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Apr 4, 2011

A Tale of the Rose Garden and Crocodile Wrestling

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.


  1. Some women don't want to be confined to a rose garden, lovely as it may be. Some women may want to have the independence and self-sufficiency to tackle crocodiles on their own, in case they don't always have a man to do it for them. Or, as the case may be, a woman may have a career she genuinely enjoys and which fulfills her in a way that housework does not. I'm not against women who want to stay at home, if the family can afford it. But you shouldn't feel that it's somehow a disappointment for a woman to be employed. Having a career can be very fulfilling and empowering, and there is no reason why a woman should be deemed less feminine for pursuing one.

    Overall, your posts have you sounding like a strange mix of modern and traditional; someone passing for a 21st century guy, but with hidden 19th century attitudes. You've made some valid points in some of your posts, but overall you seem to have a bitterness that is difficult to mask. Women can be loving, nurturing, kind, caring people and still believe in working outside the home, or in a certain amount of equality for men and women. I'm sorry if you've had bad experiences with Jewish women you've met/dated, but I guarantee that as a species, there are plenty of us who both maintain our own identities and respect men very deeply.

  2. @LRS,

    Thanks for your insights, I appreciate your thoughts.

    Some women see the rose garden as confinement. Others love gardening, and want to dedicate their lives to it. I'm looking for the latter (for myself). Not simply out of traditional ideals, but through individual passion, because I share that passion.

    Am I against working, or careers? No. But when I hear a woman overly-concerned about their career, it makes me pause for a moment and wonder if that's what I want in my marriage and with my family. It also makes me wonder how a home-environment is maintained with two parents out working, so I express that concern (feel free to address it if you have insights). Learning self-reliance is wonderful and perhaps necessary in today's world. I'm just turned off by an over-preoccupation and fixation with work/career.

    I know many women deeply respect men and many do not. However, in Western society -and in the dating world too -there is far too much man-hating. If I come off as frustrated and disgusted, well, I am. So a strong theme in my posts is drawing awareness to it in the hopes that when disrespectful sentiments are expressed, those people who have deep respect for men will object.

  3. A woman can be devoted to her family and her marriage and still hope to have a career. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one can argue that a woman will be a better wife and mother if she feels fulfilled as an individual, aside from her role within the family. Family should, I think, be a person's first priority--for both men and women. You yourself claim that you want someone who "loves gardening and wants to dedicate her life to it" because you share that passion. Yet, you plan to have a career (I assume). The same may be true for a woman. Obviously, putting family first may necessitate some compromises in the career realm, but it does not mean that a woman should feel unhappy about the fact that she has a job outside the home.

    The chip on your shoulder probably isn't helping your relationships with women. I respect men as a gender, and many many men I know personally as individuals. I respect men who respect women and who respect themselves. Going through life as if it is a battlefield, with men and women on different sides will not help anyone, least of all yourself. Some women have been hurt and may be resentful, but an encounter with a truly thoughtful and genuine male should be enough to banish those memories. I suggest that you try to lighten up and let go, just a little.

  4. I disagree – I believe it is the devotion to family, not her career, which makes a woman a good wife and mother (and the same goes for a man being a good husband and father). Perhaps, if that career is devoted to understanding child development and/or relationships, working on her own parenting or relationship skills, it may have a direct impact on the family (depending on how well it is internalized and utilized). Lack of fulfillment may get in the way of being a good parent, should an individual allow it. But fulfillment does not make someone a fantastic (or significantly better) parent.

    I believe in different roles. Just because I do things one way or want them one way for myself, I don’t necessarily expect or want a woman to be the exact same. I don’t think men and women are the same, though I value what we each bring to relationships and families as tremendously important. Like two pieces of the puzzle, shaped differently, contributing differently but creating a beautiful image together. Clearly unity is important; two pieces of a puzzle mean nothing if they do not fit tightly together. I will never be a mother to my children, and my (future) wife will not be a father.

    I see your talk of my bitterness or having a chip on my shoulder as presumptuous. If that’s how I come across, I appreciate the feedback and I will consider that in my future posts, as they should express a more genuine self and not just my anxieties or frustrations. But I do not see any disrespect, bitterness or anger at a whole gender or individual women within myself, and those who know me do not see it either.

  5. beautiful. I agree with IY.

  6. I read this post a while ago, and have been thinking about it for a long time.
    It used to be that men did whatever work their fathers did. People had no opportunity, and therefore no ambition. Bound by circumstance, they lacked the chance to develop a passion or feed an interest in a profession they might have enjoyed more than the one into which they were born.
    Now we live in a world where education is free and undiscriminationg. Everyone has the chance to find a talent or skill, the perfection of which is fulfilling to him. There is more to be done than business, law, artisamship and agriculture. There are entire new professions still evolving. We are no longer bound to simply do what our fathers did in the same places our fathers did them.
    We have opportunities to find work we find meaningful, doing things we enjoy.
    And remember than when Gd made Adam and Chava, he gave them a garden to protect together. Even when they left that garden, man was tasked with growing food in wilderness outside; his job is to make the barren fertile. Man was not made to fight crocodiles, he was made to cultivate a garden. That has too long been forgotten.
    All I'm trying to say is this: Maybe your grandfather had to fight crocodiles, and maybe you do too. It is a noble and epic battle. But if your work really feels like wrestling with crocodiles maybe you should be doing something else.
    It wouldn't make you less of a man.