Monday, June 2, 2008

Uncle Grumpy on: "The Men Who Lost Dinner"

It’s been a while since we’ve had a visit from my opinionated, but not always wrong, Uncle Grumpy. My uncle doesn’t let me read his posts ahead of time, so I take no responsibility for their content. Refer all your responses directly to him.

Okay, Unkie, the floor is yours.

I’m seeing this horse doctor I go to for my sore shoulder. I call him a horse doctor, because three days a week, he works on people, and three days a week, he works on horses. Not in the same place. It’s not like I go to the barn. And the horses don’t come to the office. It’s on the second floor. They’d have trouble with the stairs.

The stack of Waiting Room magazines includes Vanity Fair. Because I’m me, I skip the gossip garbage and go straight to an article about why the Hillary and the Obama supporters hate each other. That’s gossip too, but with a veneer of significance. Some of us need our gossip disguised as “meaningful discourse.” We fool no one. Including ourselves.

I won’t waste time on the article’s point of view. I’d rather talk about mine. Why do the Hillary and Obama backers hate each other so much? Is it simply a matter of sexism? The short answer is yes. If you’re busy, I’ll see you later. If you’re not, keep reading, though later, you might want to ask yourself why you’re not busy. Uncle Grumpy has no children of his own, so he likes to harass other people’s.

Okay, here’s a confession.

I’m not a feminist. Feminists focus on the interests of women, and I’m a man. Not that I’m totally disinterested. To the extent that feminists are concerned with fairness, I’m with them. But to the extent that feminists demand that everyone see everything exactly their way and brand those who don’t reactionary, sexist pigs – don’t call me, I’m busy.

I’m a man, and I see life from a man’s point of view. Can a man alter his point of view? Of course. Can a man flip a switch and trade in his point of view for a woman’s? Not if he’s honest. It doesn’t work that way.

I imagine early feminists spent little time assessing the price others paid for their advancement. Why should they? They’re seeing things from a woman’s point of view, and from a woman’s point of view it was “Full steam ahead!” A revolution’s like the song in Paint Your Wagon – “Where are we going?” “When will we get there?” That’s the whole deal. “Who did we step on?” Not in the song.

The revolution’s objective was to obliterate male dominance, and, generally speaking, they did pretty well. For some reason, they decided to adopt men’s values to define what dominance meant instead of promoting a more enlightened value system of their own which would really have been revolutionary, but they didn’t consult me about that. They did what they did, and good luck to them.

Feminists focused on economic power, as if there was no other kind. Anyone who believes pre-feminist women didn’t have power never met a Jewish mother. Or a mother (or grandmother) of any ethnicity you care to mention. But apparently that doesn’t count.

What was the price for feminist gains? Well, “male ego” took a beating. “Man the Provider”- that’s over. But who cares? You can adjust. Truth be told, you can relax. Share the responsibility – share the stress.

But there is another loss, a loss that after thirty years, still gnaws at my innards. With lightning swiftness and no “phasing out” period whatsoever, the men of my generation lost…


Or supper, whatever you want to call it. A major meal – maybe the most major – not to dismiss a lot of people’s emphasis on breakfast – gone.

Think about that. Throughout history – and that’s a long time – men were assured of something hot and piping from the oven when they came home from work. Three courses – soup or salad, a main dish and desert. I won’t even talk about freshly baked rolls.

Now, as we know, there’s nothing.

They’re not making dinner anymore. And my generation of men are the first beneficiaries. Aren’t we lucky? Imagine a huge wheel, like in Vegas, one number for every generation in the history of the human species – that’s like, a billion numbers – you spin that wheel…and it lands on us.

Jiminy Christmas, what are the odds!

We’re talking about a monumental change, a salivizing expectation practically encoded in men’s DNA. It was dinner, dinner, dinner – times a billion generations – then, suddenly – no dinner. That has to be a jolt to your system, don’t you think?

Today, the evening meal is a thing of the past, a museum tableau, next to Indians grinding corn. A family sitting around the table, Mom proudly beaming as the feast is passed around. Teachers will have to explain to children who never experienced this abandoned cultural artifact what’s going on:

“Dinner was a longstanding tradition, the product of a clear and generally accepted division of labor. The man shot the bear and the woman cooked it. Then one day, women demanded the right to do what men did. The result? Two dead bears and nothing to eat.”

Okay, that’s my spin on the thing. They’ll probably say something about gender equality and move on to the dinosaurs.

Did women deliberately kill dinner? Of course not. Dinner was an inadvertent casualty of the feminist revolution. Cause of Death: a changing world. Women left for the workplace, and it was “Goodbye” smells coming from the kitchen.

Can men cook? Of course. All the best chefs…blah, blah, blah. That’s not even true anymore, but there are enough of them out there to make the point, so, blah.

Men can cook their own dinner. That’s not the issue.

The issue is, a major thing happened. A cultural upheaval. And it was never totally acknowledged.

It wouldn’t have taken much. “I’m sorry about dinner.” A sincere, empathic statement – not an apology – to show you understand. No flamboyant gesture. No commiserating open letter in the Times. A connecting conversation. An expression of understanding. Maybe written on a cake. Okay, that's pushing it. Not that you have to bake the cake yourself. You could buy it at a bakery, and they could squiggle something on the top.

A moment could have been taken. A friendly discussion of needs, losses and newly-minted expectations. No blaming. No dismissing of the other person’s concerns. Hostilities resolved, as we walk together into the future.

It never happened.

The animosity towards Hillary has a familiar smell.

Is it dinner?

Dream on.

It’s unfinished business.


Anonymous said...

Uncle, we sure missed you over that l-o-n-g weekend. I was at a Fish Fry recently, and I overheard one of these non-feminist moms on her cell phone speaking to her teenaged son. "We're at the fish fry, getting free fish. Look in the fridge, it's that big white box vibrating in the corner,...leftover spaghetti." She hung up, quoting her son, "What am I supposed to eat, I'm h-u-n-g-r-y (I'm imagining a grown man's whine)."

I feel for her, and you too Uncle. The only thing I have to say for your deprived palette is that cooking like your memory tells ya, is a more than a full-time job. How would women ever have time to use the internet?!

Guess you can always watch re-runs of Andy Griffith. Aunt Bee never complained a lick, did she?

Unknown said...

I don't think it was Feminism, Uncle.
I refer you to Barry Levinson's sociological film, Avalon. Levinson firmly and magnificently places the blame of the demise of the family dinner right where it belongs: Television.
With the advent of Television, family dinners became TV dinners, and instead of sitting around the table, families would pull their TV trays into the living room (or wherever the television set was) and feast on their Swanson's.
That was the end of dinner as your world knew it.Feminists have dodged the blame bullet on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Great point, alan. And I do make killer brownies thanks to those science guys that wrote the "Best Recipe" series. I melt the chocolate squares in the microwave now, though. And their banana bread is crusty, rises real high.

My husband has that sixth sense with cooking though, a great griller I might add. I was bound and determined to teach myself to cook (mother worked, though she did make awesome spaghetti, my dad made awesome pork chops)...but my husband barely let me (he has a very sensitive palette).

In time, and with more time, I'll reconquer that mountain...I've promised.