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Are men adapting to the demands of marriage?

When I was a girl in Lahore, I was constantly scolded, urged to be more adaptable, more flexible, more willing to change for my future in-laws/husband. I wasn’t really supposed to have set habits or a real personality beyond being “sweet.” I was supposed to be able to do everything, occupy every role with a smile. The ideal daughter-in-law was in her early twenties, not fully “done,” ready to be re-baked in the oven of a new family, to be re-made in the image of whatever her husband desired. As I grew older, I watched women transform themselves and become housewives, working women, fashionable partygoers, conservative covered women, moms of many kids, – as well as everything the husband and his family needed.

I never heard anyone teaching boys how to be husbands or fathers. And their utter lack of preparation showed.

Girls and women were supposed to be ready for change. Boys and men were accepted as is. Today they face a tough reality. And it’s going to get harder. Their inflexibility and lack of adaptability is rendering them, in many ways, dead weight.

Today, I sense tension in many homes, dissatisfaction bubbling just below the surface about how men have not adapted to the expectations of the new realities of marriage today. How many men have not adapted to being *married;* how many expect it to be pretty much like single – life plus additional perks.

Yawn, my wife keeps needing me to take care of the dishes. Do I have to watch the kids again? Fine, I’ll do the minimum. She’ll be home to pick up the slack.

Working women are managing homes, children, complex schedules, and high expectations. Men are chipping in just barely enough to get by. They’re irritated when asked to do something. I see men not catching up with the need of the times. And increasingly, I hear women’s grumblings of discontent grow louder. Is it worth it, they ask.

Why should they labor so hard to maintain these high-maintenance male-divas, just to be in a traditional marriage and/or two-parent family, they ask. And many women are leaving marriage behind, finding themselves perfectly capable of managing family lives without the dead weight of men.

It’s not just chores and domestic labor either. It’s also emotional labor. Women have soured on the emotionally unavailable man – Mr. Darcy, if you will. When he’s a father, he still embodies too much of his father or grandfather’s emotional persona, while his wife is the multi-tasking goddess of all, extending her emotional and physical reach into new arenas.

We talk about adapting to the changing workplace, but men aren’t adapting to the changing family. Yes, it hurts to have to get out of your comfort zone. Try being a woman in patriarchy, where nowhere is a comfort zone.

Men are falling behind. The endless labor of maintaining their self-absorption may be too much for increasing numbers of women. In so many ways, men are going to have to prove we still need them.

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Auto-ethnographic writing: Pakistan, Islam, and the 1990s

I’m writing. I’m working on a draft that is now covered in barnacles from multiple attempts and attacks. I’m trying to slough off a state of mind regarding this article, and to refresh my writer’s vision.

Writing this piece entails plunging into the cold waters of memory, and I keep coming up with strange forgotten sea-shells from my youth, my time at college, at university, in Islamabad, in Cambridge, in London, and Bloomington. Internet research on some of my employment activities yields information that is a tad concerning, but it was a different time, and I didn’t know the big picture. The present day U.S. political climate makes writing about these things a little – iffy, shall we say? The U.S. project in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the 1980s did not age well into the 1990s, and Muslims were left with a mess that was pinned entirely on them, as if memory and history were dead.

We need more personal-historical memoirs of the 1990s.

But my deadline is closer than the whole emotional and intellectual experience allows. So I keep writing. I’m not sure what will come out of this period of gestation. I’m not even sure it will yield anything I am willing to share.

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Standing at a lakes and dreaming of oceans

It was a beautiful day at Lake Michigan. The sun shone over calm, gentle waves, and we had rare visitors, ducks paddling alongside gulls in the clear water.

As I stood in the shadow of multi-million dollar lakeshore homes, my heart was bursting with prayers that work, health, money, time, responsibilities would just make way for me to fly to go see my ammi and hold her.

I feel more and more strongly about a political movement that invests in global equality and equal distribution of resources and power, so that we can *stay* in the homes we love. So these homes, these lands, these countries, these economies can grow and be hospitable, free of military adventures of great powers, and the plunder of natural resources, and the alliances of great powers with the worst authoritarian powers within our countries. So we can live in dignity like those in ‘first world’ countries, rather than rushing to take our places in this brain drain of the decades. So that we don’t have to be far from our loved ones, and they don’t have to die yearning to see us just once. So we can quit this frantic flying back and forth across oceans burning fossil fuels just so our hearts will be comforted and we can hold our parents once a year or once every few years – maybe just in time, or maybe far too late.

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Baby birds and aching hearts

The other day, when I wasn’t home, a bird flew into our glass patio door and knocked itself out. I got a series of distraught texts from my teenager, and got home to find her in a state of total grief.

The bird was by this time no longer on its back like a beetle but sitting weakly on the floor. I was at my wits’ ends to do anything except keep the cats indoors 😳.

My daughter wept and grieved for this little bird.

She reminded me of myself at age 10. My parakeet (Sugarpie – don’t ask, I think I got it from Archie comics) had suddenly dropped and slowly died, lying on his back, his beak working, and his eyes half-closed. I had to bury this little blue bird, a poor mistreated creature, snatched from its natural environment and kept in a small cage in a hot country by people who had no idea how to care for pets.

I still feel my grief from that moment, how I wept hard, and vowed never to have any pets ever again (yes, I break vows sometimes).

I was also struck by how my mother was more struck by my grief than by her own pity for the bird.

How did grownups learn to become this way, I wondered. How did very good and kind people learn to survive by detaching themselves from extreme compassion? I later found a journal entry my mother wrote about how soft-hearted I was. Her journal reflected on Sugarpie’s death, as well as my sorrow when Billie Jean King (my flea-ridden, skinny, partly-stray tabby kitten) got run over by a car.

I’ve always been told I feel too much. I’m told it’s impractical, and a little ‘crazy.’ “They’re OK,” I’m told, about animals and birds. “They’re OK,” I’m told about the poor and dispossessed. I had to shut down my heart a little, to survive.

The other day, as my daughter wept uncontrollably, yearning to do something, anything, I saw myself in her. And I saw all the practical grownups (and I use that loosely, because it includes plenty of young people) of my past in my own calm, kind, but businesslike, adult attitude to the bird, my attempts to protect it at least from the cats, but very practically not bringing it indoors and doing anything ‘crazy.’

I felt sad. For the bird and for my daughter – because I know what a too-soft constantly-breaking heart can do. And for me.

I did go back outdoors to check on the bird.

It was gone. I went back with a flashlight, before letting the cats out to the patio. I checked all the corners, looking for it, and it was nowhere. What happened? Did it get better? Fly away? Fall down to the ground from the patio? I hoped it was OK.

I swung the flashlight up, – and there sat the bird, on the railing, looking quite healthy. As soon as my gaze alighted on her, she flitted away into a tree, as if to say, Look, I’m fine. I can fly. Now you can rest easy.

I took a moment after maghrib prayers and asked my daughter to join me.

We prayed for the bird to be all right, to be healthy, to not be hurt, and to have a happy life. She wept. I did pray for the bird, of course. But I also wanted to give my daughter a place to put her heart, instead of telling it to not feel because “They’re OK” and it’s crazy to feel so much. I don’t want her to be ashamed of her huge heart, or to feel like it’s a dirty secret to be hidden away in a world of selfish pragmatism. I want her to embrace the huge aching world of compassion, but also to find a way to live with it.