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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Daughters...

I have a friend in Barcelona who one day told me with pressing confidentiality, "We have to have daughters." His father was prostrated in a hospital with an seemingly endless terminal illness. He was of course referring to his sisters. It was them who tended to the father. It was them shaving him, washing him, feeding him, asking him if he was hot or cold. It was always them who did the caring. The sons, my friend and his brothers, did nothing and were completely useless. They did not take the initiative. Rather, they behaved like zombies, nervous, impatient, and spent their time wishing for the relative peace of the hospital cafeteria. "I need to have some daughters," he repeated.

Wives are not enough, he seemed to imply. When men become old and health and vigor deteriorate, wives, if they are still around, are up to their noses with us; tired of years already taking care of us, of giving everything in exchange for very little in return, sick with rancor and anxious for liberation. "Daughters," he repeated morbidly, "at lease a couple of them."

Daughters, I have had the opportunity to observe, seem to forgive the father for literally everything, including abandonment and bad manners. Daughters, as a rite of passage, fight with their mothers--insufferable rivals--and almost always adore their father. In the interminable family war, come what may, daughters are always allied with the father. And, in the face of the egotistic, cold passivity of brothers, they are always warm. Daughters are full of unselfish giving and never taken aback by the uncomfortable intimacy that terminal illness can bring.

Rights and opportunities between the genders have gradually become equal, but some things remain the same. I was thinking about this some years ago while watching Chelsea Clinton accompanying her embattled father on a trip to India, smack-dead-center of the Lewinski scandal. Clinton, as it had been assumed by Hillary's absence from the public, had already "lost" his wife. But Clinton still had his daughter. Doubtless, I thought, Chelsea will not only be with him until the end of his presidency, but very likely will be at his side at the very end of his days. Likely, a son under the same circumstances would have entirely skipped the trip to India and remained at his mother's side.

"Daughters," he mumbled again, "I have to have a daughter."

Chelsea, it seemed, suffered quietly her father's indiscretions and she is still there giving all her heart in forgiveness. All signs show that Chelsea will continue to be at his side when the day comes (both Hillary and Monica inconspicuously missing) she'll have to empty the bedpan and change his underwear.

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