Things Are Changing, But Things Have Not Changed

Damon and I eat a lot of Japanese food, which means a lot of restaurants since I don’t know how to make Japanese food. I could learn. I should learn. But I’m not confident with fish. I didn’t eat it at all for about eight years and it was during that time that I was learning what to do in the kitchen.

But that’s not what I wanted to mention.

Last night we went to a new Japanese restaurant we’ve gone to maybe five times since it opened near our house. As is true of most restaurants in Knoxville, the wait staff is remarkably friendly. Alden serves as an excellent ice breaker in general, and nowhere so well as in Asian restaurants. I don’t know why, but those waitresses (and one time a waiter) are crazy for him and it’s not unusual for him to vanish for a while, riding in their arms.

That’s also not what I wanted to mention.

Last night we finished eating and Damon took Alden off to look at some colored tiles on the other side of the room. When the waitress came by with the check, I started rummaging for the credit card. She said to me, “The boss isn’t here.” I could not figure out what she was trying to tell me, so I just pointed a pleasantly blank face at her, waiting for the …and I can’t make the credit card machine work. or …so I’m going to let you super-cool folks sneak out without paying. or … I just had no idea. Then she followed with, “That’s okay, you can wait until he gets back to pay.” Damon was the boss! She didn’t want me to fret about the bill, since my boss husband wasn’t here to take care of it.

This reminded me of our visit to another Japanese restaurant a few months ago. We’ve been going there since we moved and they’ve gotten to know us. Our waitress came to the table at one point and asked where Damon and Alden had gone. I told her Damon had gone off to change a diaper. The look of surprise on her face was hilarious. She said, “Does he always do that?!?!?!?” I wasn’t 100% sure I was following her, so I said, “Change diapers? Um, yeah, he changes lots of diapers.” She laughed and laughed, clearly delighted and a little scandalized.

I don’t mean to pick on Japanese people. Of course every culture embraces different values, including those of gender roles. I would say each of these young women had been in the US long enough to have good conversational English (which, in reverse, would probably take me about 15 years) but were likely educated outside North America.

Closer to home, I had a conversation with a male friend yesterday. He asked me if I had seen the previews for a new TV show that is supposed to be a male answer to the Bravo Housewives series. The Something Househusbands of Something or Other. He figured I’d be interested, since Damon is a stay-at-home dad. I told him I was vaguely aware of the show and he said something like, “They show all these clips of these guys running around doing I-can’t-remember-what. They’re picking up toys, chasing kids.” and then not sixty seconds later he said, “They’re basically all kept men.”

Lucky Damon. I wonder how kept he feels while he’s changing diapers, building playhouses, making lunch, mowing grass, running errands, power-washing the porch, doing laundry, comparison shopping for a vacuum…

Tell me, my stay-at-home-mom friends, how nice is it to be kept? (Assuming it must work in reverse, no?) That must explain why Damon always looks so dewey and well-rested when I get home.

I’m not annoyed. It was just weird. None of those remarks were meant critically. None were meant to try to put either of us “in our place.” It’s just arresting. In our last neighborhood there were several stay-at-home dads/wage-earning moms combos and I got used to it being unremarkable. Here, apparently, it’s still remarkable.

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14 responses to this post.

  1. I just sit around and eat bon-bons.
    I admit I had a weird 1950s moment the other day. I was filling out school forms and one of them was for free lunch. We don’t qualify for free lunch and I wasn’t trying to get it, but they wanted everyone to fill out the form so that the people who actually need it wouldn’t feel conspicuous. I got to the “monthly income” section, and realized I didn’t have a clue. I know how much P makes a year. I can do math. But for the first time in my life I just drew a total blank when confronted with that question. I should be ashamed of myself.

    Reply

  2. I just sit around and eat bon-bons.
    I admit I had a weird 1950s moment the other day. I was filling out school forms and one of them was for free lunch. We don’t qualify for free lunch and I wasn’t trying to get it, but they wanted everyone to fill out the form so that the people who actually need it wouldn’t feel conspicuous. I got to the “monthly income” section, and realized I didn’t have a clue. I know how much P makes a year. I can do math. But for the first time in my life I just drew a total blank when confronted with that question. I should be ashamed of myself.

    Reply

    • I knew it!
      I have mixed feelings about the money question. There’s some beauty to the trust that allows each part of a couple to fully handle pieces of your mutual life.
      But yeah, I sometimes get after Damon to pay more attention to our money (which I mostly handle) just in case I get hit by a bus. At the very least I try to keep really good records and make sure he has all the passwords.

      Reply

  3. There is still this strange idea lying about that housework/household maintenance is somehow not really work at all, much less childcare (it’s work if we pay someone else to do it, but not if we have a parent at home). I don’t get it.

    Reply

  4. There is still this strange idea lying about that housework/household maintenance is somehow not really work at all, much less childcare (it’s work if we pay someone else to do it, but not if we have a parent at home). I don’t get it.

    Reply

    • I have a theory that we sometimes diminish the “domestic” work our partners do because we’re jealous that s/he doesn’t have a boss. I know that really kills me sometimes when everyone at work seems to want a piece of me. Damon only has to answer to himself. Jealous. But to extrapolate that to it not being work… crazy.

      Reply

  5. We get that gender role thing, but I would say it’s not just confined to Asian restaurants. For example, a lot of major chains have changing tables in the women’s room and not the men’s room. I frequently hand waiters my credit card only to have them hand it back to my husband – and my name is NOT a man’s name.
    Specifically about Japanese — I am reminded of a reporter’s description of a Japanese string quartet that said the addition of an American to their group caused their playing to improve, and that they believed it was because English is “more precise” than Japanese. The reporter disagreed, thinking it was instead that the Japanese members of the quartet didn’t know how English well enough to be as polite in it as they were in Japanese, and ended up saying things to each other that they could very well have said in Japanese except for social mores.
    But that’s a digression. It is certainly still a little strange here in Chattanooga for the woman to be working and the man to be at home. To balance it out a bit in our case, my husband happens to be one of four? five? men on our street who stay home while their wives go to work. One of them is freelancing (I think) but the rest are “being kept” along with 2-3 kids each. We lucked out in picking this neighborhood.

    Reply

  6. We get that gender role thing, but I would say it’s not just confined to Asian restaurants. For example, a lot of major chains have changing tables in the women’s room and not the men’s room. I frequently hand waiters my credit card only to have them hand it back to my husband – and my name is NOT a man’s name.
    Specifically about Japanese — I am reminded of a reporter’s description of a Japanese string quartet that said the addition of an American to their group caused their playing to improve, and that they believed it was because English is “more precise” than Japanese. The reporter disagreed, thinking it was instead that the Japanese members of the quartet didn’t know how English well enough to be as polite in it as they were in Japanese, and ended up saying things to each other that they could very well have said in Japanese except for social mores.
    But that’s a digression. It is certainly still a little strange here in Chattanooga for the woman to be working and the man to be at home. To balance it out a bit in our case, my husband happens to be one of four? five? men on our street who stay home while their wives go to work. One of them is freelancing (I think) but the rest are “being kept” along with 2-3 kids each. We lucked out in picking this neighborhood.

    Reply

  7. I was one-time told, by a former artistic director of your favorite theatre and mine-that I should take his job offer that paid a whopping $20k/year because “Your husband makes all of that money.”
    I don’t really know what that has to do with your story – but it reminded me of it. Ryan is still pissed by that conversation.

    Reply

  8. I was one-time told, by a former artistic director of your favorite theatre and mine-that I should take his job offer that paid a whopping $20k/year because “Your husband makes all of that money.”
    I don’t really know what that has to do with your story – but it reminded me of it. Ryan is still pissed by that conversation.

    Reply

    • I remember that! Oh my gosh, I still can’t believe anyone had the nerve to say that out loud.
      I don’t blame Ryan either. Nothing like just a)having your wife insulted and b)being volunteered by someone else to take on the actual financial responsibility for your family.
      This is also a version of irked I feel when someone wants Damon to do a project for peanuts and uses the implication that it should be fine because he doesn’t have to make money. I always think: He HAS a job. If he stops doing that job then we will have to pay someone else to do it. You’re asking us to PAY for him to work for you.

      Reply

  9. I knew it!
    I have mixed feelings about the money question. There’s some beauty to the trust that allows each part of a couple to fully handle pieces of your mutual life.
    But yeah, I sometimes get after Damon to pay more attention to our money (which I mostly handle) just in case I get hit by a bus. At the very least I try to keep really good records and make sure he has all the passwords.

    Reply

  10. I have a theory that we sometimes diminish the “domestic” work our partners do because we’re jealous that s/he doesn’t have a boss. I know that really kills me sometimes when everyone at work seems to want a piece of me. Damon only has to answer to himself. Jealous. But to extrapolate that to it not being work… crazy.

    Reply

  11. I remember that! Oh my gosh, I still can’t believe anyone had the nerve to say that out loud.
    I don’t blame Ryan either. Nothing like just a)having your wife insulted and b)being volunteered by someone else to take on the actual financial responsibility for your family.
    This is also a version of irked I feel when someone wants Damon to do a project for peanuts and uses the implication that it should be fine because he doesn’t have to make money. I always think: He HAS a job. If he stops doing that job then we will have to pay someone else to do it. You’re asking us to PAY for him to work for you.

    Reply

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