By LENNOX FARRELL
There are experiences one has as a young person that can stay with you for life. One occurred to me awaiting a haircut in a barbershop in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Such entities were the sole domains of men; enclaves where men ‘felt safe from women’. Women didn’t ‘dare do their hair’ in these male realms. Moreover, this woman entered, as unsure as an intruder, with three children – the oldest, a boy about five. Addressing the boy, and pointing at one of the three barbers she said, ‘Dat is yuh daddy …’
The fact that the barber guffawed, more embarrassed than surprised; the fact that the shop fell dead quiet, all of us pretending not to be there; the fact that the small boy stared timidly at the big man … all these stayed with me.
What still rankles most deeply though was the eventual response of this man.
“Come boy, lehme gie yuh someting.”
Reaching into a nearby tray, he counted out some bills. The boy, pushed forward and prompted by the woman, slowly took these, the mother’s eyes never leaving his tiny hand; his eyes never leaving the man’s eyes. Her departure as ungainly and unannounced as her arrival, the shop shifted effortlessly back to men’s primary business: women.
Years later, I realized what had prepared me for that encounter. It is not that I hadn’t been unaware of children growing without dads. What came to me, came decades later, arriving with my own children. I realized that our parents, grandparents and other significant adults, had simultaneously prepared us for having children … born in wedlock. Summed up, this family expectation, according to our maternal grandmother was, ‘no wedding, no bedding’. As boys and girls, kept then or not, these maxims were more than benchmarks; they were injunctions. In addition, as someone once said, “the best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother”.
Of significance, too, are the attitudes, values, special occasions and times a father plans for, and spends with his daughter; taking her out to dinner, to plays etc., so she will know what having a good time is without being expected to give up anything. A daughter, knowing how she is valued, loved and cared about, especially by her father, uncles, brothers, also cares for, and about herself in their estimation. She will also care for her children. She will, more likely than not, have the self-regard to consider before any intimacies: “Should I allow this man into my body if I can’t see him fathering my children?’
Here, I comment, not as an authority on marriage. Nor as one married without failings. But I do have some experience with marriage: with parents married for six decades; with my being married to the same woman for 45 years. And this after being friends and pen pals for years, and my courting her unfailingly.
Of course, like George Washington, ‘I will not tell a lie': I did try, unsuccessfully, on many, many occasions to hug and kiss her up. She was, she would say, “Miss Gabriel, not Mrs. Farrell.”
I came to understand what my mother, the Mrs. Farrell, meant, pre-advising us on life: “The same man who’d step over a molehill, not looking back, will die trying to climb Mt. Everest.” Was my future Mrs. Farrell a Mt. Everest type of woman? Well, before she had any expectations from me, she had high ones of and for herself. Before she cared about my name, she had cared about her family’s. She had priorities. Mine were to marry a woman with my mother’s sterling values.
It is because, from the family members with whom we grew; grandparents to parents to aunts and uncles, their expectations were those of children being born in wedlock, that we have honoured these, building our own families. So, my experiences with marriage are more experiential than academic; more based on family traditions in which the women inside, or those coming in, expected from the men inside, or those coming in, to value – family.
There is much relevant material available elsewhere as to why men and women marry. Local libraries and bookstores carry these by the bushel. The assumptions here are that women, for the most part desire marriage, while men generally do not. So, what might be useful for women? And what for men? My questions raised and comments are premised on the likelihood that both men and women already value family stability; stability premised on commitments to marriage. Herein, I do not adequately address situations in which such expectations of stability do not exist. Others wiser, and with more copious information than I, will prove more dependable.
Anecdotally then, to ensure the sense of this ‘stability’, some things must occur. From experience, and probably that of other men looking, I had to have my ‘aha’ moment; the moment when I realized for sure that ‘this is the woman’! It is that moment, too, when it dawns on a man that while he is still committed to the joys of dating, the woman is already committed to the obligations of marriage.
The arrival of that ‘aha’ moment can be facilitated, discreetly. It can be preceded by a fun-family event: a weekend playing board games, a family re-union, picnic or event. It might come from someone, male or female, whose judgement is mutually trusted and admired; who asks in private, and in tone and language simple, positive and straightforward: “When are you marrying (her name)? Put as a ‘when’ question, leaves less room for equivocation. Is it the man’s responsibility to ask and answer any ‘why questions’? Whatever the outcome, the idea is to save time, effort and possible disappointment. A prudent woman would, if necessary, move on. Her moving will move them both, one way or the other.
Other family individuals can also create this ‘aha’ moment; the moment in his life when the man as suitor comes to see his future as it already exists: a man as family. This person can be the father of the woman being wooed. I had loved my fiancée, but betrothal and marriage were ideas still ahead. And in competition with other priorities. I knew that I would marry. I knew it was Joan … we could now walk in public holding pinkies. But in between then and ‘aha’, was next season’s soccer tournaments. My priorities didn’t have to cancel each other out. They just had to be prudently but surely re-prioritized!
Joan’s father, Pupa, on a birthday visit to their home, took me outside. “My young brother”, this is how he usually greeted me, “what are your intentions towards my daughter?” His use of the pronoun, ‘my’, as in ‘my daughter’, could not have been more decisive. And more effective than a shotgun, too!
In addition, Pupa had been the type of man and father who, by word and deed had also shown his children and others, what being honourable was, looked like, and spoke for. He had allies in my parents. On the night of our engagement, my father simply said, “Lennox will keep his word; he always does.”
Along with the engagement letter I’d written to Pupa and which Joan still retains (as evidence, she says), she recalls to our children and grandchildren, Dad’s words among other courtship stories.
Finally, and hoping this eclectic piece raises more pertinent questions than it answers, in situations where spouses mutually cherish their in-laws, their marriage ties will be more robust; more capable of outlasting the stormy weather. For storms will blow, during which, even more powerful than actions, words will do more to make or break relationships. And there are some break-up words, for example those which serve to demean his or her family members. And men never hit women … regardless!
Joan has blessed for our children, and me. She is the reason why I stay in good health, physically, and otherwise. She is the reason why her relatives and mine remain more families than in-laws; where joys and sorrows are mutually ours. Mrs. Farrell brings a steadfast spiritual sensibility to our home. She is the main reason, too, why when she travels, I cannot eat, and when she returns, I cannot sleep!