the Marital Role-Play
Michelle and were born the same year, in 1956, smack dab in the middle of the Boomer Generation. We both come from classic, conservative, 1950s-mentality households. Our Fathers both served in the military — mine in WWII and Michelle’s a few years later during the Korean Conflict.

The good news is, neither of our Pops saw time on the battlefield, although, Michelle’s Dad was involved with something that was potentially just as bad; he was a ground-zero soldier at the Nevada Proving Grounds during the atomic and nuclear weapons tests of the early 1950s. ‘Nuff said, there.

Nevertheless, the kind of moral worldview both my father in-law and Dad grew up with was, in a word, old-fashioned. Their wives didn’t work; they were homemakers. The woman’s responsibility was to keep the house, cook the meals, and raise the children; theirs was to bring home the bacon and to be the family’s authoritative figurehead, just as their fathers had been before them, and so on down the line.

Michelle and I weren’t completely unaffected by the changes that our generation was fighting for in the 60s and 70s, however we weren’t buying into it lock, stock, & barrel either. We came into our marriage in 1979 almost completely on the same page, roles-wise. We both wanted the same thing: for me to be the man, and for her to be the woman. There was no confusion as to what that meant.

And while things have certainly changed over the years, with economic realities making the dual income pretty much a requirement for middle class families in this country, Michelle held out until our kids were in middle school before taking on full-time work outside the home. However in the fourteen years since, she’s had a successful career working for Ford Motor Company’s leasing operations here in Nashville.

And obviously, once she started working, household responsibilities between the two of us were altered accordingly. However, I have to admit, when compared with the task-sharing habits of married couples a just a few years younger than us, and certainly in relation to the more typical habits of young people our kids’ age who are getting hitched these days, I’ve always had it easy.

I don’t cook (apart from grilling out). I do precious little housework, save for my vacuuming, and the only time I’ve ever really done laundry to speak of has been in very recent years whenever I’ve needed to make sure that my two sets of gym clothes were clean so that I could work out three times a week at The Company’s athletic facility.

Yeah...I know how spoiled I am.

However, by the same token, we each have our particular specialties; including some that people might really scratch their heads about.

Because I’m the Man
Michelle is adamant in her refusal to do certain chores, claiming they’re “the man’s responsibility.”

Most involve physical exertion, like vacuuming the couch as I mentioned earlier, but there are other, shall we say, less justifiable examples as well.

To wit: my wife will do little if anything to take care of her own car. Now I will admit that she’s gotten a lot better about it; I mean she is willing to pump her own gas nowadays, and geeze, she’ll even drive her car to the Jiffy Lube to get the oil changed — both major concessions in comparison to the stance she used to take.

However she still refuses to clean her car — inside or out. Never mind the fact that I don’t drive the thing more than an average of once a month; it somehow falls on me to wash, detail, vacuum, and empty out the ad papers and other trash that collects on the floorboards.

I’m also expected to put air in the tires and to check the oil and other fluids — all things that I’ve taught our daughter Amy to do for herself with her cars; responsibilities that she has accepted without incident and with a minimum of complaint.

Now obviously I don’t expect Michelle to be a mechanic any more than she expects me to be a seamstress, but this is just an example of the traditional norms with which we were both raised, remaining, well...the norm.

Taking out the trash is something else she refuses to do. Ditto on going near a lawn mower (they scare her to death).

On the other hand, she is the green-thumbed lady when it comes to the flowers. In that vein we actually make a great team in the lawn & garden arena, and our yard and flowers are usually the envy of the block.

I do anything that has to do with strenuous exercise, lifting, or anything mechanical. Yet for some reason, Michelle is perfectly comfortable using power tools, such as miter saws, or drills. She doesn’t let my availability to help, or lack thereof, stand in the way of a project she wants to accomplish.

She loves painting and decorating interior rooms in our house, and is well-capable doing so with no help from me. She’s even poured concrete (an abject failure of a venture that I will never allow her to live down) in the name of getting an outdoor project done once while I was out of town.

But hey — don’t ask her to change a light bulb or switch out an air conditioning filter; that’s my job.

As far as the finances go, I handed over the bookkeeper’s visor to her fifteen years ago, after I’d made such a mess of out of our finances in the 90s, while attempting to be the man but failing miserably.

However, to be quite honest, I’ve been happy as a clam ever since. I hated writing out bills and balancing the checkbook, probably because I was just so piss-poor at doing it.

I can honestly say, I generally have no idea how much money we have in our checking accounts from one day to the next, because I don’t want to know. I only want to know that when I need to buy something that we have the cash to cover it, and thankfully, we usually do.

How’s that for a role-reversal?

Michelle isn’t as meticulous a bookkeeper as I used to be, but that’s okay. She has her own system and it obviously works. We’re never been late paying a bill and she has never been dishonest with me about our money. I LOVE the fact that I don’t have to think about that part of my life. It’s a tremendous relief to me; a burden lifted.

And THAT, I believe, is just the point.

Harmony in the Workplace
Apart from just a tad of aggravation, there really is no avarice between Michelle and me with regard to our individual roles. It took a few years to come by it, but we have developed a system that works for us.

I’m not as proactive about some things as I should be, but my wife rarely has to nag in order to get me to do what I’m supposed to do. And I of course almost never need to nag her about her responsibilities.

We both do, for the most part, what we’re good at and/or are used to doing. It’s not rocket science, but it does require an genuine level of honesty to each other in order to implement. And once a plan comes together, it’s a very cool thing indeed — because it works.

My wife is, in my opinion, the perfect hybrid of generational influences. She’s old-school tools and new-world savvy. She is as liberated as she wants to be.

She’s never burned her bra (thank gawd) or complained about being discriminated against because of her gender. She appreciates chivalry and my lifelong habit of opening the car door for her — and indeed, she expects me to!.

She is a domestic goddess; literally famous as both a cook and a seamstress, and could have easily fashioned either talent into a catering or window coverings design career had she so desired (and in fact has spent time doing both professionally, part-time). She does impeccable, professional-quality work in most every endeavor she’s involved with.

She is kind and generous, and I know of no one who has ever spoken an ill word of her (well, except for her Mother, but that’s another story too).

However, she’s no wallflower. She can be scrappy, and doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer when she knows that ‘yes’ is the appropriate response.

She is known as somewhat of a crusader at work, where she has bucked the higher-ups more than once, managing to reverse their plans for transferring her to departments within the company that she felt were contrary to the proper use of her skills.

This is no weak-willed woman, people; the lady has stones. Yet she still treats me like a king.

And I am indeed one helluva lucky monarch.

So yeah, Sweetie, I’ll vacuum that couch; and when I’m done with that, I’ll go take out the trash and clean your car.

It’s a fair trade.

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