What do we want?
By Rod Van Mechelen
Freud asked, "What do women want?" Today, some ask, "What do men want?" But no answer will be complete until a we ask the real question, the one that ties all humanity together: "What do we want?"
Wisdom of the Patriarchy
1997 Bellevue, Wash. - They walked through woods thickly carpeted with needles and twigs, a fibrous loam. The morning air shimmered with dew and sighed with the fecund smell of forest. Suddenly, a flickering of titmouse wings, the little birds hopping from tree to tree, pecking bugs and worms from the bark. Buff barked, the little birds fled, they walked on.
Near the lake they wandered, and came upon wet earth and reedy grasses.
"Shush," he whispered, panting with drawn huffs, as old men do.
Cat-tails murmured with the chucking of hens and their ducklings browsing in the verdant shallows. A misty morning, sun warming through.
Catching feathery scent, Buff yipped red setter enthusiasm then splashed away. "Huh!" the aging patriarch squinted in the lake-mirrored light, his face creasing with good humor. "She'll have her play."
He paused, looking at the young man beside him, studying the angular face. Tall as the elder, Tom was lean and muscular, with black hair framing hawk-brown eyes. The old man sighed. His grandson had not been the same since discovering his fiancee - correction, ex fiancee - in bed with another couple.
The two fought bitterly when he refused to get his tongue pierced, and she accused him of being too old fashioned and intense, conservative and, his boyish humor notwithstanding, overly cerebral. She was a liberated woman and not about to let any man dictate her morality.
As break ups go, it was an ugly affair that drove spikes like ice deep into Tom's heart. His boyish humor gone, he worked with a cold efficiency that stunned even his employer and pushed away relatives and friends until they feared he would never emerge from the gloom.
Then, he called, asking to visit. "I'm tired," he said, "I need to breath clean mountain air."
The old man sighed again. "Come, let's sit."
They made their way to a well-worn log placed there for a bench long ago. Tom remained standing, a stiff figure in his heavy felt overcoat, tan slacks and leather boots.
Content to let the quiet linger, Maurice returned to his study of young Tom's face. So like his mother, he thought, remembering her as a young woman. Dark chestnut hair, angular as her son, a lithe beauty. Oddly, it had not been her beauty that first attracted Tom's father. Indeed, it had been with a certain chagrined surprise that he later realized this of her, for what captivated his heart first was her genuine love of life. Where she was, others felt loved and loving.
Fifteen years ago, a drunk teenage driver killed them both. Tom was only a boy, barely old enough to understand. His grandparents took him in and raised him as their own, the ensuing years forging an uncommon bond between them of common loss, respect and love. But there was always something missing from the boy's life. Until he met Denise.
Denise radiated warmth and enthusiasm, her energy bursting like song in melodic belly laughs that made you want to join in. Witty, spontaneous, she was a good balance to Tom's soft-spoken strength and understated elegance. How in love they were. Or so it seemed. But she was false, all sparkle and no substance.
Although the young man never shed a tear, it was clear to everyone her duplicity hurt him deeply. He spent more time at the office, working late, sleeping little, dying slowly.
Rousing from his reverie, Maurice looked once more at the young man before him. "Tom," he said, "it's so good to see you, here."
When Tom did not respond, the old man turned his attention to the valley, and the lake. "I can still remember when your grandmother and I first came here. We were young, so young. There was no one else, in those days. Just us and the Cidermans over on Ridge road. We came, we saw, and we planted roots. The kind that never die, but become a part of the land, a part of the community."
"What was she like, back then?" Tom interrupted, breaking his silence.
"Your grandmother? She was so beautiful. Did I ever tell you how we met?"
He had, but Tom was content to hear the story again, anyway.
"Directly off the boat from the old country, your grand uncle and I came cross country by steam locomotive, and found work in a local mill." He squinted and scratched his chin, lost, for a moment, in thought. "Strong and young," he continued, abruptly, "we sawed and sweated. One day, Mrs. Leland, the camp cook, comes to us and says, 'There will be a dance down at the Grange hall, tonight. You come.' Oh, we wouldn't have missed it for the world," he chuckled. "That night, we caught a ride with Lester, who had an old Model A. The hall was filled with the smell of pipe smoke, baked beans, corn bread, great slabs of venison, people talking..."
"Don't forget the music," Tom interjected.
"...and music, yes, " he nodded. "Old Ross and Nels on their fiddles, Jake at the piano, and there she was, the prettiest girl I'd ever seen on two continents."
"Her wavy black hair cascaded around her shoulders like a glistening shawl as she tripped across the floor. She loved to dance, and every man there hoped she would smile at him."
"But she smiled at you."
"And it was like the noon day sun."
Buff came up, wet and wagging her tail. Absently, Maurice scratched behind her red floppy ears.
"Things seem more...more complex, now," Tom stammered, searching for words. "All the old rules have changed."
"Yes," he continued, earnestly. "Women are equal, now. They expect more from a man."
"Aren't things different from when you were my age?"
Maurice exhaled. "Yes, much has changed. But people, Tom, men, women, you, Denise, still the same. Hear me out," he chuckled, holding up his hand as Tom started to protest. "Women and men have always been equal, no matter what feminists tell you. What has changed, son, is that people have forgotten how to dance."
Tom raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"When I was a young man, we held one another as we danced, and if the man led, it wasn't about dominance or control, but about love and respect. In the dance of life, we were equals. Equal partners."
"Today, you don't hold one another anymore. There's no partnership, only two individuals competing."
"So," Tom nodded, "it really has changed."
"What did I tell you?" the old patriarch rumbled. "Women and men are still the same," he said, tapping the young man's muscular chest. "On the inside, you're still the same. Women don't really want to fight with men anymore than men want to fight with women. They just don't know what else to do because they've forgotten how to dance."
The sun was now well overhead, and as the last of the morning mist evaporated from the lake the scent of waffles and bacon wafting down from the house reminded Tom they hadn't eaten, yet. "I don't understand," he said.
"Help me up," Maurice said, taking hold of Tom's hand and getting to his feet. They started back up the trail toward the house. "The dance of life is the dance of love. You work together like a team."
"But that's not what women want, anymore. They want glamorous jobs during the day, parties at night, pierced tongues and wild orgies."
"Is that what you want?"
"No, no it isn't?"
The old man paused to catch his breath. "Then what do you want?" he asked.
"I'm not sure."
"When you know what you want, Tom, you will know what women want, too." As they approached the house, he put his arm around his bewildered grandson's shoulder and squeezed. "It's not about us or them, but us and them. Now come on, let's join your grandmother for breakfast."
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.