Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Husbanding Resources

A number of articles have appeared over recent years about changing gender roles. Now, I don't mean those cases of men dressing up in females' clothes and thinking that they have become women, whether to make money by taking on a new profession, or just because, out of boredom, they want to feel the pinch of a bra or the sore ankles that come from wearing high heels. Nor do I mean women putting on pairs of trousers, wearing neckties, or marching blithely up to a urinal and somehow thinking that this will make them into men. I do not mean men wearing earrings. I do not mean women letting their facial and body hair grow. I mean simply the idea that the near-fixed roles that many male-female couples have in their lives seem to be getting more flexible, at least in many developed countries. I do not want to deal with Afghanistan, or Iraq, or India.

Now, as with many transitions, there is a lot of confusion, resistance, accusing, disappointment, etc. as these changes go ahead. The factor that has excited many people recently is how this process may be accelerating because of the latest downturn in economic activity. In many developed countries, jobs that had traditionally been the refuge of men are being lost at a faster rate than jobs filled by women. Men are losing their roles as breadwinners and taking on roles as bread makers. Instead of getting their hands dirty with money laundering, men are having to get down to serious clothes washing. So, the push of economic reality may get done what centuries of nagging has not.

Men are learning that a manicure for wrinkled hands is really a necessity not a wasteful luxury. They are learning to live with the stench of baby vomit on themselves rather than the sweeter scents of Brut. They are living in the luxury of not worrying for hours which shirt and tie to wear, and if the Armani double-breasted suit works better today than the bespoke Gieves and Hawkes version. They just drape on a tee shirt and shorts, if they are lucky enough to live in the tropics or it's summer time in Peoria, or it's a plaid shirt and jeans if it's winter time in New York.

If men are of the special species known as 'Dad', they are getting the hang of arranging play dates for their children and forgetting about going out on dates with their spouses, because they are so knackered after a day of domestic chores and what passes for intelligent conversations about Sponge Bob and his square pants that they are now the ones with headaches.

Many people still laugh and snicker when they make references to 'house husbands'; such as a tennis-playing doctor friend did this morning. I let him dig his hole and lay in wait. But, many men just cannot handle it. I get the impression that, next to being castrated, many men feel more fear from the prospect of being caught on the phone during the mid-morning by a telemarketer asking if the head of household is home or by a group of well-intentioned Jehovah Witnesses waiting to pass on copies of Watchtower.

Having landed in this situation myself, I have to laugh at some of the reactions and discussions I heard in the blessed isle of Barbados. At first, I thought the men were joking but I guess I have to accept that they are really serious that they would rather throw themselves off Eastern Point than be caught dead in their pyjamas having coffee on the porch at mid-morning, and liking it. I really cannot see the difference between that and lolly gagging on the block corner with a Banks or a Guinness in hand, blathering on with another bunch of half-shaved guys about cricket or slamming down some dominoes. I really cannot see the difference between chilling at home rather than sitting on a bar stool all day in a rum shop. I guess that it's about face time, even if you are wasting time.

Now, if a man is in what I call my fortunate predicament and actually making an attempt to be gainfully (self) employed, I cannot see what the fuss is about. You win your bread at home; she wins hers in some soulless building. Your bread may be bigger, but does size really matter?

Look at the pluses. My offices are about 30 seconds from my bedroom if I walk quickly. I say offices because I have two places of employment upstairs alone, and with the joy of technology I can get access to the Internet with a wireless connection, so my 'suite' of upstairs offices is in the kitchen or on the patio. I like the former because food and drink are just a stretch away. Come on, guys. Does it get better? I like the latter because it offers a wonderful view of some varied coloured frangipani trees, and a glimpse of the sea on a clear day. "Darling, does your office have such a view?"

I have another office in the basement (which is actually ground level). That is the place designated by my wife as 'the office', with a high-backed chair, and printer and phones, and bathroom. I suspect that she prefers me to work there so that if she drops into the homestead unannounced I have less time to rush the fillies out of the property and over the back wall. But, it's a bit dank down there and I feel more like Gollum rather than a King of Gotham. But, it's better appointed than any office I have ever worked in, and with a spin of my chair I can have access to a television. Now, my TV watching is really for work, so I tune in to Bloomberg and CNN. But a man, bless the poor blighter, needs his sport and I must admit that when Champions League matches are on, then the buttons get pressed so that I can have some quality down time with Rooney and Ronaldo and Drogba and Gerrard. Tell me, if you dare, that this is terrible.

But the pressures can mount on this new-style man. In my upstairs offices, for example, I sometimes have to deal with a lot of traffic noise and congestion and fumes. Green moneys often use my back wall as a walkway to wherever they go to do their groceries; sometimes there are as many as six at a time, queued behind each other, even dragging babies feeding on the breast. Long gone are the days when I had to get into a car and spend time either with music my children liked and I did not or getting depressed by news of world cataclysm and brutal deaths. Instead, I get to share limited space at a breakfast counter with a sometimes pushy five-year old, who eats like an adult and increasingly negotiates like one. Whereas, I used to have the leisure of reading the daily paper and try the crossword before I headed out to work, I now get to read the news to this same five-year old, who in her very pushy half-Jamaican way, has the audacity to tell me that I am not pronouncing words properly. Fortunately, when her mother is around, she quickly upbraids her for speaking like a Bajan. Then, I have to deal with the constant smell of food being prepared in the kitchen by our housekeeper. How can you concentrate on making money and developing good ideas when your senses are bombarded by the smell of grilled barbecued ribs, or season fish frying, or rice and peas cooking. I have no union to protect me from this kind of harassment.

But, truth be told, I am going to lick this, even lick my lips as I suffer. Here is a battle that I will win, and strike a blow for men the world over. I knew that the corner had been turned yesterday, when I was asked to do an interview for Brass Tacks. The option of going to the studio would not work as I had to do pick up from school and a play date had been arranged already. I did not want to do the commentary over the phone. So, the moderator decided to come to my 'offices'. So, I shipped off the children to play at my neighbour's house. Then, no shock-horror, we worked for an hour. After that, I took a deserved nap. It had been a long day, since I was up at 5am and it was now 4pm.

This may all end up very well indeed. Who better than he who-used-to-obey to be at home to deal with a surly mailman or UPS delivery person? Who better than the former man-of-the-house to ward off potential robbers and vagabonds? If we want crime stoppers, this downturn could put pay to some petty thievery and harassment. Trust me. When I see someone who looks out of place in my neighbourhood, or who is blasting up my cul-de-sac likes it's the ABC highway, I am the consummate hunter-gatherer, and will pull out a spear to deal with this offender near my homestead. Maybe, this is the way to a safe society. To pump my own chest--it is still big--who better to be at home when the kids come in than Dad? Whoa! Let's play horsey! Mums are always heading off to the shops or wanting to chin-wag with their gals when the kids want to play. Balanced family life will return.

Now, I must away and hear how and why Bernie Madofff made off with the now estimated US$ 65 billions of other people's money. Also, why did the Swiss National Bank decided to take away the Swiss Franc as a safe haven by threatening to sell it to stop it rising against the Euro? There goes another safe haven.

Let this be a lesson to all of those doubting Thomases out there. Learn to husband your resources. The world may never be the same again. My safe haven is in tact and I am there to ensure that.

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