November 06, 2009

Chabon Excerpt

This goes out to all those harried & harassed mothers. Michael Chabon was praised by a stranger for being "such a good father" when he took his son shopping at a grocery store, which inspired this riff in his book Manhood for Amateurs:
I don't know what a woman needs to do to impel a perfect stranger to inform her in the grocery store that she is a really good mom. Perhaps perform an emergency tracheotomy with a Bic pen on her eldest child while simultaneously nursing her infant and buying two weeks' worth of healthy but appealing breaktime snacks for the entire cast of Lion King, Jr. In a grocery store, no mother is good or bad; she is just a mother, shopping for her family...

Good mothering is not measurable in a discrete instant, in an hour spent rubbing a baby's gassy belly, in the braiding of a tangled mass of morning hair. Good mothering is a long-term pattern, a lifelong trend of behaviors most of which go unobserved at the time by anyone, least of all the mother herself.
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...all mothers are (in their own view) bad. Because the paradoxical thing, or one of the paradoxical things, about the low standard to which fathers are held (with the concomitant minimal effort required to exceed the standard and win the sobriquet of 'good dad') is that your basic garden-variety mother, not only working hard at her own end of the child-rearing enterprise...but so often taxed with the slack from the paternal side of things, tends in my experience to see her career as one of perennial insufficiency and self-doubt. This is partly because mothers are attuned, in a way that most fathers have a hard time managing, to the specter of calamity that haunts their children. Fathers are properly supposed to serve as protectors of their children, but in fact men lack the capacity for identifying danger except in the most narrow spectrum of the bad. It is women - mothers - whose organs of anxiety can detect the vast invisible flow of peril through which their children are obliged daily to make their way. The father on a camping trip who manages to beat a rattlesnake to death with a can of Dinty Moore in a tube sock may rest for decades on the ensuing laurels yet somehow snore peacefully every night beside his sleepless wife, even though he knows perfectly well that the Polly Pocket toys may be tainted with lead-based paint, and the Rite-Aid was out of test kits, and...

My dad did what was expected of him, but like most men of the time, he didn't do very much apart from the traditional winning of bread.

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