This was a weekend of diversion and conversation. Not necessarily in that order, and not just one and then the other, if you’ll excuse my vague ramblings here.
My oldest daughter, Abbi, who is 18, is seeing now what it’s like to be in a home without her siblings and when I’m at work and she’s not . . . how insanely quiet the house becomes. As a result, as I got home on Friday night, she informed me that the small-budget adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon, was playing at the Sacramento Tower Theater. We made plans, of course, to see it immediately.
Abbi and I have a love of good writing. Not that the other three children don’t, but when you’re 13 and 10 . . . listening to iambic pentameter isn’t high on your priority list. Believe me, I’ve been there, and I agree.
Just this morning, though, I was watching a documentary on HBO on Marilyn Monroe. Not sure why, other than the fact that there was simply nothing else on and – well, I wanted to have some noise, just not kid noise, going on in the house while I tried to remember how to make breakfast for fewer than five people. That’s not easy when you’re used to cooking for that many.
This wasn’t all there was to the weekend, though. We spent a lot of time talking, which you do sometimes just to fill in the gaps of silence. She’s in the state where, given the fact she’s gone 10 years or more with near constant noise in her ears it bothers her to have pauses in the conversation. I tend to love them.
The conversation actually began during lunch, after we’d watched the last half of the Monroe documentary and it had been itching at me for awhile. During the film there was a story of how she’d met Arthur Miller. Having never been face to face with Marilyn he’d volunteered, for a friend, to pick her up from her home and take her to an event in the city. When Miller phoned, Marilyn Monroe simply said “it’s okay, I’ll take a cab.” Miller refused to do it. “You won’t be taking a cab. I’ll come and get you.” She tried to demure again and he simply wasn’t having it. “No woman should have to take a cab to an event, I’ll be there and pick you up,” (or words to that effect) were what Miller told her. The fact that he wouldn’t let her do it stuck with Monroe and eventually they fell in love.
“Why don’t men do that any more?” I asked my daughter over our sandwiches on Sunday.
“Do what? Pick up a woman instead of making her drive a cab?”
“Yes,” I replied. “But not just that. Opening the door of the car, opening the door to a building, standing in front of a puddle when a car’s coming by . . . why do women say it’ so hard to find this?”
Abbi thought for a second, then replied “I think it’s a victim of the times, Dad.”
Abbi described how the push to attain equality led the idea that many of these traditions were a part of the misogynistic mentality that women were “too soft” or “too delicate” or “too weak” to do things themselves. That men protect and women blush was the norm in the Mad Men era and we’re not there any more.
“I grew up outside that era,” I told her, “and I believe that you, your sister, your mother when she was alive, my woman friends . . . they’re the smartest people I know. I still open the door for them.”
“But you’re a product of your upbringing,” Abbi told me, “and look where you are. Not like California is a bad place, it’s not, but it’s very, very liberal in a lot of respects. Sacramento’s more conservative, yes, but still it’s the West Coast. You won’t find a lot of the conservative traditions you grew up with here. If it means I’m seeing more equality, I’m good with that,” she said, rather matter-of-fact.
“I’m not,” I told her. “You should have someone who does these things for you,” I informed her. “Not that they belittle you, there’s a balance. But they should want to do things for you. They should want to open the door or get the car or drop you off and go park the car, whatever. Not because you’re weaker or because you’re less of a human being but because it’s right. I know that’s old-school and I grew up in the middle of the country, but it’s still right.”
The other thing, and this is the biggest message I wanted her to learn: “but you should never, ever, lower yourself or belittle yourself for someone else,” I told her. “You are brilliant, Abbi, and intelligent, and you should never make yourself less than you are for a man or anyone. It may seem hypocritical, but you should expect them to open the door, but they should never expect you to cater to their every whim as a result. Chivalry’s not dead, it’s just . . . rare, I suppose.”
“Sure, Dad, I know that,” Abbi replied. “Nobody is going to make me feel small and I’ll never debase myself, not for a man, woman, or anyone.”
“I know that,” I told her, “but when you’re in the moment of that romance…you do crazy things. I just want you to keep your head.”
“I will,” she informed me, and flatteringly said “you’ve set the bar pretty high.”
But then on the way back to the car she informed me that “you never open the door for me, Dad.”
“Of course not,” I said. “You’re my kid. If anything, you should be opening the door for me!” As she rolled her eyes and laughed at me, I opened the door and crossed around to the driver’s side, and drove us both home.