There is a parable that has been handed down in my family for some time.
My Grandfather (may he rest in peace) used to tell it to my my Mother in explaining the way traditional roles played out, and what a man needs from his wife. And it began like this:
The home is like a rose garden. It requires constant care, attention to detail, hard work. Without the feeding, pruning, fertilizing, trimming and general care for each and every stem, for each and every flower, it turns ugly and becomes wild, overgrown and even dangerous with the many weeds, thistles, and thorns. But may also be a place of peace and beauty, and with the work it may shine, becoming a place of nurturing, enjoyment, relaxation.
In a family, the members love and care about each other. Without all the work and growth put into nurturing the family, it may become difficult, painful, hurtful for each other. And all that work is draining. But generally, family members mean well towards each other. They all want the home to be a wonderful, positive environment to live in and return to.
When a man leaves the home to go out and make a living, he goes out to wrestle with crocodiles. Outside the home, in his business, at work, people want to take advantage of him, to get the most and pay the least, to prevail over him. Some want to harm him. He walks out into a dangerous world, and often not by choice but rather by need.
So my Grandfather used to tell my mother that when her (future) husband comes home, though she has also been working -and working tremendously with all her own strength -that she recognize his exhaustion too. That she realizes he goes out to wrestle with crocodiles, in (large) part so that a place like the home may exist -a place where people who love each other and mean well may nurture and be nurtured by each other.
He wanted her to understand that -in recognition of what he does -she nurture him upon his arrival. In their culture -and my heritage -that consisted of bringing refreshments to him upon his arrival, to ensure that dinner is ready for him to relax, eat and gather his strength. So that he may -through being nurtured -be able to appreciate (and participate in his own way) the incredible work she put in and the beauty of the rose-garden, of the home she creates.
The values behind this parable resonate very strongly for me. The empathy, the understanding, the care and nurturing and the recognition of how hard the challenges of the home and the outside world are. In some ways, I am saddened by the change in roles -not because of the new opportunities that were gained, but rather for the loss in values and empathy that came with it. A loss, I sometimes think, that may come from exhaustion and defeat.
As a man, I am raised, taught and trained to wrestle with crocodiles. As much as I draw strength in having an equal partner walk out of the home and wrestle crocodiles alongside me, the consequences we face when we come home to a rose garden that also demands tremendous care have me -at times -feeling defeated. I recognize many women may feel that defeat too. I just want to express that I was taught to fight crocodiles so that the home may be a place of nurturing and solace for the rest of our family. To see a wife feeling exhausted as I, and to know we would both have to work on the rose garden too... makes my heart sink.
It makes me wonder if I cannot live up to the manhood of my elders, that I am inadequate and thus cannot wrestle crocodiles on my own (so that the family may take care of the rose garden), because I would not wish to force a person I love so deeply to join the fight.