The curious rites of royal accession
My father, an ex-Marine, spends a few hours a day working in his half-acre yard raking nonexistent leaves and conducting reconnaissance on the neighbors with binoculars. Then he comes inside acting as if he stormed the beaches of Normandy and starts barking orders.
He expects my mother to wait on him, as she has for the last 40-odd years of their marriage. “I’m the king of my castle, that’s why!” my father said when I asked why he does nothing around the house. “Your mother knows her place.”
“As your slave?” I said. He laughed diabolically and proceeded to call my mother “his slave.” My mother said nothing as she quietly washed dishes. Then he started using it more readily, as in: “The King and His Slave want to know when you’re getting your car serviced. I have a coupon for Jiffy Lube.”
Meanwhile, noting the workings of my household, my mother told me I was being a hypocrite. “You act like a queen and Leroy is your slave.”
Yes, my husband does laundry. He even picks up the house and occasionally cleans the kitchen. He picks up groceries and dry cleaning on his way home from work and once helped curl my hair.
When a woman does selfless things, she’s simply being a good girlfriend or wife. When a man does these things, he’s no longer a man. He’s whipped. He’s henpecked. He’s emasculated.
But we all go for partners that complement our personalities. While there are men like my father who expect to be treated like Quetzalcoatl reincarnated, there are others who understand there are many roles to take in a relationship.
My grandfather, a meatcutter during the Depression, always handed his weekly paycheck over to my grandmother. Uncle Tony, who stormed the beaches of Normandy, washed dishes and still serenaded my aunt well into their 70s.
Most people say nothing about an alpha male relationship, but they will say something about mine.
“Wow, when they go anywhere she drives her own car,” said my friend Patty.
“He does the laundry? Good girl!” said my leasing agent.
“You’re moving for a job? But what about Leroy?” cried my mother, as if we were divorcing.
My mother is probably the biggest critic of my relationship and life. What she doesn’t find out from me she finds out from “cleaning” whenever she visits. It’s like having a housekeeper who goes through your papers and bills, then leaves Post-it suggestions on them.
“You’ve always acted like you’re a queen,” my mother said, reading a tabloid saying Jessica Alba had Hollywood’s best butt. “You’re just like your father.”
“What?!” I shrieked, momentarily forgetting how I got contentious with my neighbor for her dog doing its business in my frontyard. I tossed the poop in her backyard with a shovel. “I’m nothing like Dad. I’m not crazy and I don’t run around picking fights in supermarket parking lots.”
My mother wasn’t listening to me. “You’re just like him. You like to order everyone around.”
It was then that I realized in my effort to never be like my mother I had become more like my father than I wanted to admit.
When Leroy came home, I told him what my mother said. He smiled enigmatically and then loaded the dishwasher.
“You are a queen. And I do these things because I love you,” he said, climbing onto the couch and changing the television to some loathsome sports station.
“You know I love you even without you doing those things, right?” I said. “I love you because you’re considerate, open, kind and make me want to be a better person.”
Then I changed the channel. I’m the queen of my castle, that’s why.