Posted by: cochinblogger | May 12, 2010

On D.H. Lawrence, the Neglect of Husbands, the Paternal Role, and Why Mammary Glands Occur in Pairs

I was browsing a collection of free ebooks the other day, and decided to try out an author I’d heard a lot about but never read: D.H. Lawrence. Within a few minutes I had Sons and Lovers and Women in Love on my PC. I must confess that I was, of course, not unaware of Lawrence’s reputation for explicit depictions of sex in his writing. I began reading Sons and Lovers and was pleasantly surprised. His style is simple, and I read a good fifty pages without a single explicit description. Instead, what I found in plenty was a psychological complexity that is astounding in one so young. Lawrence was only 28 when Sons and Lovers was published.

I want to offer one quote for your consideration:

There was the halt, the wistfulness about the ensuing year, which is like autumn in a man’s life. His wife was casting him off, half regretfully, but relentlessly; casting him off and turning now for love and life to the children. Henceforward he was more or less a husk. And he himself acquiesced, as so many men do, yielding their place to their children.

Stunning, isn’t it? Every father would have experienced this to a greater or lesser degree, as his wife’s maternal instinct comes to the fore (it’s a bit frightening to watch, especially with a first child) and sweeps all and sundry before it. The husband is relegated to the sidelines, as a battalion of women invade home and hearth. I’ve come up with a four-word description of women that I tell any woman who I think won’t take umbrage. Here it is: “egg layer, egg lover.” Women lay eggs, and they love the eggs they lay (the ones that ripen, obviously). That’s it in a nutshell. The male, unencumbered by eggs, wanders the wide open spaces, creating science, hunting, impregnating other women, etc. OK, OK, I know that neatly encapsulates a sexist point of view on gender roles; but there it is.

The maternal role is sanctified in literature, and everybody falls in line to sing “hallelujah!” What about the paternal role? My assessment is that the mother is essential in the early years, the years that the child is a babe in arms. (Also, when the child is unwell; illness in a child elicits a tenderness and fierce protectiveness in a mother that no father can match, and children seem to understand this instinctively.) However, as the personality of the child unfolds, the father should take a more active role in child rearing. The father can teach a child stuff that a mother cannot; for example, a father can open a child’s eyes to adventure, risk taking, and fun for fun’s sake. A father can teach the child about the ways of the world, and help the child adjust to the environment outside the home. A father is often also the child’s best teacher (I set a personal example in this regard), but unfortunately, this function is usually left to the mother or outsourced. Yet, there is an idealization of the mother and a depiction of the father as an animal who can’t control that thingy dangling between his legs. This stereotype has a multitude of consequences, in areas ranging from adoption to child custody battles, where it is always an advantage to be female.

Another neglected role is that of the husband. I remember reading about an association of abused husbands formed somewhere in India, and the ire with which feminists received the news. That may be an extreme case, but Lawrence is right. The arrival of a child does shatter the domestic idyll of the husband basking in the undivided glow of his wife’s attention. In fact, I remember reading something about this in a humor book that had me rolling on the floor with laughter (I’ll post the title here as soon as I trace the book). Know why females have two mammary glands, and not one? No, not as a backup or standby. The arrival of a baby leads to a serious deterioration in the quality of life of the father, as his wife has eyes only for the babe. To put it bluntly, he is neglected. As a result, his life begins to come apart at the seams. The primary battle he must now wage is for food, for nutrition. The wife has more important tasks to do than cook for the husband. What is set before him is frequently unpalatable, and so his health suffers. Weight loss is the immediate symptom, and more serious consequences will follow if a course correction is not effected. Research has discovered that husband mortality is maximum during this critical period. What does this have to do with mammary glands occurring in pairs? Well, that is nature’s way of helping the husband supplement his nutritional requirements.

One for the babe, one for the husband. A fair division of spoils. Nature’s solutions are so wonderfully simple that we humans, accustomed as we are to synthetic complexity, often miss the obvious.

This method of nipping in the bud the escalating rate of postpartum husband mortality has to be popularized. There are cultural barriers, yes, but it is the need of the hour, and this post is a humble step in that direction. 🙂

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