It is Saturday, and I’m in Massachusetts. It is early, 50 degrees, and I’ve got a cup of Malabar coffee grown in Ethiopia. The plain brown bag says it was grown at an elevation of between 4,000 and 6,500 feet, “handmade in small batches,” and brings the taste of “dark chocolate and blueberries.”
Does one really want blueberries and chocolate at 6:30 a.m.?
Yesterday, my wife and I found a restaurant near Williams College that came with a mountain stream. Hot Tomatoes features outdoor dining with tables and chairs paired with complimentary rocks, rushing white water and, yes, even a small waterfall. One can eat one’s handcrafted pesto, chicken and goat cheese pizza while watching the late afternoon light play across the cold, clear water of the Green River.
My wife and I had arrived early in the afternoon. We were now drinking our three o’clock Chardonnay and discussing the current chaos and social discontent — topics ranging from the Delta variant to Afghanistan.
My role in these discussions has always been to say, “It’s not that bad.” That role means finding a time in history — The Great Depression or the Influenza Epidemic in 1918 — and saying something like, “You know it wasn’t all that great in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1889.” Lately it has been, “Well compared to the Bubonic Plague this thing is nothing.”
And so I was making those historical comparisons when other folks began arriving — the first being a family consisting of a young man and woman who appeared to be in their late 30s. She was toting a baby daughter and was also tending two other daughters, ages 4 and maybe 6. They had taken a table near us but mother and daughters were immediately drawn to the river.
Then two more families arrived. Now we had a pregnant woman and third woman holding an infant. These two women and the child also went to the stream, their husbands staying on the restaurant’s elevated deck, drinking beer and talking shop.
I imagined the women at the river were the wives of three male professors at nearby Williams College. The sound of the rushing water made it impossible for me to hear the words being spoken by the men; but I thought I heard “eight o’clock classes” and “coeds” and so I surmised the men were talking about their teaching or the internal politics of their departments.
The three men seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. However, even in the bucolic groves of academia there is competition, a need to excel and to pull away from one’s peers. This usually translates into publication of one’s research; publication of one’s writing whether fiction or nonfiction; filing a patent; or getting a grant to supplement one’s salary. There is a requirement to do something more than lecture.
Then I realized I was being sexist, misogynist in these assumptions. I realized that the wives down at the river could be the professors at Williams. The men, drinking their beer on the deck, might not be the spouse worried about publication, patent applications, or path to tenure.
Fifty years ago, 58 percent of U.S. college students were men. Now, those numbers have almost been reversed with 56 percent of college students being women. And this year, for the first time, the share of college-educated women in the work force passed that of college-educated men. And this trend is going to continue.
In Iceland, for example, there are two women in college for every man. And it seems that young women, in the United States, have decided that college is worth the time, the debt and the fact that having babies will complicate their professional lives. And so it is logical that the women down by the river, tending the kids, are likely to be the professors at Williams College.
Notwithstanding the changes under way in terms of bread-winning, women are still seen as better parents. They are believed to be more authoritative, more emotionally responsive, and spend twice as much time with their children as do their husbands. Men tend to be “playful” or to be “too tough” and are more concerned about the family as a whole as opposed to the welfare of any particular child.
The rise of women in the workforce does not necessarily portend less effective parenting. But the fathers — those talking and drinking together at the table just behind me — are going to have to up their parenting game and, eventually, get themselves down to the river with the kids.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.