My son does not like chicken. That sounds like a mundane fact, but his loathing for chicken dominated an entire Sunday for me. It was with me when I awoke, when I read the papers and even cut through the pain when I went for a run. I wanted to cook chicken.
Listen, men, pay attention to what I have to say. This is not another complaint about a man in the kitchen -- neither as hapless as Dagwood nor as sensitive as Phil Donahue. This is a column about something a woman taught me some time ago -- the difference between helping and sharing. Take notes.
The woman in question is Suzanne Levine, an editor at Ms. magazine. She asked me to write an article on the difference between helping and sharing. Sure, I said, pretending I knew what she was talking about -- and then she gave an example. Helping, she said, is doing the shopping. Sharing is helping to plan the menus. Oh!
Many men are helpers. The more progressive among us are really good helpers. Need some help with the shopping, dear? Okay, we'll help. Need some help with the kids, honey? Okay, we'll help. Need some help with the house, peach-poo? Okay, we'll do the dishes or cook or sweep or anything you can think of. Pin a star on us: The Order of Steinem.
All this, though, is helping -- not sharing. The latter is far different, and to understand how different it is, let's return to my son and his unaccountable but strong feelings about chicken. He won't eat it, preferring to eat steak every meal of his life. I like steak in moderation, but as I get older and read about fat and cholesterol, I think moderation is something like once a year. Usually, my strong feelings about steak and my son's strong feelings about chicken are my wife's problems. In addition to working five, sometimes six, days a week, she plans the menus. It's what God intended.
But on this particular weekend, she had to work. Not only could she not cook, but she would not tell me what to cook. I was on my own. I thought about dinner all day. I brooded. I negotiated. Just for a day, I shared.
This is the sort of thing women do all the time -- a quaint tradition from an era when few of them worked, as they say, outside the home. My wife, for one, approaches making up the weekly dinner menus like a visit to the dentist. The older my son gets, the more it seems that there's nothing I like that he does -- and vice versa. But menus are a mere nothing compared with some other matters. Many men help with child-rearing, but few share the mental burden of it. A man with a sick kid goes to work and works. A woman with a sick kid goes to work -- and worries herself sick about her kid.
Things can work the other way around too. In some relationships, women help bring in the income, but don't share the agony of worrying about money. Similarly, while there is many a man who has never given a dinner menu a thought, there's many a woman who has never spent a night thinking about the roof -- about how it needs to be repaired and how expensive that will be. Still, the roof does not yell back, "No more chicken!"
So on Sunday, I scoured the Safeway, looking for a food that did not exist -- something that was not meat, which, everyone knows, is lethal, or fish, which I do not like and, anyway, cannot cook, or, of course, chicken, which is healthy, tasty and easy to cook but which . . . Well, you know the story. I thought of eating out, but rejected that as a cop-out. In the end, I fixed lamb chops -- as unhealthy as steak, but not steak -- and when my wife came home, I told her how trying my day had been, unburdening myself in the best feminist fashion. Having finally learned how, I did not hesitate to share.