Wiping their brows are women and men who have devoted their ovaries and testicles toward producing offspring since before they were old enough to know what ovaries and testicles were: the biological foundations of their future parental authority and desire.
Also wiping their brows are women and men who never predicted they were well designed as mothers and fathers. Barbie dolls, Easy Bake ovens, pastel colors, and plastic tea sets do not accomplish as much to establish a woman’s maternal authority and desire as does a swelling belly preceding the suddenly naked fact of a suddenly naked baby just pushed from a suddenly emptied womb. To new mothers, of course, ‘suddenly’ is measured and remembered much differently than some men appreciate. What some fathers do suddenly appreciate is that toy action figures, cap pistols, camouflage jeans, and baseball bats may be unsuitable in preparing for the naked realities of their new life roles, and their own paternal authority and desire.
Stretched out before all of us parents is a wide and mysterious range of personal expectations, realizations, and epiphanies. My own first paternal epiphany occurred not in the operating room, where I first held our newborn daughter, but later, as I watched her instinctively make sense of her mother’s swollen breasts. I realized then how little it could matter that I had speared an antelope, or had come home with my shield instead of on it, or had put the harvest safely in its silo, or had earned a promotion at work. Only a mother has a womb and breasts and can bear and nurse a child. I could provide sperm for the mother’s egg, and I could certainly defend and nurture the process of pregnancy. But even with those contributions, I could easily misunderstand my responsibilities and authority and mistake my true paternal role.
The facts of the biological differences between women and men should never distinguish either above the other: socially, politically, economically, spiritually, or personally. But as the pressures of biological evolution yielded to those of cultural evolution, we somehow came to accept seemingly inevitable sacrifices and compromises. Unfortunately, we accept and perpetuate them to this day.
How we play as children comprises a history of this process and tries to predict its future. The best hope for our future may not be so much in the hands of prospective parents who have known and practiced what they have wanted since their childhood, as it may be in the hands of parents who have subconsciously doubted their desire and ability to make the sacrifices and compromises necessary for perpetuating this process. In either case, there are records of horrendous failures and spectacular success. In the latter case, however, we may more likely find the cultural equivalent of subtle genetic anomalies that could lead our species closer to the next successful step in our evolution.
This is a romantic idea, of course. And as a man, I feel pre-disposed to presume that the rude physicality of our existence requires me to always guard the entrance to my cave from marauders and usurpers, as well as from escapees. As a man in this culture, I am not pre-disposed to thinking I could be wrong about this. As an educated human being who has tried to be less pre-disposed about any such matters, I would like to dispose of this whole process—if I could do it without sacrificing the treasures of our civilizations. I will do what I can, but the task is complicated and life is short. Ultimately, our hopes should fall upon the swollen breasts of motherhood. Though we should always remember and depend on this, we seem to so just one day each year.
Nonetheless, I say happy Mother’s Day. Forgive us.
May 8, 2011