It occurred to me over Thanksgiving that I have spent my entire life among incredibly strong women. My mother. My sister. My wife. My daughter. Every single woman I have lived with; except maybe the cat.
The women in my life are filled with stamina, grit, spunk, and a strong sense of what is wrong and what is right, particularly when it comes to male behavior. And they are not afraid to let their feelings known.
Oh I am not saying that I have become a barking dog on a short leash, I am just saying that I could use a bigger house than the one I sleep in occasionally. The one with the two bowls outside the arched cutout door.
When I was a very young boy, flexing my muscles and willfully testing the boundaries of the invisible fence that encircled me, I informed my mother that no amount of meaningless, coal-laden threats attributed to Santa Claus would deter me from my chosen path of lawlessness, whatever it was at the time.
I could see in her eyes that my enlightened determination was having the desired effect, that I was moving the fence substantially outward, that she no longer had the control over me she once had, that I was becoming an independent male.
A short while later, while I was strutting about the house looking for new territory to mark, a perfectly timed, soft, wet dishcloth catapulted through the kitchen doorway and smacked me square on the side of the head. The wadded cloth plopped on the floor and dish water dribbled from my chin. I looked toward the kitchen in shock at my mom, who stood by the sink with her hands on her hips smiling.
The invisible fence moved back to its original position.
We laughed about it long afterward, because it was, well, funny. But to this day I still believe in the motivational power of coal.
A couple of years later she returned to work. Not because she had to; because she wanted to. My sister and I became demographic “latch key” kids. But by that time we were trustworthy and self-reliant, and had a healthy regard for responsibility. By example, that was all we knew.
Of course, then I had to endure my little sister after school alone. Armed with nothing more than directness, incomprehensible logic, and a relentless vocal prowess devoid of spaces, she had the ability to talk me to into submission.
I chalked it up to petty annoyance until one night as a teen she took on a burly police officer who pulled me over after I was driving erratically. She argued my case vehemently in his face without once breathing until he finally put his pad away and drove off. Then she turned her ample words toward me.
But not before I understood just how important it was to her to help me.
And then they say men marry their mothers. I would never, ever go that far. But it seems to me that my wife has no less stamina and strength of character than my mom. And a whole lot more. Which I suppose is why I don’t let her near a dishcloth.
Now my sons complain that their sister gets away with everything. They may be right; she is as tough as nails.
If I were ever to go to a therapist, I would lay back, foolishly put my muddy shoes on the couch, and tell her:
My mother shaped who I became. Which explains why I drink. My wife shapes who I am. Which explains why I don’t drink much. My sister shapes me to put others before myself and my daughter shapes me as a parent. And Homer Simpson shapes me as a man in the presence of strong women. Which explains why I eat donuts like kibble. Woof. Woof.
Three weeks before my mom suddenly passed away, she bolted up out of bed to answer a late night telephone call. Half asleep, she couldn’t find the phone in the dark. Several minutes went by before she cried out for my dad to assist her. He found her disoriented and lost in a broom closet.
We awkwardly chuckled about it between tears, my dad and I, even though the call they had missed was a dreaded, heart wrenching message from my sister.
That was just before my dad had to make his own tragic Thanksgiving calls.
My kids called me while I was away. They were frantically helping my wife prepare a large meal for fifteen people in New Jersey without me. After the boys said goodbye, my daughter started to cry. “I miss you Daddy,” she sobbed. “When are you coming home?”
Here is another thing I have learned living with strong women: they need strong men.