Hitched: Dudes, Help Decorate That Tree!
My uncle Tommy’s hot sauce is the recipe by which I measure all hot sauces; it is the recipe I try to recreate to varying degrees of success every time I come home from the store with cilantro, peppers, lime, onion, garlic and tomatoes. But Tommy just knew, in some magical old-Texas-guy way, the way hot sauce was supposed to taste and look and feel.
“Tommy Baker Hot Sauce” was a staple at all my family’s holiday gatherings for years, sitting up there on my mom’s or my aunt’s counter, decimated by the time anyone got around to ham or turkey — which my uncle Tommy almost always had a hand in making, too. The man was a genius in the kitchen or on the grill.
He’s been gone for two years now, and I miss him for all kinds of reasons, but one of them is because he was a family man who owned the holidays. He didn’t just sit around and expect his wife to make him a plate and trim the tree. He wasn’t quite Clark Griswold, but he was real close. And there’s nothing I love more than a man who’ll fry a turkey, make a side dish, wash a roasting pan, and slap a wreath on the door.
I don’t often direct my Hitched columns toward guys, explicitly, but I’d like to take the opportunity now, since it’s early in the season, to say that the holidays are a fan-fucking-tastic opportunity for hetero men to show their female partners that they’re all about some tryptophan-fueled gender equality.
For our first Christmas together, I was deeply charmed by Patrick’s enthusiasm for Christmas. He went out and got a live tree, all on his own. Picked out IKEA’s most ridiculous, scrotally reminiscent ornaments. Watered that mother every day. It was adorable. And until I asked him about it this week, I thought it was a thing he did because it was Christmas. Turns out, it’s a thing he did because he had a girlfriend: me. But it was all a sham! And I fell for it.
“I thought it’d be funny to have around when you came over,” Patrick told me. His previous holiday celebrations include: going to Subway in Ireland when he was studying abroad in college over Thanksgiving, because “it was the only place that had turkey.” Patrick was not a holidays guy until he was a partnered guy.
Me? I’ve been setting up the same frazzled aluminum hand-me-down tree and Target ornaments for years, because I love the chintzy goodness. But just like Patrick, it wasn’t until I saw myself creating a family unit with him that I truly dedicated myself to tacky holiday décor, which has become some of my very favorite useless crap to spend money on.
Holidays — particularly large, family-oriented ones involving the slaughter and roasting of sizable fowl — tend to fall to women to plan, particularly married women. It is a grown-up lady rite of passage: become the planner in your family who tells people when to arrive, what to bring. Or, become the go-to contact person for the existing Planner Lady.
Married ladies of the world, we have shouldered this burden for too long! There are Uncle Tommys out there who can run a Christmas dinner! There are Patricks on this planet who build one hell of a Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres plate! His particular strengths are in the cheese and pickle areas.
When women get saddled with the responsibility of being the familial glue, all kinds of bad things happen: daughters- and mothers-in-law are pitted against each other. Men sit around and watch football while women cook, serve and clean. When conflicts arise, dudes “stay out of it,” because oh those crazy women, just trying to do what the patriarchy has told them it’s their one and only job to do, which is: do everything, do it perfectly, and make it seem totally effortless.
Take, for example, the letter-writer in this recent Carolyn Hax column, who wants to know why her sister-in-law doesn’t ever host a holiday at her house. Notably present in her letter: a husband and a brother. Notably absent from the letter: either of those dudes doing or saying jack shit while she tries to make holiday nice with every human being who has ever lived.
Husbands and male partners of the world: if you see that your lady partner is dealing with some of this crap, advocate for her. Don’t wait for her to tell you to put one foot in front of the other; walk! Over to the sink! And pick up a dishrag!
I have hope that the old paradigm of lady-make-turkey, man-watch-football is on the way out; I don’t often meet people who say this is their holiday default. It’s certainly not in my house. My dad and male cousins can always be found in the kitchen or topping off the tree, because it turns out, you can hold a dishrag and scream at referees at the same time. (In fact, it improves the experience, I find, if there are props involved.) I’m heartened to say that it looks like Patrick will be carrying on our tradition.
People dread the holidays for all kinds of reasons, but I’d guess that one of the biggest dread-inducers is, for women, feeling like if they don’t make it happen, all their family will do is just sit around with some take-out and then all life is a failure. If we want a more gender-equal society, I think that has to start at home, and it has to start with ending the assumption that having vagina is an automatic tinsel-hanging, stuffing-making, family-wrangling qualification.
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