At the dump, where I had gone to find a door handle for my failing car, I saw a tall middle-aged man whose body seemed to have settled into itself as I supposed his mind had. He walked back and forth, getting a hand tool, checking this and that, the circumference of his movements being less than a tiny room although he was outside with room to spare. He focused on his work, never pausing or glancing at me or his small companion, a dog of indeterminate breed, who also never paused but stayed within six inches of his master’s right foot, his short white legs almost a blur as he kept pace.
The scene reminded me of the change I’ve witnessed over the years in the man to dog ratio. When I was a girl in Texas, I associated big dogs with big men. They were working dogs, expected to hunt, herd or guard. Small dogs were a woman’s choice. Today, I am more likely to see a miniature poodle or a designer mixed breed tucked under the arm of a builder shopping at the hardware store, or a Chihuahua barking through the window of a pickup truck next to a brawny guy looking for his next beer. At the vet, I am likely to see worried men in jeans or suits, protectively holding a small bundle of fur while a woman walks in with a lab or retriever.
What brought this change? Is this a part of men finding their feminine side? I think it might actually say something about the change in women. I believe that protecting is as natural to men as mothering is to women. So, as women have grown more independent and confident in their roles, proving themselves to be equals rather than dependents, men have been forced to share in the traditional role of parenting and homemaking. Young men seem to do this effortlessly. They grew up while this evolution was taking place. But mature men have a more difficult adjustment. Their children are grown and gone; their instinct to protect has not. Perhaps the needy little lady of yesteryear has been replaced by a needy pet.
I don’t know the why or when of this change. I only know that I like it. I like seeing men willing to show their caring gentle side. I almost (but not quite) miss being the little lady who needed that masculine protection. I wonder what furry companions my grandsons and granddaughters will choose when they are my age and my own quirky generation long gone.