Women have always been my strength. I don't know how I would have survived any of life's challenges without my female friends and relatives. Over the years of raising children, homeschooling, and now caring for a sick husband, I have always been able to rely on those faithful females for help. During crises and the birth of babies, casseroles would appear on my doorstep, impromptu babysitting would be offered if I got sick, and general moral support could always be counted on over the phone or in person. Nothing has changed over the years except that those many, rich friendships have deepened and new ones have been added. I hope I have been equally supportive.
But the group that has surprised me is a different one, one that was essentially absent during those busy childcare years. They were involved in their own families and working hard to support them. You'd see them coaching your kid's soccer or hockey team but otherwise they were invisible to me, so busy was I in our own family affairs.
Growing up I hardly knew my brother. Older by ten years than I, he left home when I was only seven. Dad was a busy teacher and principal and always involved in community work. He was a kind but rather aloof and undemonstrative father whom I came to know and love much more deeply as I grew into a parent myself and was able to see him interact warmly with my own children. The same can be said of my brother. On top of the little contact I had with the most significant men in my life during those formative years, a time when my teachers were mostly female (except for Dad for three years in what was a purely student-teacher relationship), I then attended an all-girl high school where I boarded ten months of the year. In my work, I've always stood beside women, not men. Then in the world of romance there were few boyfriends, my interaction with boys limited and shy.
So, apart from my very warm relationship with Michael and now my son and my brother, I have been close to very few men in my life. Yet among the biggest delights for me over the past two years of Michael's intensive care are the friendly relationships that have developed with a number of kind men in our community. These fellows were friends of Michael during his sports days or they are the husbands of some of my female friends. Some are men in the neighbourhood, who, moved by Michael's plight, have simply stepped forward to help us out whenever they can on weekends. Most still work; some are retired.
These men arrive on our doorstep, sometimes toting batches of cookies baked by their wives or, in the case of one fellow, frozen delicacies culled from his five-star restaurant supply of gourmet food. Mostly they sit and keep quiet company with Michael while I dash out and walk my dogs, grab some groceries or spend the weekend working at the Nearly New Shop once a month. Some are old soccer buddies so if there is a game on the tube, the two of them sit in companionable silence. Others are not sports fans but keep company nonetheless, making tea and chatting to my mute husband who, I'm sure, welcomes the change of face. Occasionally one will help me with a household problem, adding expertise where I have none. One of them, last weekend, fed Michael his lunch then cleaned up my kitchen afterwards, a gold star moment.
What is most pleasing is that these fine fellows rarely seem to be in a rush and almost always stay for a time after I get home, allowing me to get to know them better. With sock-feet up on the coffee table, the television muted in the background and Michael listening in or snoozing on the couch, we cover a lot of topics from family news, community issues, health, political, financial and social topics - our reach is broad. I am grateful to these comfortable men who drop into my solitary space, adding to my world the male voice that has otherwise disappeared.
I still count on the women in my life, and that will never change, but I now have this gang of guys as backup too, people I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to get to know.
Sometimes there is great bounty in the challenge that is Parkinson's disease.