I once had an acquaintance of many years whom I thought I knew well. But when his wife died, I was startled to learn that this guy didn’t know how to do his own laundry or book his own travel or even manage his own checkbook. He was a partner in a thriving medical practice, but he couldn’t care for himself.
When I was a young man studying for the Catholic priesthood, I was fortunate to have as our seminary rector a farsighted monsignor who instilled self-sufficiency in us in preparation for the solitary life of a parish priest. So we spent each Saturday laboring to maintain our “house” (from the Greek oikos, the root of “ecology”). I learned to make up my bed in military fashion, to wash windows without leaving streaks, to handle a bulky floor-buffing machine.
I know an untold number of men – at least in my older age demographic -- who require someone to take care of their day-to-day needs because they cannot or will not maintain themselves.
These are the “un-maintenance men.”
On the other hand, all the women I know are highly self-sufficient. Not one suffers the malady of un-maintenance.
My widowed daughter, for example, can jump a car, install appliances and make sense of the snake’s nest of cables that link cable box, monitor, DVR and DVD.
I spent most of 2009 alone in Vieques, house-sitting a friend’s place while our house was being built. When I first moved down to Vieques, my wife was concerned that my nutrition would suffer because – although I could make a mean chili, bake hearty breads and serve up a full Ukrainian Easter dinner -- I was not in the habit of preparing three meals a day.
But I learned – and learned well enough to open a bed-and-breakfast and see my guests posting Trip Advisor photos of their plates.
Guest Mary Fisher’s snap of her breakfast at my Vieques B&B.
Caring for yourself, cleaning up after yourself, taking responsibility for managing your daily living – these are salutary and enriching practices that form what I call the “Ecology of Self.”
They also are precepts of the ancients.
Confucius, for example, warned that the father who does not teach his son his duties is as guilty as the son who neglects them.
The Buddha engendered the worth of taking responsibility for ourselves and for the environment we occupy.
St. Paul counseled the Galatians – and us -- that “each will have to bear his own load.”
Now, take heed. There might be a downside to all this.
The New York Times a couple of weeks ago discussed a study showing that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex.
Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car.
It wasn’t just the frequency of sex that suffered, either — at least for wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.
After I read about this study, I informed my wife that I wouldn't be doing any more housecleaning because it might adversely affect our sex life.
She says she doesn’t mind a dirty house.
In my next blog, “Lighting the Match”