In Our (own) Places

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May 19, 2008 by Judith Liebaert

I like to listen to talk radio on the NPR network. These shows have it all – interesting subject matter, well informed guests, controversy, intelligent, polite debate and my favorite part, call in questions.

Recently I was listening to a spirited debate concerning the financial burden of divorce and unwed childbearing on taxpayers. The guest, David Blankenthorn, author of Fatherless America, made valid and intelligent points regarding single mothers and children living below poverty level when fathers don’t contribute financially. Being the founder and president of the Institute for American Values and founder of National Fatherhood Initiative, he supports and encourages two-parent families. (Let me point out that the general assumption was these two parents would be heterosexual. Same-sex parenting is another topic.)

Several women called in to shake their ruffled feathers. But the real fun began when a misguided male called to say that when women moved into the workforce and were able to break free of financial enslavement (my words not his), the two parent family became a thing of the past. He theorized that only when women become financially dependent again, would we have the two-parent America Blankenthorn envisions, where the women are barefoot and pregnant (his words) and the husbands are in charge.

And here I thought the Neanderthals were extinct! If you’re reading this there’s a 99.9-percent chance you are a woman. But for that miniscule possibility that there may be a man in my audience, I have a question. How about supporting and encouraging two-parent families by the practice of treating your wife as an equal?

Unfortunately, equality as a concept or a practice is lost in most heterosexual marriages (I can’t speak of same-sex marriage for I know not). Men seemed to be hardwired to think that once the merger is complete and papers are signed, they somehow have the controlling share of stock in the partnership.

When I married for the second time, I chose a man who had been divorced and living on his own for the better part of 10 years. I knew he could wash dishes, cook, do laundry, vacuum, sweep and mop a floor, and clean a shower stall and a toilet. After six years of marriage, he still does his own laundry (he would do mine too if I let him, but after several ruined silk blouses and a shrunken wool pants I nixed that).

Before marrying him, I too was alone and handled many traditionally male chores and house maintenance all by my little self. In the past six years I have helped him construct an addition to our home, installed ceramic and vinyl tile floors in two rooms, removed a bathroom sink (it was the only way to get at the plumbing) installed a new faucet and replaced the sink. I also do the majority of painting and staining, inside and out, some of the mowing and all of the edge trimming. No big deal. I have the necessary skill set and his job (until recently) kept him away from home for extended periods.

My husband is retired now. I go off to my job the same as usual and when I get home, the dirty dishes from breakfast are still there – plus the pan he cooked his lunch in, the dishes he ate it on and about five drinking glasses. I clean up the kitchen (sometimes) so I can begin preparing supper, set the table, serve the meal to his highness, clean the table, do the dishes, sweep the floor (that I installed) then retire to the living room where I fall asleep in my lazy girl.

And to top it all off, when I am performing the more traditionally male chores, or even helping him to do them, criticism is the tool he keeps closest at hand.

Now, for that caller to the NPR show, and the men that are reading this because you’re wives printed it out and shoved it in your face – do you get that when financial support isn’t at issue, you’d better be bringing something else to the marriage table? Try a hot meal on clean dishes and a kind word or two – and not just when you’ve screwed up again.

If you need further guidance, you might try listening to Aretha Franklin. “R – E – S – P – E – C – T . Find out what it means to me.”

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