Is it coincidence that in a society where ambition, testosterone and logos were the prerequisites for “getting on”, that the men of my family, unschooled and resigned to manual labour, would seek brotherhood in ale-houses and resign familial responsibilities to a series of strong-willed women: women whom the family rotated around, articulate women who clothed, fed, paid the bills, disciplined the children and distinctly knew their roles in the family milieu.
Or were those responsibilities resigned? More accurately perhaps never taken up by the men.
I was aware as a young boy, that these men, my dad, grandad, uncles, were in essence just boys who had grown old. I had no similar feel with respect to the family women. I could see no girlhood there. These were full-grown women who had adapted themselves and found their places in the world of family. Apparently, capable, confident open-hearted women, “the bosses” of their households.
On thinking back, the focus was always the children. The marriages showed no visible signs of affection between partners, although maybe there were tendernesses out of sight of the bairns.
My guess is the women knew to expect little in the way of partnership from their partners and probably judged a successful life as one which reared healthy, happy children.
And it was with that family set up, the men out of sight (at work), or out of minds( at the pub), and the family females as my only role models. From what I knew of my wee pals families, their set-ups were much the same. And so rather than being a “chip off the old block” I learned the lessons of how to grow up from women. I was awkward and uncomfortable in the presence of males, and felt an understanding of and by women.
As the decades of the 20th century wore on, by the 70s and 80s some of them managed to break free from their lives and remould themselves, either living independently or finding men who were better adapted at sharing their lives. The males in the family seemed to die alone, either in or out of relationships. They died showing no signs of any ability to reflect, or express themselves psychologically. For many years I felt the inability to relate to the men was probably my fault, my awkwardness putting up the barriers. As a boy I could not see there was something in the collective male psyche of the family which was deeply damaged.
And yet as I say this, I look at two old photographs with me aged 2 and then 6 with my father on holiday. In one I am sitting on his shoulders, and the two of us look so happy together, and in the second I’m on the beach with him holding his hand, staring up, smiling at him and there is a closeness which I have long, long, forgotten.