I come home from work absolutely exhausted. I’ve worked the typical eight hour day (plus commute), battled for a seat on a train and two buses, ate lunch at my desk and worried endlessly about advertising revenue and why seasoned clients had gone elsewhere for their advertising pages. All I want to do is plonk down on the couch and put my feet up, putting the day behind me so I can gather enough motivation and energy to start a new one the next day. But my slightly younger brother, home before me and already fed, showered, and dressed, wants a glass of water.
In another household, I would’ve yelled at him to go and get it himself. I was not his slave, and I’d only just got home from work. But my father was on the opposite side of the living room, watching the Lebanese news via satellite TV, and this was not the way of doing things in his home. I got up and got my brother his glass of water, all the while complaining inwardly about the unfairness of it all.
Such was life in my adolescence and early twenties, when I was old enough to understand that this was not the way that things should be in 21st Century Australia, but far too young (and not confident enough) to express my discontent about it. Instead, I manifested this discontent into the vow that when I married and moved out of home, my home life would be different, reflecting the changed dynamics of Australian home life and the reality that women of the modern age were a lot more than just homemakers who catered to the every whim of the men in their lives – be it their husbands, brothers or children.
I’d grown up in a 1950’s style household. My father rarely worked outside his day job and the handyman jobs around the house, and my mother did every household job you could think of, and often let her health suffer for it. I remember turning 13 and watching as she clutched her stitched-up stomach with one hand, while she mopped the floor with another, two days after a particularly distressing miscarriage. She was still cooking meals despite her personal tragedy, and although I can’t remember, I don’t doubt that a fortnight later she would be hovering around the oven and stove, setting the table, and preparing meals for the frequent guests at our dinner table. And after every meal, dad and my brother would leave their plates, cutlery and glasses at the table, not bothering to make the short journey to the sink en-route to their place of relaxation on the couch in front of the TV or the Nintendo.
Granted, my father had grown up in a different time and culture that I, let alone most Australian women, could not identify with. Apart from those traits that seemed strange to me, he was the perfect family man. In the small Lebanese village where he grew up, that was the way that things were done, and despite his move to Australia at the young age of 17 (where opportunities to change no doubt abounded) his attitudes remained the same. My mother’s environment was not any different, and although she’s been married for over 25 years and has lived away from her parents that entire time, I still hear my maternal grandmother’s advice to her on her rare visits to Australia: You have to do what pleases him, no matter how sick or pained you are. Because you know, the only positive reinforcement we deserve to get is tied in with whether or not our husbands are happy, even if it is at our expense.