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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Housetraining, in progress

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I never wanted my son to turn into a typical South African man. But it’s happening, insidiously, right under my nose, and it’s scaring me witless.

Ask any of the many ex-South African women in Canada about the characteristics of a ‘typical South African man’ and they’ll smile sheepishly and tell you that domesticated he is most certainly not.

He’s used to reading the newspaper until summoned for dinner, not donning an apron and cheerfully following a recipe. There’s a good chance he’s never handled a vacuum cleaner, operated a washing machine or ironed his own clothes. He’s definitely more comfortable in front of the TV than the stove, and when he does help out, the results are less than satisfactory. What’s more, he has no inclination to improve on his household skills.

My father-in-law was once left with the task of caring for his son for an hour. His wife instructed that the child be given freshly made brisket for lunch, but when meal time rolled around there were two pots on the stove: one with simmering meat, and the other a mix of dishwater and gravy, soaking so that it would be easier to scrub clean later on.

Guess which one he fed the boy?

My husband can be counted on to make great french toast on weekend mornings, but that’s where his kitchen prowess starts and ends. While he’s good at lots of things, cleaning up isn’t one of them, which is why we have daily conversations revolving around his clothes and towels on the bedroom floor, his coffee mugs beside the couch and the residues of his last snack littering the house. It’s laborious and I hate nagging, but the only alternative is doing it myself. That makes me bitter because at some point, I truly believe that he has to learn!

How realistic is that, though? Sometimes, I wonder if it’s even possible to break those bad domestic habits.

My mom had dinner once with an elderly couple in their late 80s, and watched as the husband tottered around the table, attempting to lay it as his wife had instructed but unable to figure out where the knife and fork belonged, or what else was needed. Ever helpful, mom volunteered to help. “No, he’ll do it,” his wife retorted indignantly. “He has to learn!” But clearly, this man had not learned. Not in all of his 80-something years.

I had great intentions for my 12-year-old son, Jason. I signed him up for a cooking class at the community centre, and he came home with recipes for cinnamon buns and other useless dishes we’ve never had a need to use. He’s proud of his ability to make scrambled eggs but hasn’t a clue how to clean up. And he still needs to be told to brush teeth, take a shower and clean up his room. Every. Single. Day.

I put it down to absentmindedness, but the other day I had a serious wake-up call when I asked him to deposit his clothes in the washing machine. He looked at me blankly.

“Which room is that in?” he asked in genuine surprise. Evidently, on the road to building a capable, domesticated man, we still have a long way to go in my house. But I will fight on, believe me. The alternative is too ugly to warrant consideration. And someday, I want my daughter-in-law to nod at me with a smile and declare happily, “You taught him well!"

 

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