Shortly after leaving the convent and before I met my husband, someone gave me a piece of advice that still looks brilliant to me. “If you want to know whether your perspective husband will see you as an equal, don’t look to his father; find out what he thinks about his mother.”
It worked for me. My husband’s mother wanted to be a teacher, but she had to leave school at the age of twelve to support her family. Nonetheless, Peter thought she was extremely intelligent, with equal amounts of determination and energy. When I met her I agreed. At the time, I was wondering whether I was wasting my life as an educator. She never expressed regret about the opportunities life had not offered her. But just knowing her convinced me that giving an education to a young person is one of the most wonderful gifts we can bestow.
I was reminded of that advice recently. I am now in my 70’s and sometimes subject to the kind of prejudice against the elderly that unfortunately I see quite often here in Britain. It may be compounded for women compared to men, and in addition I rarely tell people that I have a Ph.D. So if young people, particularly young men seriously listen to what I have to say, I notice.
I have a new dentist who I bet has a mother whom he respects. He’s young, and on my first visit told me that I hadn’t just lost the filling on the tooth I was concerned about, but needed a root canal. So I grilled him. I told him I’d already had one root canal done by someone who didn’t know what they were doing, and that I did not approach another procedure with automatic trust. I asked him about his background and experience, and he was completely unthreatened. I couldn’t look up his record the way I could in the U.S., but I decided that someone who was able to answer my questions without being aggressive or defensive felt confident in his abilities. So I decided to stay with him. Yesterday he put the crown on the finished job. It looks and feels terrific.
I didn’t think that I had the right to ask him what he thinks about his mother. But I bet he has a high opinion of her. Or if not his mother, a grandmother, aunt, older sister, or teacher.
I’d love to know.