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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Unsettled Chapter 24-B "Timing is Everything"

It was a patriarchal world we lived in. What I am about to say may be hard for some to hear because in the decades to follow the 60's it became less and less true. But in my elementary classes from kindergarten through sixth grade, I only met one boy who was being raised by a single mom. Of the dozens and dozens of families I knew in my neighborhood, not one of them did not have what we now call an “in tact” family: Dad, Mom, and four or five kids. Of the fifty-two houses on our Detroit News route, I don’t recall one where there was not a Dad, and it was typically the Dad who opened his wallet and paid when we knocked on the door and said, “Collect.”

Family sit-coms at the time, were parent-centered. The writers portrayed moms and dads not as perfect but as exemplary “in charge” parents. (No, my mom was not like June Cleaver in "costuming," but yes, she was like her in the "dealing with kids" department... though she did it in more of a Lucile Ball sort of way.)

Whether it was Robert Young in “Father Knows Best” Or Ward Cleaver in “Leave it to Beaver” or Oz Nelson in “Ozzie and Harriet” or Fred MacMurray in “My Three Sons” or Andy Griffith in his own title show, families who watched these shows could learn a lot about functional relationships, and we weren't missing anything by not witnessing every aspect of marriage (adult bedrooms were not seen or they were showed in separate beds e.g. Dick Van Dyke).

I’ll leave it to the historians and sociologists to sort out what happened in the wake of the turbulent 60’s, but I will say that the first stake driven through the heart of the traditional patriarch came when Norman Lear lampooned the "father" role in Archie Bunker. It seems that from then on (with the possible exception of historical shows like “The Waltons” and “Little House on the Prairie” and, perhaps, Bill Cosby in the 80s), television fathers became “second fiddle” oafs falling somewhere in a spectrum between drunken buffoons like Homer Simpson and lovable mamma’s boys like Raymond Barone.

Do I exaggerate? Think of every family-centered sit-com in the past thirty years and see how many of them portray the father as a likeable but not-so-bright man-child (e.g.Tim the toolman Taylor) while the wife/mother basically runs the show with aplomb. (It's not the positive portrayal of moms that I mind, but the belittling of dads that is the issue.)

What harm is there in laughing at our foibles?

Okay, I'll admit I've had many laughs watching nearly every show I've mentioned, but it goes deeper than that. The “harm,” if that is the right word, comes in an entire generation of young men who have not seen what male leadership, problem solving, and “others first” hard work looks like while in the same formative years they are watching professional athletes and hip-hop artists behaving like video-game thugs whenever they don’t get their way. To whatever extent we learn by example, it is to that extent that we may someday see the harm done by making television fathers invisible, insipid, or inane—especially when more and more young men do not have an in-home father from which to pattern good fatherly behavior.

As I said, my point here is not to discuss the causes or effects of this cultural shift or whether TV reflects or determines social norms. I mean only to point out that the conditions that were true for my family and every family I knew in our neighborhood in 1970 are simply no longer statistically-supported assumptions.

In most families back then, the father was the “bread winner” and the mother was a “housewife,” and both were generally content with their roles.

In addition to all of Mom's daily duties, having supper on the table when the father came home was one of the most important. It was this fact that made it very important for mom, on the day she blew up grandma’s table, to place a saucer over the proof until Dad had come home, spent his time in the bathroom, changed his clothes, and eaten a good hot meal followed by some ice cream and cookies for dessert.

As she was clearing the table, Mom called Dad back into the kitchen and said nonchalantly, “Oh, yes, I wanted to show you this. I’ve already fixed it, but the funniest thing happened today...” And then she moved the saucer.

Timing is everything, and Mom's slightly postponed confession somehow worked. Dad was not mad. It was he who explained the physics involved… how the extreme heat caused the expansion and “explosion” as the laminate separated. Sometimes men can dissipate the emotional or adrenal reaction to “bad news” by quickly converting it to mere “fact.” This was not always the case with my father, but it seems like the older he got and the more practice Mom and us kids gave him, the better he got at it—especially when we understood that “timing is everything” and delivered the bad news after supper.
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Note: Julie and I are with a fine group of seniors in Florida. If any of our senior parents are reading here, all is well. You can be very proud of these young adults. As is true every year that we bring seniors down here for their annual trip, it would not be possible were it not for the good job you've done in raising them. They're getting along fine. All doing their share of cooking and cleaning up, and so far we're all in good health. We've been swimming in the ocean and pool, but at this moment, the girls are shopping and the guys are watching the Detroit Red Wings beat the Chicago Blackhawks.
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Chapter 24-C is in the works.

6 Comments:

Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

I've dealt with my share of hippity-hoppity rapper wannabes; they call themselves playaaaas and think it's cool to wear their pants below their butt-cheeks. They have no direction, no short term goals. That's why they're in prison. As for Dad? Who is he? But I'm sure they'll follow in his footsteps, that's for sure. Gee, I wonder what went wrong?

17/5/09 10:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

JRT,
Thanks for dropping by. It's been a while.
I hesitate to share thoughts like this because I do know single parents doing an excellent job, but they would be the first to tell you that it's not ideal and that the ideals prior to the recent disintegration of the family unit (and all the politically-driven "redefining" of marriage) were best for kids.
Was my parents' marriage perfect? No way. But perfection is not the goal. Staying together and putting others before yourself is the goal.
"Donor Dads" is a whole other issue. Recreational procreation followed by evacuation!
I won't get on a soap box, but like you said, "Gee, I wonder what went wrong?"

17/5/09 10:59 PM  
Anonymous quilly said...

My other half (we call him Amoeba online) has much to say about TV's portrayal of fathers and it was very much inline with what you said.

My mother died when I was young and my maternal grandmother raised me. As far as I know there was only one other child in the entire school who lived with his grandparents. His parents were missionaries and were in Africa for a year, so he was only temporarily unusual.

Being "different" was hard.On more than one Mother's Day, I was forced to make a Mother's Day card. The teacher did not care that I had no one to give it to. The template said "Mother". The same was true of an apron I was expected to embroider for my girl's club achievement badge. Halfway through the T, I started to sob and the girl's club leader explained to me that it didn't matter that I didn't have a mother, I just had to fulfill the requirement. Maybe it didn't matter to her, but it certainly mattered to me.

While I do think that it is better to have two parents in the homes raising the family, I am glad society has made it easier for children who don't have that support to interact socially outside their family units.

17/5/09 11:23 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Quilly,
How horrible, and yet how typical for the way people thought back then. If you have written on those specific events elsewhere, I would really like to have them on file. They are perfect examples of how some people can only do what's been written for them to do.

Sadly most of the cultural shift reflects an "it's all about me" generation, kids brought up in "child-centered" homes who suddenly can't handle the duties of being a parent so they jump ship or run off with a younger version of their wife. After all, they need to be "happy," but what about the kids?

Thank you for sensing that the point of this Chapter "B" was only to point out that things were very different then. I wanted people to have a better understanding of why the "change" that comes in 24-C was huge for our family

18/5/09 10:04 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

"Timing is everything," is still used in my household with my husband Joe. I guess it is a learned technique or one of necessity but it does have its place in a "perfect" marriage. I'm sure Julie also knows just the "right time" for certain things to be discussed or confessed, which is a blessing indeed!

19/5/09 7:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Nancy,
It's an element of wisdom. I think women show "good timing" better than men.

20/5/09 9:02 AM  

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