Over the last 58 years, I’ve managed to accumulate next to no understanding about members of the opposite sex.
Especially when those members are part of my immediate family. Because, try as I might, I can’t avoid disappointing the women in my life.
That failing has now extended across four generations.
My mother is in her mid-80s. On good days, she still treats me like a juvenile. On bad days, like a juvenile delinquent.
My wife is in her mid-50s. On good days, she tolerates me. On bad days, she tolerates me harder.
My daughters are in their 20s and 30s. They believe I’m elderly. On good days, they think I’m irreverent. On bad days, they think I’m irrelevant.
My granddaughters, who are 3, still put up with me, though maybe not for much longer. The “Terrible Threes” are starting to kick in, and tantrum-free visits have become few and far between. Last week, one of them confided in me that I was “the mean grandpa.”
I try my best to keep them all happy, but my best usually falls far short.
Here’s the thing though: It’s not about lack of devotion, it’s about an excess of emotion.
Because at any given time, at least one of them is mad about something. Or someone.
Sometimes over something I did. Sometimes over something I didn’t do. More times than not over something I had nothing to do with. Makes no difference. Whatever the cause, they’re upset.
And it’s my job as a son/husband/father/grandpa to figure what’s upsetting them, and then try and fix it. You know, like you’d fix a leaky toilet. Or bad television reception.
The trouble is, more times than not, they don’t want me to fix whatever’s bothering them.
They merely want to talk about it.
And about how it makes them feel.
When confronted by such concepts the reptilian part of my brain instantly kicks in, restricting my part of the dialogue to one of two safe responses: 1. “Yeah.” 2. “Uh-huh.” And to never, ever, ever voluntarily elicit an opinion. If pressed for a viewpoint, the only truly safe response is “whatever you think, dear.”
Anything else and you’re asking for trouble.
Funny, I’ve never had these kinds of problems with the males in my immediate family. Neither father-in-law, son-in-law nor three brothers ever call me up to talk about feelings. We only talk about practical things, like do you know who’s hosting Thanksgiving this year, or did you ever fix a leaky toilet, or did you see the game last night.
A typical phone conversation goes something like this:
Me: “So, did you see the game last night?”
Brother: “No, the cable was out. Hey, do you know how to fix a wireless router?”
Brother: “Talk to mom lately?”
Brother: “How’s she doing?”
Me: “She seems kind of mad.”
Brother: “Know what she’s mad about?”
Brother: “OK, talk to you on Thanksgiving.”
Not much of a conversation, but then again I can’t remember the last time any of us were angry with one another about anything.
On the other hand, I’ll likely be dealing with angry women again in the very near future. Probably right after they read this column.
• Bill Wimbiscus, former reporter and editor for The Herald-News, has lived in Joliet for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.