Sunday, September 2, 2012

TIGER FATHER STORMS AMERICA


... or ... WHY HOLIDAY PLANNING IS PURE HELL


It’s a well known fact that husbands, by their nature, are useless. People know this now. It’s in the public domain. In particular it’s clear for we husbands, who are told it all the time.
We’re not useless in all things. Just the things that are deemed by some to be useful. It gets annoying. I’m a great help when it comes to clarifying who actually wrote Blinded By The Light (Bruce Springsteen), just how many England defenders Maradona beat in that ’86 World Cup goal (pretty much all of them), or which horse won the 1932 Melbourne Cup (I’ll assume you all know this). But when it comes to something trivial, something not involving any glory, something mundane like organising our children’s education or a holiday, back we go on into the basket labeled “Why did I marry you again?” To quote from the five-year-old I successfully helped produce, it’s just … not … fair!
Someone once said men are all about glories and triumphs, and women simply content themselves with making the world turn. And yes, organisation of some things may not be men’s strong point. For this, I will lean back on my old friend “hardwiring”. We never had to do much organising to leave the cave and kill wildebeest. At least I didn’t when I was a kid.


One image of a cave husband. God they
had it easy: "Spear? Check. OK well
that's about it then."

Another image of a caveman.

And another, seen on a favourite T-shirt.

Among our friends there are several legends of organisational near-glories.
One husband, who runs an event planning company in Beijing, took his family to the Philippines for an island holiday. Forced to overnight in Manila, they were relaxing over their hotel breakfast when the husband prudently checked their tickets to confirm what time they should head to the airport. The answer was “about two hours ago”. After all, it’s easy to confuse 11.00am with 11.00pm. They dashed to the airport and failed. His wife is now talking to him again. What a difference a year makes, eh?
I once phoned a friend in Australia and, as optimistically as I could, wished him a happy family holiday in Ukraine. They were leaving the following day for a wedding there (so no, it was not by choice). I noticed he wasn’t at home packing and whistling a happy tune. In fact he was in his car and swearing a lot. He was driving the 250km to Canberra to visit the Ukrainian Embassy. Who knew you need a visa to visit Ukraine? As I like to remind his wife, he made it in time.
Another friend was planning to take his family home from Beijing to Australia for Christmas when he discovered one of his three children’s passports had expired. He discovered this at the check-in counter. Maintaining passports was his job. Still, he got to get on the plane with the two transportable kids. As his wife screamed and gesticulated her goodbyes, the man suggested she was over-reacting somewhat. She suggested that in such a situation, over-reacting was not possible. She took her forlorn son back into a freezing cold and smoggy Beijing to spend four days awaiting a new passport.
All those examples are my countrymen, so maybe it’s just Australians. Maybe we are just so cool that the nerdy, very organised gene has been bred out of us long ago. Does it not make life with us more interesting? When living in Ottawa, I once made the mistake of asking a Canadian if Britain had formed a penal colony in his country too. “No, silly,” he said scornfully. “They sent all their convicts to Australia. All the boring ones came here.”

Some husbands like to watch sport together, a bit
like these two. Actually, it's nothing like these two.
This picture was found by googling "men watching
sport", but it's so obviously a fake. Note the pressed
shirts and jeans, the perfect-looking beers in
matching glasses, and the presence of far too
much salad on the burgers. On that note, three
burgers each then? On another note, hands up if
you watch football while holding a football.

This is what real husbands look like when they
get together to watch sport.

Other kinds of husbands, who typically don't
like sport, often look like this.

Or this.

Or this.

Unlike husbands, wives never have to put
up with this.

The Tiger Father, seen helping out at home, yesterday.

However, the worst example of all this husbandry came from a Frenchman. I will not exactly be giving the game away when I tell you his name is Francois. He also fancied a Philippines family holiday, and found a quaint little resort online. It was boutique: 12 small huts on a secluded beach on a tiny island which was a flight and two boat rides from Manila - the kind of remoteness I swore off long ago as way too much trouble.
Off they went - Francois, his wife, their three-year-old boy and six-month-old girl. When they finally arrived, to their horror they found the place didn’t have a room for them. The problem was at least easily explained: Francois hadn’t thought to book something, instead going with the “just turn up” approach. As he watched the boat disappear from the only resort on the island, this appeared a very brave approach. There are no prizes for bravery in the husbanding business. In fact, with a very assertive Italian wife and two kids, Francois looked the worst case since the founding father of foundering fathers, Joseph, forgot to book anything in Bethlehem – at the height of Christmas season and with a heavily pregnant wife in tow.
As Luke 2:1-20 had it:
“And so Joseph did take Mary from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town of David, whence it was found that there was no room at the inn. And Mary thus spake unto Joseph: ‘What the *#&@ do you mean you didn’t book anything?!?!’ Joseph averted his eyes and answered: ‘Well … Dave said we’d be right’. Mary, who was heavily with child and quite cranky, said: ‘Dave? You’re getting your travel advice from Dave?! He’s more useless than you are!’ And Joseph paused for a moment to think of what he should say next, for he was vexed. ‘Weeeell,’ he said, ‘there’s something to be said for just turning up once in a while, isn’t there? Spirit of adventure and all that?’ And Mary replied: ‘Oh my God. Did you really just say that?! I can’t even believe you’re going to be the father of this child!’ And Joseph replied: ‘Oh, well, do you really want to go there again?’ And thus a long and silence fell over the land. And it was awkward.”
At least Francois and family didn’t have to stay in the stables. The resort gave them a tent. They put it up on the beach and slept there for two nights. Finally a room became available.

"Oh Maaare ... we'll look back and laugh at this you know."

All this considered, it was with great pride that I entered Beijing Airport with my family at 6.30am on a Sunday to begin our month-long holiday in the USA. I’d spent weeks planning it. It was a multi-stop tour of many places, all of which had to be investigated, compared, stewed over and finally, nervously, booked.
As a stay-at-home dad, I do a lot of things stay-at-home mothers usually do. But a lot of mothers I know love planning holidays. It’s one role I loathe. Holiday planners used to scan a handful of brochures at best. Now there’s a million choices to mull over on the cursed internet. A lot of mothers I know love doing this, getting excited as they look at this place or the other. To them it’s all adventure and anticipation. I view it more like ancient mariners used to view the ocean – full of peril, the unknown, and horrible monsters we now know as tourism operators. My mother friends play it like Germany does a World Cup – with a certainty (I call it arrogance) that this will all evolve spectacularly well. I go a bit more like England. My every move is made with a fear it will go horribly wrong, and I will lambasted by the sensationalist tabloid press of my family, ie, my wife in a bad mood.
Still my darling bride, or to use her pet-name the Leader of the Opposition, couldn’t fault my meticulous efforts as we headed to the airline counter that day. “What could go wrong from here?” we both thought, though she not as rhetorically as I.

WELL?? What could? I mean, we’re in the airport, tickets in hand, plenty of time. Cruisin’ like Dave Grusin, right? Tune in breathlessly on Thursday and bloody well find out! Go on. Nothing happens on Thursdays.

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