It is not only whistleblowers who seek asylum, it seems. According to a recent article, men avoid the company of their spouses for an average of 24 days in a year, seeking refuge in the “den”, the garage, the basement, the “man cave”, the workroom, wherever ...
It happened in our childhood home without our realising it or connecting it up with those times of the day when the vegetables had to be chopped or the garbage had to be taken out. Father would disappear into the garden as soon as the two most important tasks of his day were done: Breakfast and reading the newspapers! He would then spend the morning pouring affection and attention on his plants and sundry animals — but from time to time, he would insist on calling Mother out to share his happiness and witness what he considered a not-to-be-missed wonder of nature like the inertia of an extra-large caterpillar or the spectacular markings of a Russell’s viper!
When she got back, shaken and shuddering, it was difficult for her to return to the swing of her daily routine — but somehow her curry was not affected and the meal she put before Father when he finally tramped in, leaving muddy footprints all over the house, was as good as always and went down as fast as usual!
With that kind of influence, Brother could not go very much farther afield. He too tramped around the garden, the farmyard and the countryside — at any time of day or night — admiring (and learning from) a peacock trying to woo a prospective mate or a panther leaping on unsuspecting prey. And when he was not outside, he spent hours in a nook watching the antics of a brilliantly coloured sun bird through the window. There was a cocoon of concentration around him that none of us could penetrate and his refuge was inviolable.
In my own home, for a long time, there was really no need for the two men in my happy family portrait to escape. No, it was not because there was sweetness and light all around them in the form of this lady of the house. Rather, it was because the adult male was a dedicated army man and when he was not spending long periods of time on military “exercises” in the desert or in the mountains, he was on temporary duty elsewhere or was posted in a station where families were not allowed to accompany him.
So, just as we were beginning to grate on each other’s nerves, it was time to wave goodbye; and within a few days, with the enforced absence, each one’s idiosyncrasies started to seem almost endearing — and tolerable for the next few days we spent together!
It is only now, in retirement, that his urge to get away surfaces often and “sorting out” the garage, the loft, a cupboard or even the empty terrace is the excuse to disappear for a couple of quiet hours!
As for the young man, when he was of that lovely and loving single-digit age, his refuge was our company: In which he spent practically every waking moment. Later, when he grew older and “got to know better” and shied away from his over-attentive parents, all he needed was a joystick or a gamepad or controller and he was gone. Into a virtual world beyond our reach.
It seems that it has always been easy for the men to “get away”. Could it be because their brief absence is welcomed? For when the men escape, the women of the house get a much-needed respite — to retreat to our own private paradise where we don’t need to produce endless cups of tea or healthy and hearty snacks ...
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.