Jim Wares: In search of a hero
I need a man. There are 152 million men in the United States and I desperately need one. Just one. For the appropriate candidate, I offer happiness and harmony. For the inappropriate candidate … oh … my … God!
I realized my need for a man the other day when I was given a gift, a shalwar kameez. It’s a very nice shalwar kameez as far as shalwar kameez go … a deep blue, made of pure silk, very, very comfortable. Shalwar kameez is the traditional clothing of West Asia, the Indian sub-continent. Kameez is a shirt, a tunic that fits snug around the neck and falls almost to the knees. It’s sort of like wearing a long tube with buttons and sleeves. You may recall back in the 1960s and 70s, a shortened version of kameez-like clothing in the form of the Nehru shirt or jacket was quite popular with the hippies, musicians, artist and transcendentalist. Kameez are knitted in one continuous piece on a vertical loom. The shalwar, this is the pants, the trousers worn beneath the Kameez. Unlike the kameez, the shalwar, for good reason, was never popularized in the United States. The shalwar is just too much of a cultural shock.
Shalwars are not your father’s Wranglers. In Wranglers, I wear a 34-inch waist. The proper waist for a man my size in shalwar is about 80 inches or about six and a half feet. From the six and a half foot waist, the shalwar tapers down, the crotch being sewn down around the knees and then further tapering until they are tight around the ankles … when laid out flat they are like a really huge “W.” I had to watch a YouTube video to figure out how to wear these things. When I tried on my shalwar kameez, the tunic felt fine … the trousers … the shalwar … so loose and airy, they made me feel very self-conscious and butt naked. Her Royal Highness Princess Wife says I will look nice wearing this about town … that finally I have some decent clothing.
The shalwar kameez is illustrative of the fact that I live in a multi-cultural household … which is why I find myself in need of a man.
Since marrying Her Royal Highness Princess Wife, I live, eat, drink and sleep in a cultural cocktail made of one part pure Americanism, one part pure Punjabism and 16 parts of varying degrees of bewilderment. My daily life is far from boring.
It’s like this … once in the past two years I have heard my wife say my name. Weird huh? A couple of months ago I had to ask her if she even knew my name. She told me she did. But in her culture it is a sign of respect for a woman not to speak her husband’s name.
If I had an American wife and I called her “Her Royal Highness Princess Wife” while writing publicly to 13,000 readers it would be interpreted as sarcasm, a public ridicule, and I would likely be bopped on the head with a rolling pin while I sleep. To her, it’s an appropriate title; an elevating sort of thing … it’s what she is.
Language is a biggie. I would estimate that I only truly understand 20 percent percent of the words my wife speaks to me. Surprisingly this lends itself to a wholesome, happy marriage. When she speaks, in order for me to understand her, I have to stop what I am doing, look her in the eye and listen very, very carefully. Surprise, surprise, it turns out a woman likes it when a man stops what he is doing, looks her in the eye and listens very, very carefully when she speaks. Who would have thunk?
On more than one occasion she has reminded me that, as a man, if I find she is not meeting all my hopes and needs, it’s perfectly acceptable for me to take on another wife … and another … and another. The legality of such a thing here in the United States notwithstanding, she beams when she hears me say I married her as my sole partner, for better or worse, in sickness and health … till death do we part … what God has joined, let no man, or woman tear asunder. This perspective is new to her and delights her.
I would not dream of attempting to change or mold my wife into something she is not. I like her the way she is … which is why I am in need of a man.
Now, I consider my wife a true feminist, a pioneer, a revolutionary when measured by the cultural standard from which she comes. She has the freedom to choose which ideals of my culture she embraces and which ideals from her culture she wishes to cling to. Of late, there is one little nuance of her culture that has confronted me. In her home country, a woman isn’t always permitted to marry who she wants to marry. Marriages are often arranged by a woman’s father and mother. A marriage is more of a social arrangement. There are many women, my wife being one, who are torn between honoring the mores and norms of her culture and marrying for love. Most will marry per her parents’ wishes and hope love follows. If the father has passed away, the responsibility of choosing a husband for a woman falls to her brothers. If the brothers for some reason do not follow through on this responsibility then it falls to her male, first cousins. If that fails … there is the brother-in-law. I … am the brother-in-law … and … my wife has a sister, 38 years old, never married, likes long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners … and I need a man … I need a hero. This is all I have learned today.
James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org