#12

Autumn2017

Coffee by J.C. Leyendecker for the Pan-American Coffee Bureau

A Change is…

…as Good as a Rest

I try, as often as possible, to hang on the word of learned friends, and something my delightful colleague Ms Ava Aviacion wrote about in her article from Issue #10 really resonated with my current situation. She wrote: “Just remember that hardship is a fact of life – it helps us grow and sometimes it even helps us thrive”.

The last 12 months have been an incredible hard one for me, both with my working life and, impactfully, on my home life. I found that world events have changed the landscape of my chosen field and made it tougher to survive than ever, an effect that increasingly became detrimental to my health both mentally and physically. Consequently it was quite tough, when deep in the hardships that Ms Aviacion talks of, to keep her wise words in mind, but I rallied as best I could and rather than just “keep calm and carry on” I decided to take a step back and look at what else could be done, how I could thrive once again… and so I have made the decision to follow the advice of the very expression mentioned in the title of
this piece.

 
Stock photo of a ‘house husband’ taken by the pioneer of stock photography H. Armstrong Roberts in the 1920s

The words “A change is as good as a rest” appear to have been first used in a poem of the same name published in the Hampshire Advertiser on 29 August 1857, the intention of which was to suggest that, as the Oxford Dictionary puts it, “A change of work or occupation can be as restorative or refreshing as a period of relaxation”.

So that’s what I am doing, after 8 years of being the ‘breadwinner’ in our household I am bowing out, letting the Lady wife take the lead and taking over her responsibilities, to become what the 21st century now calls: a ‘house husband’. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of the ‘stay-at-home father’ is not a modern invention, although it could be said to have had a modern resurgence. The concept is actually an ancient one and its demise is due to that harbinger of change: the industrial revolution.

In fact the roots of the male tie to the activities of the house can be seen in the very term we use for the male half of a marriage. The first clue we have to this is in language: the origin of the word ‘house’ is proto-Germanic, where it is spelt ‘hus’ and coupled with the Norse word ‘bond’, meaning dweller, is where we get the term ‘husband’ – literally ‘house dweller’. But the word ‘bond’ also denotes a strong tie to something, in this case the household. The second clue is in a term we still use today: ‘husbandry’, or the “raising of livestock or crops”. In ancient times, although it was the mothers who brought babies into the world and nursed them in infancy, many fathers became the children’s primary caregiver, women’s hands being smaller meaning that their skills were required in such tasks as textiles, spinning and weaving. Add to this the incomprehensible numbers of mothers who died during childbirth. Of course, in many a household fathers did the ‘heavy’ work, whilst the mothers looked after the household tasks, but unlike the post-industrial world the care of children wasn’t the sole responsibility of the mother, but could be performed by either without prejudice.

Woman mowing wheat with a scythe in Hesslar, Germany, August 1, 1946. Photo by Walter Sanders. A return to traditional roles after the loss of so many during the war.
 

So, whilst I will still be doing some ‘work’ when I can, (fear not dear reader, my work here will continue unabated) my primary role will be very different.

I shall be following in the footsteps of our ancestors and it shall be a challenge I am very much looking forward to.

I’ll let you know how I get on shall I?

Gender roles – further reading

Here are some links to further reading on the subject of pre-industrial family roles:

On the Origins of Gender Roles: Women and the Plough by Alberto Alesina, Paola Giuliano & Nathan Nunn
https://academic.oup.com/qje/article/128/2/469/1943509/On-the-Origins-of-Gender-Roles-Women-and-the

The Role of Women in Society: from Preindustrial to Modern Times by Paola Giuliano
http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/paola.giuliano/CESifo%20Economic%20Studies_May2014.pdf

The lost history of the house husband by Roman Krznaric https://www.romankrznaric.com/outrospection/2012/01/21/1542

The Breadwinner Model:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breadwinner_model

 
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Mathew Keller is a graphic designer, photographer, writer, husband, father, modernist, history enthusiast, lover of pre & post-war design, collector of inter-war furniture & clothing and advocate of the retrospective way of life. You can follow his #retrospectivelife on Instagram: www.instagram.com/southernretro