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The Truth, Mainly - 06/21/1993

Father's Day ritual: The Martyr Game

"Hah!" I say to my wife as we loiter over our Father's Day coffee. I point to an article called "White Male Paranoia" in an old copy of Newsweek.

"That would be a hah with an exclamation point indicating reinforcement of male bias," she says without looking up from her crossword puzzle, "rather than a hah with a question mark indicating male befuddlement."

"Hah?" I say.

"Never mind," she says. "What'd you find?"

Since our kids left home, this is how we celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day: we play the Martyr Game, arguing over whether fathers or mothers are more put upon. On Mother's Day, I let her win; on Father's Day, my naturally superior male logic prevails.

"I've been saying this for 25 years," I say, "and now this guy in Newsweek is saying it: 'Look at our TV sitcoms. The white male—the dad—is always the stupidest guy in the room.' What do you say to that?"

"White males shouldn't be so hard on themselves,' she says. "Sometimes there's a goldfish or a zucchini in the room."

"That's not what he means," I say. "He means sitcoms are part of a vast conspiracy to make fathers look dumb—especially white male fathers."

"As opposed to white female fathers?" she says. Then she chortles. She's got a very low amusement threshold.

"Sure, mock us while we're down," I say. "We're used to it. Even TV ads make us look bad. Says here that someone took a survey in 1987 and in every commercial where there was a conflict between men and women, women won. You think that's an accident?"

"Sitcoms and TV ads aren't real," she says. "Here's what's real."

And she points to another paragraph saying that white males make up 39.2 percent of the population, but 82.5 percent of the Forbes 400, 77 percent of Congress, 92 percent of state governors, 90 percent of newspaper editors.

"Those numbers merely reflect our greater talents, our greater need to get up and go," I say. "But beneath our successful exteriors, we're sensitive. We don't like being ridiculed."

"You're ridiculed because you're ridiculous," she says. "When the exploiters of the world are so befuddled they think they're the exploited, they need to be ridiculed."

"We just want people to like us," I say. "When people don't like us, we feel threatened."

She snorts, and reads another paragraph from Newsweek where an African-American says "European males have always had the propensity to say 'I feel threatened' while holding a gun to somebody else's head." She says what really threatens white males is the fear we might not always get the preferential treatment we're used to.

"All we ask for is fairness," I say. "Was it fair for Clinton to consider three women for Attorney General without considering any men? Is it fair that he overlooked all the males in the country to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court?"

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"If Ruth Ginsburg is confirmed," she says, "the total Supreme Court score will be 106 men to two women. Janet Reno makes the Attorney General score 77 men to one woman."

"Wait a minute," I say. "This is Father's Day. My naturally superior white male logic is supposed to prevail. You don't play fair when you use evidence like that."

"And the score for Presidents is 41-zip," she says. "I suppose that seems about right to you."

"No fair!" I holler. "I'm supposed to win on Father's Day. It's always been that way."

To persuade her, I sing a few lines of "Tradition!" from Fiddler on the Roof. She ignores me and goes back to her crossword puzzle. I escalate to hymnology and sing "Faith of our Fathers." She pours herself another cup of coffee.

So I have to bring the full force of my naturally superior white male logic into play: I begin repeating Rush Limbaugh's PMS jokes.

She spills her coffee and looks ill.

"O Lord, not that," she says. "Not Rush Limbaugh's PMS jokes. I give up. You win. White males are the most abused class in the whole history of humankind."

"The whole history of what?" I say, pushing my advantage.

"Of mankind!" she says. "The whole history of mankind. White males are the most downtrodden, the most cruelly mistreated, the most trashed, bashed, smashed of us all. Now please—pretty please—no more Rush Limbaugh PMS jokes."

Her gracious concession speech perks me right up. I go off to the bathroom for a celebratory Father's Day shave.

"If you really want to act out your debased status," she yells, "you could swab out the toilet bowl while you're in there."

"Hah?" I say. "Hah?"


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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