I was having lunch the other day with one of my cousins and as is usual in our meetings, the conversation turned to a rundown of what is new with each member of our extended family. We don’t have a very large family but still, it seems that certain members see each other more regularly than others. I’m not sure if that is “normal” or not. I think it is.
So, I asked my cousin about some members with whom she is closer and the conversation went to a married couple in which the husband has been very successful financially. As I remember him, he was always the one to remind the rest of us about how he rose from being a shipping clerk to being the head of his lucrative company. Meanwhile, his well-dressed, bejeweled wife would sit in the background silently, smiling.
“Don’t kid yourself,” my cousin said to me at lunch. “She’s the whole show.” Of course, what she meant was that the quiet, subservient wife was, in fact, “the boss!”
It made me think about so many European families that I knew growing up as an immigrant in Portland, Oregon in which I saw that same equation at work. It seems to me, looking back at it all, that the Viennese culture I knew then required the husband/father to be the head of the family and thereby the one to lay down all the laws by which everyone under his roof was to live.
However, their wives somehow knew how to finagle their husbands into giving in to their wishes. My mother did it by crying. I’m sure others had other means for manipulating their husbands … without their even knowing it.
What was and still is clear though, is that everyone else among their acquaintances who knew the couple, knew exactly who was “the boss.”
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Posted in Becoming Alice on February 16, 2011 |
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Book signing of Becoming Alice, A Memoir, on Saturday, March 19, between 10 AM and 4 PM. For more information see http://ojaiwordfest.wordpress.com/book_fair/
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When I was growing up and playing games with other kids, especially my older brother, my dad would always ask, “Who won?” Since my brother is almost nine years older, the answer was always the same, “He did.” But then I got older and once in a while, probably because my brother was bored with me, I did win a game here and there. It felt great.
Dad’s questions changed over the years. He’d ask what we got on our report cards, comparing my brother’s to mine. Since he was in full-blown adolescence and not interested in performing, I won by default.
Being “better” than the competition, in all my undertakings, definitely was what I strived for. Did that make me a competitive person? You bet! But when I think about it, I believe most people have to be competitive in order to make it in our culture. Is it not important to get better grades than the rest of your classmates? Is it not better to have a better job than the next guy? Does a woman not want to look the best she can, that is, better than those with whom she competes for a man? Does one not want to live in a nicer house than another, drive a better car, be a better cook, tennis player, gardner, etc. etc.? You bet!
Is being competitive a “bad” thing? I think not. Remember when the Russians put a man into space? We Americans couldn’t wait to catch and, guess what?, surpass them. Perhaps that drive led to the discovery of gravity, television, computers, etc. etc.
Not that everything you do should be competitive. How nice it is to just sit down and read a book, take a swim in the ocean, savor the beaty of nature. I must take time to do more or that … and give up trying to improve my backhand.
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Being liked is such a subjective feature that I went to the dictionary to see the deifinition of the word like as it pertains to people’s relationships. It states: To regard with favor or have a kindly or friendly feeling for a person (or group, etc.)
I don’t think about being liked at all any more. It doesn’t really matter to me, although I’d rather be liked than disliked. In any case, there isn’t anything I’d do to encourage or discourage any other person’s thinking or feeling about me. As I often say now, “It is what it is” and ” I am who I am.”
But that was not always so. If you’ve read my memoir, Becoming Alice, you’d know that I would have jumped through hoops to get anyone to like me. I even religiously read a column in my home town newspaper that instucted people who felt left out, what to do to get others to like them. Their advice was compliment everybody you come in contact with. They wrote: Tell them you like what they’re wearing, you think they look good, you think they are smart, you like their house, their car, their garden, their cooking, etc. etc. etc. You know, I think they do have a point. It probably works some of the time.
On the other hand, I think that tactic brought to the extreme can be counter-procuctive. Ever heard “kissing up” to your teacher, your friend, you lover. or anyone else. Not pretty.
Another annoying tactic was one my own dear father used. When in a social situation, he’d agree with whatever anyone in his immediate company said. It ususally came with a broad smile and, “Right you are!” Then after the party left and we were in our own kitchen, he’d say, “Did you hear what that idiot believes? How stupid can you be?” Sometimes I wonder if either one of those tactics got anyone a friend who actually liked them.
Personally, I think one has to just plod along being themselves and hope for the best.
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