My Grandfather executed his right as the man of the house to have full and ultimate control of the TV remote. We watched black and white western movies and the 1939 adaptation of Wuthering Heights until our eyes bled, we didn’t understand the plot even a little or the ‘greatness’ of Lawrence Olivier, how could we? We could barely make out his face on that tiny screen.
I just flicked to Film4 where Kirk Douglas and John Wayne are safe cracking and riding horseback through what was left of the American wilderness in 1967. I’m watching it and thinking of him, at first happy reminiscing, then it turned into… why did he want control of everything?
Of course it wasn’t just the TV, it was the words out of our mouths, our stance, our clothes, everything that ‘pretty little girls should be’, what we ate and when we ate it as if we were privates on his Naval destroyer in 1943, except we’d be wearing frilly frocks and ribbons in our hair as we obeyed and saluted. All this time spent correcting us to what we should be and how we should behave while the boys played with worms in the garden and got mud all over their clothes to my Grandmothers dismay, but he didn’t discipline them for causing her work while she was in the middle of making dozens of sandwiches in prep for our 12:30pm – on the dot – lunchtime, and laying the parlour table with the gingham tablecloth, knives and forks laid perfectly apart.
He would say she knew her place. A lady – an actual lady – from an extremely wealthy aristocratic family somehow got tangled with a Navy man, who would treat her like she was nothing until his death 60 years later, married with 4 children and disowned by her parents, he refused to buy her flowers for keeping his home and raising his children. His inferiority complex pushed her into his servitude and we were made to follow suit. Raised to be devoted to men who will treat us like nothing too, but we didn’t realise at the time what he was training us for.
We loved him don’t get me wrong, he was not a violent man, he had a sense of humour, let us comb his fluffy grey hair into a point while he watched football, and he reasoned with us, rather than commanded, as to why it would be beneficial to be this way, and that it would find us good husbands and we would have smart children. We believed he knew everything and therefore believed that this was how it was meant to be.
He was from a different time when women weren’t much more than housekeepers and mothers, but in his class it was acceptable and necessary for them to stay home and cook and clean, he believed that if a woman needed to be sent to the stately homes to work as a maid that her husband had failed her. A woman was trained to find a man to look after, who would give her children and a house, this was ‘the right way’.
He wouldn’t have known the damage he’d done to our lives, as the times changed, the old fashioned values remained in the back of our minds, marriage, homes, babies. Except, we didn’t find anyone who wanted to marry us young as he had charged us to do, we got too busy working to focus all our energy on the ‘ultimate goal’.
His life lessons failed and it left us feeling hopelessly inadequate that need not have been so if it weren’t for that strict upbringing that left us with nothing. My sister found a husband eventually and remains unhappily wed with a toddler and a part time job that she adores and a full time, permanent job of cleaning up after a careless man. I found a man who keeps me down in my inferior job, excluding me from any major decisions that involve both of us, and will not marry me after six years, there are no children in sight and I’m getting too old to have any. I can imagine from my grandfathers perspective that I could be considered a failure and I live with this alongside my university drop out and my current terrible job.
I can’t help but think that if my Grandfather had not created this idea in our heads, that the only way we could hope to live our lives successfully was bowing at the foot of another man, we may not suffer mentally as we do now. Perhaps his influence held us back from persuing a life that we wanted instead of a life we were told we wanted, and that the reason for our failures is because we were meant for something else but were too scared to stray from the path to find it for ourselves. We could be in very different places now.