by Sam Harper
Last Saturday morning I was about to tap in a birdie putt on the 18th green at the Dreamland Country Club, a luxury afforded by the miracle that my kids were also sleeping in, when a series of R.E.M. piercing screams jangled my back-swing. I bolted awake, jumped out of bed, and raced down the hall toward the hubbub.
I found my wife standing on a chair in the kitchen, hyperventilating. Between palpitations she explained that she was flipping pancakes when she heard little paw-steps ticking against linoleum behind her. She turned around. Waddling toward her, following the pancake-scent, was an opossum the size of a cocker spaniel. That's when she screamed. The opossum skritched furiously into the living room and squeezed under a couch. "Please get that thing out of this house," she said with an it's-so-icky-I-can't-say-its-name shiver.
Let me point out here that I respect my wife. Deeply. I love her. Deeply. She represents her gender with intelligence, strength, grace and humor. She's a firm, responsible, loving mother and a communicative, thoughtful and giving wife. She can sink back-to-back free throws, carve turns on a snowboard, and where I would simply throw the phone against the wall, she demands to speak to a supervisor. In short, she meets challenges, doesn't shrink from them.
So when I saw her standing on the chair, I blinked. It was an odd sight, anachronistic, like a scene from a `60s sitcom; Harriet sees a mouse, squeals, leaps on a chair and is stuck there until Ozzie returns home, summons his faded Boy Scout skills and comically vanquishes the creature.
At the risk of sounding like a chauvinist swine who's making gross generalizations based on sexual stereotypes, I'd like to make some gross generalizations based on sexual stereotypes and suggest that for all the glorious progress men and women have made in achieving parity in the home and workplace, there are still a few domestic chores that are categorized according to gender.
You know what I'm talking about. There's "Dad's Department" and there's "Mom's Department." These departments are era-resistant, defined not by the times, but by an obscure and ageless code of suburban domestic duty that's been handed down from generation to generation. While Mom's Department includes every chore that involves fabric, tableaux, and wainscoting, Dad's Department includes the following:
- Rodents of Unusual Size
- When was the last time your wife said, "Gee, honey, you made the dinner and put the kids to bed last night, why don't I kill that pesky rat today." Ridding the house of rodents, particularly rodents the size of dogs, has always been and always will be Dad's department.
- Noise Patrol
- Was that noise a squirrel raiding the bird feeder or a half dozen crack-crazed, AK-47 toting teenagers ransacking your living room? It doesn't matter. As Dad, you must defend the home, even if you don't have a nasty weapon in your bedside table. So grab your shoehorn and go kick some butt.
- Zap, Gurgle, Boom!
- All problems relating to utilities--electricity, plumbing and gas (also see "Funky Smells")--are handled out of Dad's department. If you're one of those guys who doesn't know how to operate a hammer, just pretend you know what you're doing. You're good at that.
- Sharp Things That Move
- Jobs that include hedge clippers, lawn mowers, roto-tillers, Bush Hogs or any tool that has a whirring blade are generally Dad's department. However, as Lorena Bobbitt illustrated, there are exceptions.
- Funky Smells
- Gas vapors, septic tank miasma, crawlspace musk, or plain old death in the basement, it's Dad's job to pull that turtleneck collar over his nose find the source of the offending odor, unless he can convince the dog to do it.
So basically you could say that if the job includes the possibility of bodily injury, it's Dad's department.
And there's nothing wrong with that, as far as I'm concerned. I like the idea of being the hero. My wife, after all, is permanently, irrevocably a hero for having given birth to our children. And if wrestling with an 80-pound rodent will help me achieve parity in the hero department, let's rumble!
So I pulled out my shoehorn and stealthily approached the living room couch. I lifted the fabric thing that hangs off the bottom of a couch (Ask your wife what it's called, that's her department.) and looked under. Ooo. It was a big ol' possum. Long snout. Saliva dripping off its sharp teeth.
Did I mention that calling a professional exterminator is a chore that Dad can enjoy, too?
Copyright © 1999 Sam Harper
All rights reserved.