If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
This past Sunday, my sister and I met up with my parents to have dinner at their house for Mother’s Day. During dinner my parents were discussing my staying with her mom during the next few days to help her recover from her recent surgery. The conversation was dry enough for me to tune out as I asked my sister how her weekend was. But I could not tune out a question I heard my dad ask my mom.
“How do you do the laundry?”
I was shocked. Here my father stands a 6’2”, brawny, 51-year-old man who grew up on a rural North Dakota, nearly built the house I grew up in by hand, and worked from an entry level job in construction to become the manager of a water district, didn’t know how to wash the very clothes he’s mucked up busting his ass every day. I was taken aback. Not because it’s so strange that somebody doesn’t know how to clean his clothes but because my father has taught me more than I can relay to you. From working with tools, to driving a manual transmission, how the stock market works and just how to work hard so something that matters to you, my dad has done it all. But he never learned how to do his laundry and, as I later learned, even do basic cooking.
After my initial shock, I took a step back and realized that my ability to cook and clean is a product of a shift in societal norms and not any shortcomings of my father or the men of his generation. With the feminist movement, the ‘roles’ of men and women is becoming less of a dichotomy as more women enter the workforce and men gain acuity in household work.
I find this very interesting because the generational gap isn’t that prevalent amongst my parents or some of the adults I know of similar age because my dad does do a lot of household work such as cleaning and all of our yard work and my mom is very well educated and works in the medical field. I’m interested in seeing how some of the past men in my family would react to having dinner with us if they could come back from the dead.
One grandfather was a farmer and the other was a steelworker and their fathers were immigrant farmers with wives that stayed at home and took care of the kids and the house. The definition of what a man (and woman) is has changed dramatically in the past century and would be very interested in seeing how my ancestors reacted to how we currently live our lives.