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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 24, 2009

Unsettled chapter 25

"A Time When Certain Things Were True"

It was a time when certain things were true of boys and certain things were true of girls and it was okay to say so right out loud.

That suppertime in August 1970, when Dad remarked that Dave and I were "brown as berries" stands out for no reason at all. It was like the thousands of other meals we'd shared around the table. But the very commonness of life is what makes it so remarkable. It is through remembering life’s uneventful events that our eyes are open to what was, what is, and what has changed.

Take tenting in the back yard, for instance: Back then, that was more of a guy thing. True, Kathy had tried it a few years before, but what she and her girl friends did was more like "playing house" and getting the tent all situated for the evening, which was a waste of time since they got scared and ended up inside the house by midnight.

When we boys camped out there, we were up 'til all hours playing very quiet "war games." Quiet because none of our parents would have approved of us traipsing around the neighborhood when they were sound asleep. The real "danger" of getting caught only added to the fun.

After a night of espionage, we'd climb up on our garage roof; a place not unlike the Chinese Elm in front of our house where early summer mornings we'd climb to watch the neighbors heading off to work.
Sometimes rising just above the earth and seeing more at once brings a better understanding of the world.

But at night, the garage roof was our favorite place to hide. We'd lie there with our backs against the rough and crumbly shingles staring up at the stars and wondering about things out loud. After an hour or so, we'd inch toward the edge, drop like sandbags to the damp grass below, "water" the silver maple tree, slip through the zipper door of the tent, curl into our sleeping bags, and mumble ourselves to sleep. At dawn, we'd mumble ourselves awake in the green glow of canvas in the morning sun.

None of that would have happened if Kathy had been tenting with us in the back yard. She never climbed the Chinese Elm, always warned us to stay off the garage roof for fear we'd break our necks, and would have thought it vulgar to water the silver maple as we did in the cloak of darkness. I'm not saying there were no "tom-boys" back then who would have joined us in the tree during the day; I'm just saying that generally speaking, especially at night, most of this was a guy thing.

This is not to say we did not love our sister dearly. She taught her brothers many things boys tended not to know... like how to buy gifts for parents on special days; how to enjoy a good story read aloud while waiting for the approved time to open Christmas presents; how to treat young ladies—something in which we were taking increased interest. We learned some things without being told directly. We knew there were those clock-work days each month when anything we did could make our sister cry, and eventually we knew why it was true for her and every other girl we knew. In time, she became our number-one advisor on girlfriends and dating, and heaven knows we needed it. Because as I said: It was a time when certain things were true of boys and certain things were true of girls and everyone accepted it.

It had been obvious to mankind since time began that male and female were designed differently, as if with separate but equally important things to do. Formed to push and pull sometimes in opposite directions. It was true on the outside. Men and women were literally shaped differently and did not share the same plumbing so to speak. It was true on the inside. They were wired differently. So differently, in fact, that to force them into role reversals would probably have doomed civilization as we know it. It was inherently “fitting” that the gender with the ability to suckle a baby, could also imagine no better thing to do in that moment. It was good that the baby’s father, who could not feed it, saw fit to be productive in other ways. They were wired and “plumbed” for different roles, and they could imagine it no other way.

Speaking of wiring and plumbing, when the trades of electricity and plumbing actually came along, they borrowed the terms “male” and “female” and “coupling” to describe parts that needed each other to function. When a man says to the hardware clerk across the counter, “I’m looking for a male adapter for this female end,” there's nothing suggestive about it… it’s just obvious.. It was through working with Dad and hearing these terms that “the facts of life” gradually became apparent to us boys long before the movie was shown at school.

Dad didn't get into the details with us (Mom eventually did that) but he would point out generalities about the different ways the genders were “plumbed” and “wired.” They may seem like opposites, but in reality they’re matched sets, made to function in pairs. These things were assumed and “taught” from fathers to young men for thousands of years. Little did we know in 1970, that within a decade or two these simple, self-evident differences between the sexes would become contested by activists with an agenda.

Toward the end of the 20th Century, it became politically incorrect to speak of inherently advantageous differences between men and women. Equality was the goal, and believe it or not, equality became confused with “sameness.” Intelligent people began to pretend that there was no fundamental difference between male and female. Gone with the old “weaker vessel” cliché. Gone with the pink and blue. Gone with the assumption that little girls tend to play with dolls and little boys tend to play with Tonka trucks. Gone with commercials like this 1972 Easy Bake Oven spot showing only a girl using the toy. And the 60's TV jingle “G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe, fighting man from head to toe” would soon be considered sexist.

Experts began speculating that inclinational differences between the sexes were due to nurture not nature. “Liberating” parents who observed traditional, gender-specific role-playing in children were told not to re-enforce the behavior but rather do the opposite in order to start the rewiring process as early as possible. (While they couldn't change the plumbing, they could change the wiring so to speak. In time they would also find ways to change the plumbing.). More recent studies have reversed earlier claims about "nurture and nature" once avowed by the Women's Liberation Movement, but at the time those new political forces considered it important to ignore differences between male and female. Then and only then would women be seen as equal; then and only then would society correct the terrible injustice of fathers sitting at the head of the table when it was Mom who cooked the meal.

The following statement may sound narrow-minded at first glance. It could get me in trouble with many “thought police” because terms like equality and fairness are so ingrained in the American psyche. But the truth is such terms are ideals not outcomes. When we mislead people into thinking equality means all efforts should produce the same “outcome,” we rob people of the risk-reward process inherent in the pursuit of happiness. When we confuse “equality” with homogenized “sameness”—especially when we’re talking about gender—we take the flavor and the yeast from the basic breads of life.

Don’t get me wrong, there were many things in the pre-1970 workplace that needed to be corrected. I’m all for “equal pay for equal work,” for instance. And I'm glad that the so-called "glass ceiling" for career women has been broken. But in hindsight, folks on both sides of the issues agree that we went too far in neutering the roles we were wired to enjoy. We were wrong to confus equality of the sexes with “sameness.” Ignoring the fact that the sexes are differently gifted and that they naturally "complete" each other defied common sense, and we are now living with the most illogical “logic” and politicized agendas mankind has ever witnessed. Did I use the words “same” and “sex” in this paragraph? Forgive me. That was completely unintended (as were many of the consequences of the gender conflicts and/or confusions that began in the Seventies and the attempts to redefine marriage that came thirty years later).

Before I digress further and cause offense with additional over-simplifications, allow me to conclude with those harmless words that triggered this unplanned chapter: It was a time when certain things were true of boys and certain things were true of girls and it was okay to say so right out loud, because we knew from looking at our parents that the two completed each other, fit hand-in-glove, as had been true since time began.
Chapter 26: "When Kathy Left For College"
coming Wednesday.


Anonymous quilly said...

Tom, (I should preface this by telling you I grew up in a very small town) My girlfriends and I slept outside most every summer night when we were kids -- and without a tent! We preferred sleeping in Gram's backyard, with easy access to the basement door and the bathroom, or in the neighbor's apple orchard, because the bathroom at their house actually had a door off the back porch. That bathroom thing is the only concession made for being girls.

We tiptoed though the neighborhood after everyone slept. Our favorite forays took us to a grape arbor, berry patches and Mr. C's back porch, where there was a freezer stocked with Good Humor ice cream bars (his two daughters were part of the raiding party).

Three summers worth of fun came to an abrupt, non-negotiable end the summer I was in 5th grade. A big drug bust took place just a block from our home, and all my friends and I were in the front yard to witness it. After that none of us were allowed outside after dark without a grownup present.

24/5/09 9:26 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

That sounds like fun while it lasted. So does that mean you were "tom boys"? My sister would not have done any of that--not at night anyway. Too bad it came to and end for such a reason, but I don't blame the grown-ups for that rule. After all, you were girls. Ha Ha. Just kidding.

24/5/09 11:21 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

There were nights when I would haunt the neighborhood in the same vein at about the same age. Now I do it from a chair.

You do realize I am sure Tom that it is just as "politically correct" to defend the conservative view of LGBT issues as it is to defend the liberal side don't you?

I defend the side of live and let live with equal rights for all, without sexual orientation as a qualifying factor.

27/5/09 4:20 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You know I have strong convictions on this topic. Time will tell whether or not it remains politically correct under the microscope of "public opinion" to believe in traditional definition of marriage. I see California's Supreme Court uphelp Prop 8, but the story is not over. It is never over until the "offended party" gets their way.

But my point in including this chapter was more in pointing out the obvious and letting people decide for themselves if the more traditional gender roles and "equal but not the same" team approach to marriage represent a time when certain things were true.

27/5/09 6:14 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

But Tom, you are entitled to your beliefs as much as I am entitled to mine. It is our commonality that I look to now, not the things we could argue and debate.

I am willing to accept the evolution of culture. For it will surely evolve whether I want it to or not, my hope though is that when we say freedom we mean it for all.

I don't believe it necessary for gays to "marry" for them to have the same social benefits given to heterosexual couples. The rights most gays want are legal in nature and in that I support them.

Property rights, survivor rights, benefit rights, tax benefits, the right to make medical decisions in case of disability.

No it is not the same world as when we were kids, and I don't believe that all of the or even most of the changes are good ones. greed and self oriented living are two ready examples that come to mind of attitudes that have become pervasive.

But I do know that the immutable things. The objective of truth have not changed.

28/5/09 3:05 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

You don't know how encouraging your comment was when I read it.

"It is our commonality that I look to now, not the things we could argue and debate. I am willing to accept the evolution of culture. For it will surely evolve whether I want it to or not..."

That is true. The changes that i sometimes point out (though typically not as directly as this post) are to be expected. They are even predicatable.

I read recently that it takes a birthrate of 2.11 to sustain a culture, much of Europe is below that rate and Americas birth rate would be below it were in not for incoming Hispanic and Islamic imagrants, the two fastest growing demographics in our country and Canada. Add those facts to the internal "culture war" on marriage and "family values" and you are very right. I can write about what was, but it is clear that it is not what will be. All the more reason to write, I guess.

But thank you for reading here, Mark. As always your perspective is welcome.

28/5/09 4:32 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

By the way here is just some of the sources of that "2.11 birth rate to sustatin a culture" statistic:



Here is another:

28/5/09 4:41 PM  

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