"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, August 29, 2014

Unconditional Love–Think Again

There is an aphorism making the rounds on the Internet which goes like this:

The biggest coward is the man who awakens a woman’s love with no intention of loving her

Now, this quote is from Bob Marley who wasn’t exactly a one-man woman.  In fact, he was your classic male sexual predator. He had 11 acknowledged children (10 biological, 1 adopted) with seven different mothers. That’s seven different mothers each of whom, if we can believe what he said, had their love awakened by him before he went tomcatting on to the next.  So, he is not exactly a credible source.

In fact, his statement is disingenuous to say the least.  Men are born sexual predators, and they have a biological urge to copulate and spread their seed as widely as possible.  In most countries women have been significant countervailing forces; and their concerns for stability, hearth and home, and an economically productive mate have reined in men’s worst libertine behavior. In many other countries and certain American communities, men are far more promiscuous.  The moral, family values of society, church, and community which have been foundational and persistent throughout the history of most cultures have less of a hold, and sexual mores are far more lenient.

This latter paradigm – the sexually predatory, promiscuous male – has been and still is men’s bio-genetic imperative for millennia.  Most men, as much as they may sniff at dysfunctional communities where absent fatherhood is the rule, wish that they had been born into such a permissive culture.

Men think about sex all day every day.  They look at women, fantasize about women, dream about women, and chase women.  No amount of pastoral teaching, Biblical hammering, feminist vitriol, or moral injunction does any good.

Father Murphy was big on sex, and every Sunday he launched into a fiery sermon about sexual profligacy.  Wayward men were vipers, insinuating themselves between the sheets of innocent young women, promising them like the Devil himself a new world of sexual delight and emotional freedom.  Here he recited passages from Genesis, twisting God’s words only a bit and blaming men for women’s downfall; but he soon regained his footing and started in on treacherous, deceitful women who enticed goodly men and precipitated their fall from grace.

Father Murphy was such a powerful sermonizer that all of us children quaked in our boots, sure that we were headed for eternal hellfire, perdition, and the loss of the sight of God.  As soon as we stepped out of church, however, the dirty thoughts which we confessed every Saturday in confession, returned.  Nancy Bolton’s sweet, full breasts.  Susan Farmer’s round and inviting ass.  Even with no sexual experience, hard-ons came in seconds.  A whiff of perfume or a glimpse down a classmate’s sleeveless blouse was enough to send the hormones racing through our blood.  We wanted to fuck Nancy, Susan, Molly, Lisa, Jane, and every other pubescent, alluring, and irresistible girl in the 8th grade even if we didn’t know what fucking was. 

In other words, we couldn’t help it.  A cavalry of Father Murphys riding like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse couldn’t stop our randy thoughts. 

The nuns with their black robes, clackers, and rosary beads – the most undesirable women in the world – couldn’t shake any sense into us.

Many observers have commented on the sexual reticence of the Fifties, a time of moral probity, the nuclear family, and the faithful husband.  Sexual profligacy was at a low ebb, they said, and the unwritten rule of Kinder, Küche, Kirche kept women tethered and men faithful to them.  Nothing could have been further from the truth.  Savvy men knew that legions of women stranded in loveless marriages, tied to house and home were easy pickins; and back doors were left open every afternoon of the year.

The Sixties took the lid off of sexual constraints and both men and women could sleep with whomever they wanted whenever they wanted as often as they wanted.  As those of us who matured in those years, sexual libertinage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. “Too much ice cream”, said a friend of mine.  The excitement of the chase, cheating, and prowling were set aside in favor of “Love the one you’re with”.  He was happy when that period of licentiousness finished and he went back to the age-old traditions of love, marriage, cheating, and divorce.

Men cheat.  All men cheat.  All men cheat all the time. It is a hormone-driven axiom.  There is a scene in the Cher movie Moonstruck where a late middle-aged Olivia Dukakis, frustrated with her wayward husband, asks her daughter’s fiancé the question:

Rose: Why do men chase women?

Johnny: Well, there's a Bible story... God... God took a rib from Adam and made Eve. Now maybe men chase women to get the rib back. When God took the rib, he left a big hole there, where there used to be something. And the women have that. Now maybe, just maybe, a man isn't complete as a man without a woman.

Rose: [frustrated] But why would a man need more than one woman?

Johnny: I don't know. Maybe because he fears death.

[Rose looks up, eyes wide, suspicions confirmed]

Rose: That's it! That's the reason!

Johnny: I don't know...

Rose: No! That's it! Thank you! Thank you for answering my question!

Women are always looking for the answer and have never found it.  The Olympia Dukakis character feels she has had an epiphany and ignores the fact that the ‘answer’ has come from her clueless, sexless future son-in-law. It is a pop-psych answer, one among many, none of which have any relevance to the real reason men are such sexual predators – Y chromosomes, hormones, and millennia of social habit.

However Johnny Cammareri was right in one respect.  Older men chase women to chase away death.  Antony made a fool of himself out of an insane love for Cleopatra.  Coleman Silk, in Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain says about his love for a much younger woman, “Granted, she's not my first love. Granted, she's not my great love. But she is sure as hell my last love. Doesn't that count for something?”

Older men know that love with a younger woman is restorative, rejuvenating, life-affirming, and joyful.  A close married friend of mine was deeply involved with a woman thirty years his junior.  He was besotted and the happiest I had ever seen him.  He couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He loved his wife of 35 years, but this was something different, he said. “It was like a gift under the tree on Christmas morning”, he said.  Unexpected, perfect, and right.

I told him, like Nathan Zuckerman, Silk’s friend in the Roth book, that the relationship would never last.  The age difference not to mention the social, intellectual, and emotional ones, was too great.  It didn’t matter, my friend replied. “No matter what happens, I will always remember this as the happiest period in my life”.

In the Woody Allen movie, Husbands and Wives, the married Sydney Pollack character falls for a much younger woman.  She is a ditz, but he is so taken with her youthful beauty and exuberance that he overlooks everything. Eventually, of course, he realizes the error of his ways – not that he was wrong to cheat on his wife, but that he was blinded by hormonal and existential imperatives to fall for a dummy.

In another Woody Allen movie, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Hopkins reprises his earlier role when his character – an older, sophisticated man – falls for a young woman.  He is so enamored and sexually enthralled by her that he overlooks that she is a prostitute.

Allen himself has a recorded history of falling for young women, and these films are unmistakably autobiographical, at least in part. He knows that older men will always fall for younger women in their attempts to recapture their own youth and to keep the Grim Reaper at bay.

Romantic love is of course a relatively new concept, dating back according to most scholars to the poet Petrarch (b.1304) and his sonnets to ‘Laura’.  Knights in shining armor, princesses in the tower, love and unrequited love, chivalry and valor dedicated to love were expressions of the courts of the Middle Ages.  The serfs, of course, labored away in loveless marriages determined by economics; and the idea of romance never occurred to them as they struggled to make ends meet.

Shakespeare two centuries later wrote a lot about romantic love, but he clearly was no fan of the institution. One critic wondered what would happen to the ‘happy couples’ in the Comedies after the final wedding scene of the plays.  “Most likely they would end up in divorce, or whatever ingenious way out Elizabethans could think up”.  He was right because the couples in the Comedies were almost always mismatched.  The women ran rings around the clueless men but settled for them because of status, wealth, and security.

Women were not given a completely free ride by Shakespeare.  There is plenty of misogyny in plays like Cymbeline where Posthumus launches a diatribe not only against his betrothed whom he suspects of infidelity, but all women.  Othello who has murdered Desdemona, caught, and brought to trial, tells the judge that he should be happy that he, Othello, has rid the world of a faithless, deceptive woman.   In other words, Shakespeare knew as well as anyone that men tomcat, and women let them in the back door.

So Bob Marley’s comment that men are cowards for loving ‘em and leaving ‘em is whistlin’ Dixie.  Only the most confident men will come right out and say that they are married, that the affair is temporary, and that they will return to their wives.  Most others will leave their wedding rings in the glove compartment, hem and haw when their paramours ask about ‘family’, and invent cockamamie stories to hide their uxorious past.

Confident men know that honesty is merely a challenge for women.  Many women who find their married lovers irresistible or even the men of their dreams will never give up trying to get them to leave their wives.  The sexual battlefield is littered with the bodies of women who have tried and failed.

‘Coward’ is far too strong a word to describe men who try to get women into bed under any pretense.  Dishonest? Sure. Deceitful? Definitely. A man who cheats on his wife and lies to his lover has a lot to answer for.  If it’s any consolation, these men ultimately lose both ways.  Their liberated, independent wives give them the buzz off, Charlie; and their impatient, credulous lovers finally wise up and leave them on the curb.

Yet men being what they are, guys who have been kicked out will get right back up and chase the first skirt they see.  While they may at first drown their sorrows with Wild Turkey and a chaser at O’Reilly’s, such self-pity will never last long.  Any woman who gives them a second look will be enough to get the juices flowing again.

Now, does that answer the question?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

RECIPES–Tuna A La Crème With Mushrooms And Sherry

This is one of the classics – tasty, easy to make, and quick. Everyone has a can of tuna on the shelf, and sherry and dried Porcini or Portobello mushroom are not hard to find.

Tuna a la Crème with Mushrooms and Sherry

* 1 can tuna packed in oil or water

* 1/4 cup Amontillado sherry

* 3 cloves garlic, chopped

* 2 Tbsp. olive oil

* 1/4 cup dried mushrooms (approx.)

* 1/2 cup whole milk (approx.)

* 1/2 cup Half-and-Half (approx.)

* 1 Tbsp. flour

* 2 tsp. dried oregano (approx.)

* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

- Soak the dried mushrooms in enough water to cover for 10 minutes

- Sautee the garlic in the olive oil for 2-3 minutes

- Add the tuna and oregano and stir well over medium high heat for 2-3 minutes, then add sherry, cook for another 2 minutes

- Remove from heat and sprinkle in the flour, mixing well

- Return to the heat and add milk and cream slowly, mixing steadily.  The object is to make a roux that is neither thick nor runny.

- When the roux is ready, add the mushrooms and approximately 2 Tbsp. of the hydrating water. Reserve the rest of the water.

- Stir and reheat over low heat for 3-4 minutes

- Adjust for taste (salt, oregano, mushroom juice, etc.)

- Stir, plate, and sprinkle ground parmesan over each serving, garnish with fresh black pepper.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Fatherless Generation

God only knows, nuclear families have their problems.  One has only to look at the plays of Eugene O’Neill.  Mourning Becomes Electra is a grand guignol melodrama involving a mother, father, and their two children. Murder, incest, deceit, and calumny are all part of a day’s work in the Mannon family.  The Tyrone family is no different.  A desperate, domineering mother; a weak, disengaged father, and two damaged, willful sons.

The Pollitt family in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is intact, but barely so.  Big Daddy is a domineering patriarch.  Big Momma is the dutiful but weak-willed wife, and Brick and Gooper play out a particularly dramatic sibling rivalry. 

Agnes, Tobias, and their daughter Julia are an intact family but barely so in Albee’s A Delicate Balance.  Everyone in the drama is unhinged, uncertain, and desperate. In his American Dream Albee constructs a nuclear family, albeit with an adopted son:

About twenty years ago, a man very much like Daddy and a woman very much like Mommy lived in an apartment very much like theirs with an old woman very much like Grandma. They contacted an organization very much like the nearby Bye-Bye Adoption Service and an adoption agent very much like Mrs. Barker, purchasing a "bumble" of joy. Quickly they came upon trouble. The bumble cried its heart out. Then, it only had eyes for Daddy. Mommy gouged its eyes out, but then it kept its nose up in the air. Next, it developed an interest in its "you-know-what"—its parents cut it off. When the bumble continued to look for its you-know-what, they chopped those off as well. Its tongue went when it called its Mommy a dirty name. Finally it died. Wanting satisfaction, its parents called the adoption agent back to the apartment to demand their money back. (Sparknotes)

Shakespeare, like Albee, was no admirer of families, and created some of the most dysfunctional.  Goneril and Regan are the two thankless daughters of Lear. Henry VIII desperately wanted a nuclear family and cut off the heads of wives who could not produce an heir.  Hamlet was the son of loving parents until his father, the King, was murdered and his mother jumped into bed with the murderer.  Hamlet loved his mother incestuously, could not avenge his father’s death, and had sexual issues with Ophelia. 

Cymbeline and his Queen (Cymbeline) clash over the future of their children.  Imogen, Cymbeline’s daughter wants to marry a lowborn man instead of the noble but stupid son of the Queen, Clotus.  The plot evolves in the fashion of Eugene O’Neill with plenty of treachery, villainy, death, murderous intent, and deceit to go around.

The Loman family in Miller’s Death of a Salesman is intact – Willy, his wife, and two sons – but that integrity goes for naught as each member loses his bearings, and falls into cycles of deceit, jealousy, and is destroyed.

All these playwrights, however, understood one thing – that marriage is the crucible of maturity.  As a hothouse microcosm of the real world, we all learn the best and worst about ourselves as we are pitted son against father, son against son, husband against wife and are all challenged by the strictures of discipline, jealousy, love, and frustration.   As much as Albee, Shakespeare, Williams, and O’Neill hated families, they all knew that society cannot do without them.

What they did not anticipate was today’s breakdown of the two-parent family and the damage that can be done by a fatherless household; but they certainly offered playgoers an inkling.  Tamora, the Queen of the Goths (Titus Andronicus) was a single mother who incited her two sons to rape and mutilate the daughter of Titus for revenge.  She gets her comeuppance when Titus kills the sons and serves them up to their mother in a pie.

Volumnia, the single mother of Coriolanus, invests everything in her heroic son, but when he shows signs of weakness she destroys him.   Mrs. Venable in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer is a single mother with an incestuous love for her gay son for whom she pimps.

The statistics concerning the children of fatherless families today and reported by The Fatherless Generation are dire:

  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
  • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average.  (Center for Disease Control)
  • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average.  (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average.  (National Principals Association Report)

It gets worse:

Incarceration – Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately forty-six percent of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail.

Crime - A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. A study of 13,986 women in prison showed that more than half grew up without their father. Forty-two percent grew up in a single-mother household and sixteen percent lived with neither parent (The Fatherless Generation

The reasons for fatherless families are many.  Some reflect social pathologies that have their origin in history.  Slave families were deliberately broken up during the plantation era, but both men and women were encouraged to have as many children as possible regardless of marital ties.  The post-war period of the marginalization, discrimination, and isolation of black communities prevented assimilation into a world of white, middle class family values and structure.

Divorce among white families has increased dramatically over the years (16 percent in 1930, 20 percent in 1940, 33 percent in 1970, 50 percent in 1985), and the rate of 50 percent has held steady for the past twenty years.  Over 60 percent of second and subsequent marriages also end in divorce.

Laws and society being what they are, young children are still raised by mothers, fathers granted only visitation rights.  White single mothers, therefore, still represent the bulk of one-parent families.

Even under the best of conditions, raising a child in a one-parent household, regardless of the sex of the parent, is a difficult proposition indeed.  Children are by necessity placed in the charge of third-party contractors (day care centers, nannies, after-school programs); and the demands on parents by normal, emotionally needy children are even more intense if they are alone all day.  Add to that the unshared responsibilities of shopping, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and looking after the dog, and single parenthood looks more and more like a drag.

Under the worst conditions – inner city dysfunctional communities, riven by drugs, crime, violence, and abuse – single parents can barely hold any semblance of family together.  Mothers rely to a large degree on grandmothers for childcare.

Fathers and mothers are different and contribute differently to families.  Mothers are more caring, nurturing, and physically loving.  Fathers are more stern, demanding, and stand-offish, especially with their sons.  The sexual rivalry between fathers and sons that playwrights have written about and psychiatrists noted for decades is the source of both antagonism and bonding.  Sons cannot learn sexual maturity and responsibility without a father; and the stern, uncompromising Old Testament God the Father is still the rule.

Perhaps even more importantly children learn from the mother-father couple.  They see how disputes are negotiated and decided; how personalities clash and complement; how love anneals and heals; how violence and hatred are a result of marital frustration and anger.  As Albee and his colleagues knew, marriage and two-parent families are the crucibles of maturity.

There has been a predictable ‘progressive’ reaction to conservative views on families and so-called ‘family values’.  A two-parent, middle-class, church-going family is somehow suspect.  A throwback to the unenlightened Fifties, intolerant of diversity, and staunch in its refusal to accept any alternate lifestyles.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Such families are Democrat and Republican, Northern and Southern, white and black.  Their values are adopted defiantly – a radically conservative show of moral rectitude – but naturally.  Whether inspired by Biblical tradition or practical common sense, two-parent families believe that the paradigm they follow is the best and most appropriate one for themselves and their children.

It is certainly true that many conservative families look critically and the dysfunctional families of the inner city and trailer trash hookups in the hills; and there is no doubt that many of these families are even more harshly critical of gay marriage.  How could they not be when heterosexual marriage is the rule not the exception; when it is celebrated in the Bible; when it is the sine qua non of human survival; when it is depicted in song, drama, and dance?

This ‘natural’ family in fact embodies all that is American.  “Honor thy father and mother” is both a Biblical precept and a foundational rule of society and civilization. Reverence, piety, and faith are as American now as they were in the time of the Founding Fathers. Hard work, parsimony, and commitment have always been the key to success and social and economic progress.  Honor, courage, compassion, and respect are the same values enshrined by Cato the Elder in his educational guidelines for Roman youth.

America more than most countries is dynamic and ever-changing; and there is no doubt that marriage, like other social constructs, will continue to go through minor and structural change.  Yet because we are all sexual, social, and dependent on others, some form of conjugal union will always remain.

Traditional marriage and family values are not destructive or damaging to the body politic as some claim.  In fact they should be models for communities whose families are pathologically broken.  The above statistics point to a grim trend and should not be ignored.

Those of us who grew up in the Fifties know how confining and frustrating traditional families could be for women and children alike.  The Sixties were a breath of fresh air into hermetically sealed households where all members were told to toe the line, go to church, eat what you’re told, serve dinner on time, and don’t talk back. 

At the same time most of us find ourselves in traditional families – husband, wife, and children.  Each of us is more independent than our parents, less confined and obliged by tradition, religion, and social probity.  Yet we are no different from our parents in trying to build family integrity, respect, duty, and love.

The traditional family should be here to stay.