Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

A Waffle Making Dad

This was one of those very parental mornings. The little kids had been passing around one of those viruses all week that manifested itself in fevers at night and no detectable symptoms during the day -- the sort of thing you can't take to the doctor with any satisfaction and which doesn't even slow them down much during the day. Last night the malady made the jump to the older kids as they came back from the first performance of their show with MrsDarwin. Thus there were calls and visits from various people during the night. At few times were there less than two small to medium children wedged into our bed with us. MrsDarwin dealt with much of this. Through long years of being a single income family we've fallen into a routine where I wake up easily to my alarm and to strange noises during the night, while she wakes up to sounds of children. This fits with the fact that I get up early and head off to work, while the kids tend to sleep till 7:30 or 8:00 and thus allow her to get another hour or two of rest.

So having slogged through the night, I got up with the alarm to make breakfast. MrsDarwin had to leave to teach religion class by 9:15, and whichever kids were healthy would be going with her. In honor of general civilization, I try to make sure the family gets a hot breakfast at least one day out of each weekend, and usually that day is Sunday. This morning I made waffles and bacon, with the earnest help of the five-year-old who loves to stand on a stool and help add and mix ingredients in any such project.

 Now it's the moment of quiet, where I've got everyone fed, settled the sick ones down to rest, got MrsDarwin out the door (fed, coffeed, with all her stuff) and there's a pause of relative quiet -- "Dad!" Comes a cry from the other room. "I had a spill." -- before I need to get the next set of logistics going to cover mass, errands, getting people to the play, to youth group, making dinner, to bed. So I'm writing. Why not?

Some time ago, I recall another Catholic guy having written something about how one of the benefits of marriage is that it domesticates young men. Given that many within the Catholic blogging world seem to have been trying to catch up on fifty years of previously scorned feminism over the last five years, this inevitably caught him a fair amount of grief. "It seems like you're asking women to pay an awfully high price to teach men to make waffles," quipped one critic.

Well here I am. Waffle making man. It's not always waffles. My breakfast repertoire for feeding all the kids stretches to pancakes, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, homemade bagels, hash, and egg-sausage-bake. If I'm just making a breakfast for MrsDarwin and myself I make an omelet or eggs, but many of the kids don't like eggs, and it's hard to make an omelet big enough for seven kids anyway.

I've read compelling writing by women writers about the emotional labor they do to keep a family going. I wouldn't claim that for my tribe, we waffle making dads. We're not particularly emotional. But we try to do our labor. We make weekend breakfasts and dinner once or twice a week when we're around in time do to the prep. We do the "you'll have to talk to your father when he gets home" conversations, and the careful diffusing conversations with daughters entering their teens who at times decide that their mothers don't understand them at all and Dad is the only person they will listen to. We mow the lawn and take the trash out and get the oil changed more or less on time. We pay the bills and track the finances and deal with a host of practical issues while having the unfortunate tendency to assume that everything is okay in people's emotional lives unless they actually tell us otherwise.

The waffle making dad can seem like a pretty out-dated archetype these days. The up to the moment guy is a sensitive feminist ally who admires kick-ass women and decries male privilege -- a sort of Joss Whedon about the house. Of course, waffle dad replies, the danger there is that he might... turn out to be like Joss Whedon.

I'm not sure how to address that whole set of ideals and concerns, the people who snappily say that women are giving up a lot to teach a young man to make waffles, so I'll just leave that to one side. My words are to the young men of the world. And I'll say: being a waffle making dad is not a bad aspiration. In a world that can't seem to make up its mind what, if anything, it wants from masculinity, many of the archetypes available out there are not great.

There's the "crusading knight of the West" archetype which gets a lot of play in traditional circles. I like my history as much as the next fellow, but let's be honest with ourselves: Constantinople fell some time ago and getting too caught up in the idea of being a knight while in fact working 9-to-5 (or more realistically, 8-to-6) just starts to look like being involved in a roll playing game.  Heaven forbid, you may some day be asked to fight for what you love, but don't stake your sense of self an mission on that possibility.  The small daily struggles are more important than the possibility of huge risks and sacrifices that may never actually come.  Then there's the super-sensitive feminist ally archetype, but if there are any of those that aren't secretly creeps, I'll be the more surprised.

The former archetype endorses a semi-mythic hyper masculinity in search of some sort of great deed to accomplish. The latter attempts to defuse criticism by essentially becoming "one of the girls". Neither of these is doable. What is doable is to work your job and take care of the needs of those you love. Being a stable support to your family and getting things done that add to their security and comfort is something that you can do and that is, in the end, probably close to being the most worthwhile thing you can do with yourself.

I remember my father making pancakes for the family as a weekend breakfast. I remember him patiently letting me help mix them up as a child when it would surely have been easier to do it himself. I knew his patient service to us in that way, as in others, was a sign of his love for us. Those breakfasts were not just breakfasts, they were a symbol of the quiet toil and support with which he cared for us. I don't think there are many better ways to be remembered.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go do the dishes.


Brandon said...

I think this is a really important point; people often get caught up in ideas in their heads about how things are supposed to go, when what is usually called for is looking at the actual problems and needs and finding a way to address them.

J. R. P. said...

I think you are very much in the mark, but as one of those "Blessed be the LORD, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle" guys, may I offer a tempering perspective:

In much the same was as functioning government is supposed to supply a buffer of 'legal rights' against main injustice against natural rights, so too ought a male use his special talents against the more far-reaching of the existential threats to those he loves. Having a significant streak of Warrior-poet as an archetype has survival value. Making preparation against calamity, provisions for independent defence, and the proper formation in the intellectual tradition all engage the intellectual and spiritual virtues as much as the small marathon of acts of prudence and fortitude you describe. One never envisions Joseph's flight to Egypt being done in a complete panic, right?

Our war is with powers and principalities, but the effects show up embodied. The cushion a distinctly male,magnanimous distinctly soul provides by being iron-hard against the depredations of this world is a great boon, a model for young men on what to be and for young women on what to look for.

The joy and serenity of the traveller in midst of the chaos of travel is partly due to having done as much as suitable in terms of preparation: if something goes wrong, you can realistically (instead of with defensive self-recrimination of "if only") shrug it off as unavoidable, still enjoy the journey.

The tendency of those engaged in only the small things is to miss the big things going on. Virtues are ordered towards those golden means which are to extend across the depth and breadth of man: beautiful art, authentic and intricate craft, the plenipotence of competence, the fruits of honest labor and the ennobling of leisure alike are our birthright, we have only but to reach out for them, and there is pleasure to be had in the reaching.