My Dad has a special dining room chair that only he can sit in. The regular chairs are plain, old, and without ass cushioning, but my Dad has a fancy chair with a large cushion and a carved design on the back. It’s a few inches higher than all the other dining room chairs. His wife (my stepmom) bought it for his birthday.
When my Dad comes home from work around 5PM or so, the house is clean and a pot of tea is ready for him. He drinks his tea and plays with the kids or reads the paper while my stepmom cooks dinner. She cooks dinner at least five nights a week, and during those nights my Dad doesn’t enter the kitchen except to get a glass of water. He doesn’t do any cleaning either, and even if he wanted to there is nothing to do by the time he gets home. Everything she does is to make his life as comfortable and relaxing as possible, setting up a pleasant environment for him to continue providing for her and the kids.
The concept of “me time” is foreign to her; it’s family time twenty-four hours a day. It’s hard even for me to imagine her asking my Dad to watch the kids while she goes out with friends. It doesn’t happen and I don’t think it ever will. If she wants to go out, the kids are going with her.
When I cook my own meals, my stepmom likes to clean up after me as I’m still cooking. I’ve had to fight with her many times to not do my dishes, but she does it anyway. And even if I clean up my own dishes, she thanks me. “Back in Iran, the man doesn’t do any cleaning,” she says to me. She was taught this from a young age. American public schools have taught me to clean up after myself so it feels weird that someone else wants to clean up my mess instead. Well it did feel weird but I’m quickly getting used to the Iranian way of doing things.
I know what you are wondering. “Is she is happy?” I can tell you with very high confidence that she is extremely happy. For a woman who grew up in a small Iranian town, coming to America, marrying a stable provider, and having two healthy children is like hitting the jackpot. I’m sure that there are women here who hit the American jackpot of marrying filthy rich that are much more unsatisfied than my stepmom. Living in a townhouse and driving a four-year-old Toyota to Ikea is the pinnacle of life to her. Imagine that.
In this country there are 17-year-olds whose parents have given them more material wealth than some of us will ever get to see. They have a “family” credit card and live in an upper middle-class McMansion that they travel from in a new car they received for their sweet sixteen birthday. When you have more than 99.5% of what other human beings have before you even start work, your view of life becomes distorted. In creeps entitlement and poor work ethic that affects your consumer habits (nothing is truly valued), how you view fun and pleasure (it can be bought), and how you approach human relationships (people are disposable).
My Dad has been hinting that he wants to return to Iran, but my stepmom keeps telling me how she doesn’t want to go back because she loves life here. Happiness is relative, based on perspective and expectation—thinking too much is detrimental to happiness. Besides, you’ll just hurt your head (existential depression is considered a medical condition). I doubt my stepmom wonders about those bigger questions of life. Are the kids fed? Is the house clean? Is the spouse happy? Is there food and shelter? Then life is great. But for a lot of my peers and countrymen, that simply is nowhere close to being enough.