Marriage: Expectations

While it’s true that my mother has given up more of her personal ambitions in marriage than my father ever did, she demands far more out of marriage than he ever will. He is far more accepting of her than she is of him. (“She’s the best Carole she can be,” he often says, while one gets the feeling that my mother believes her husband could be – maybe even should be –  a much better man.) She commands him at every turn. She’s subtle and graceful enough in her methods of control that you don’t always realize that she’s doing it, but trust me: Mom is always steering the boat.

So THAT’s it. Subtle. Graceful. Remember that, Diana. Subtle. Graceful.
*Mouths the words, trying to introduce them to her brain*

She comes by this trait honestly. All the women in her family do this. They take over every single aspect of their husbands’ lives and then, as my father loves to point out, they absolutely refuse to ever die. No man can outlive an Olson bride.

By this point, I was laughing so hard I could only nod in silence, shoulders shaking, when a man asked if he may take the chair near me. His eyes grew wide with the laughter he’d caught as he walked back to sit with his friends. Related post, If I Die.

My father once joked – not really joking – that my mother manages about 95 percent of his life. The wonder of it, he mused, is that she’s much more upset about the 5 percent of his life that he won’t relinquish than he is about the 95 percent that she utterly dominates.

Roar!!

Robert Frost wrote that “a man must partly give up being a man” in order to enter into marriage. Marriage is a harness of civilization, linking a man to a set of obligations and thereby containing his restless energies. Traditional societies have long recognized that nothing is more useless to a community than a whole bunch of single, childless young men…You need to convince these young men to put aside their childish things and take up the mantle of adulthood, to build homes and businesses and to cultivate an interest in their surroundings. It’s an ancient truism across countless different cultures that there is no better accountability-forging tool for an irresponsible young man than a good, solid wife.  ~ Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

I must add there is no greater impediment for a man than an unsupportive wife.

Mr. Wayfarer has said women look for a finished product before agreeing to marry but they don’t get that (most) men mature in marriage. Any thoughts?

Mrs. W: How much life insurance do I have on you again?
Mr: “$ —”
Mrs: That’s it?!
Mr: Yeah, better to keep me around. I’m worth more to you alive.

Mr: The pastor said a fish doesn’t know it needs water until it finds itself on land. I take you for granted because you’re always there. I’ve been thinking about how much I’d need you if you weren’t.
Mrs: Oh, honey…
Mr: I’m not just a drummer. I think too, you know.

If I Were a Man

Hey Guys,

While I’m airing out old posts on HarsH ReaLiTy, I’m having myself some fun. Actually, a lot of it. The readers there have been getting a kick, and I didn’t want you missing out if you were interested. It turned out to be a weekend on men and women. Check out

OM’s If I Were a Woman and
my response If I Were a Man

http://aopinionatedman.com/2014/02/22/if-i-were-a-man-by-hw/

Yesterday I put out Men and Women: Another Difference,
his repartee Dear HW – The Reason Men Nap

Just backscroll on his home page. You’ll catch the party.

I’m enjoying touching base with many of you. Have a wonderful weekend.

Love,
HW

The Invisible Woman

PleaseLookMomThough Please Look After Mom was an international bestseller by a South Korean novelist, I didn’t care for the lackluster title or the parts that were overstated. But the well-painted portrait of a mother who goes missing redeemed the read plenty. She is a prototype of wife and mother from every culture since the dawn of time. We see the heart of the Invisible Woman.

So-nyo, an elderly mother of four grown children, vanishes in the Seoul subways. Her husband hurries ahead in the crowd, impatient as always, and in a moment of disbelief the subway door shuts their hands apart, pulling the car away with him. The novel is a rotary of voices – of the children and husband who search for her in despair while thinking back in shame at the woman they never had really looked at.

Hyong-chol, the eldest child, thinks back on the time his father brought into their village shack a woman to live with him, with the family. Naturally, So-nyo left the house. Trying to buy her way into the hearts of the kids, the Other Woman carefully packed their lunch, even to top it with the fried egg, then a luxury. Hyong-chol not only didn’t eat it, but made his siblings bury their lunchbox. The Other Woman went on to buy them new containers that kept their rice warm. The son refused to renounce the food strike.

   Mom came to school to find him.  It was about ten days after the woman had come to live with them.
   “Mom!” Tears spilled from his eyes.
   Mom led him to the hill behind the school. She pulled up the legs of his pants to reveal his smooth calves, grabbed a switch, and hit them.
   “Why aren’t you eating? Did you think I would be happy if you didn’t eat?”
   Mom’s thrashing was harsh. He had been upset that his siblings weren’t listening to him, and now he couldn’t understand why Mom was whipping him. His heart brimmed with resentment. He didn’t know why she was so angry.
   “Are you going to take your lunch? Are you?”
   “No!”
   …Instead of running away, he stood still, silent, and suffered her blows.
   “Even now?”
   The redness bloomed into blood on his calves.
   “Even now!” he yelled.
   Finally, Mom tossed the switch away. “God, you brat! Hyong-chol!” she said, embracing him and bursting into sobs. Eventually, she stopped, and tried to persuade him. He had to eat, she said, no matter who cooked the meals.

Even in the second reading, my eyes smarted. I am not endorsing child abuse, of course. But my heart swelled with understanding of So-nyo’s pain and the desperate attempt of a mother to get her child to eat – though it meant that she let the Other Woman feed him. It is one of the most telling moments in human drama where, embracing insult to injury, a mother physically tries to force her son to an act that would reinforce his father’s galling unfaithfulness. She swallows her dignity for the well-being of her child.

This is just one snapshot of her invisibility, where So-nyo chooses to go under. I’m not praising her for being a doormat beneath the man she had served with nothing but devotion. In fact, she returns home to chase him and the Woman out of her house. But part of the attraction the book holds for the reader is that So-nyo seems to be Everyone’s Mom. Please allow the sweeping generalization that will bear exceptions. The protagonist was so recognizable: I saw much of my own mother in her and could pull up a good many other moms and grandmothers who could have replaced her name. Hers is a life of sacrifice from the day she marries and the self-renunciation, a silent one. Not once does she complain – I think because it doesn’t occur to her to. Interestingly, I don’t recall her ever saying, “I love you” to any of her kids. Calloused hands freeze while washing the offerings of the garden, the clothes, and dishes in the winter water. Unflagging hands pickle food for the seasons ahead while dancing over pots and fire as they contrive the next meal. In fact, she has an awful lot in common with the women out of Little House on the Prairie. In reading aloud some of the stories to my son and husband last year, I tried to figure out what was so familiar about the Prairie series when my life has been so unworthily comfortable by comparison. One day it hit me that the untiring work of the parents, especially of the mothers, mirrored the call to unsung exertion that many Asian women answer when they have children. But ethnocentric I’m not. Many of us would see So-nyo in our own mother, aunt, neighbor, or grandmother. She is not attractive, and goes about with a towel over her eyes that catches the sweat. She is not a literal model but certainly a beautiful one. She has always been there for her family, receives her husband with ready food when he slinks back from an entire season of idle adultery. But she is missing from the family radar. When she actually disappears, the family unravels both individually and as a unit.

Two years ago, I asked a friend if he thought he appreciated his mother, who had raised five boys. He didn’t begin to, he answered, until he had his own. And pointing to my boy, added that Tennyson will come nowhere near appreciating the cooking let alone the rest of the mothering until he also becomes a father. After having my own family, I have nursed shame for not helping my mother enough in the long immigrant years she juggled work, cooking, and housekeeping, all the while somehow keeping present and active in my schooling. When I was in Elementary, Mom sewed for the garment factory. One time, flying off the lightning force of the Singer machine, the entire needle sunk into her finger. I remember her rushing to the doctor, trying to cup the dripping blood with the other hand. Even then she did not complain, nor has she in the days following: the needle is in her finger to this day. We can never thank Mom enough. Because by the time you’re a parent who sees your mother’s hands in your own labor, your own family becomes priority. Grace runs down – not up. The love of a mother will outdo and outpace her child’s, and the debt you owe her is one you pay forward.