Cumberland Times-News

October 8, 2011

Idea of man caves resurrects memories

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— One of the things that annoy me most about one of my favorite TV shows (House Hunters), is not just the irrational need to “upgrade” everything in sight, though that really is pretty awful. Here are these kids, often in their early 20s, who think their first house should have everything from the start. Right now! Granite counter tops, the latest in appliances, and tile or hardwood floors (no carpets or laminates allowed). Heaven forbid they should make do with kitchen linoleum or vinyl counters for a couple of years. Oh, yes, and the master bedroom must have its own bathroom “en suite.” No way they should have to share a bathroom with the rest of the family.

But one of the most annoying requirements, I have always thought, is the ever-mounting demand for a “man cave.” As a card-carrying female, I find it extremely insulting to, purposefully and without apology, plan for a place in your house that seems to imply that women are not welcome there.

On the other hand, there is no such place as a “woman cave.”

In a sense, I suppose man caves have always been around. Back in the days of formal dining, after men and women had dinner together, the men would smugly adjourn to another room for drinks, cigars. and oh-so-important man talk, while the women had tea or coffee and, well, conversation. Thank goodness, that tradition is mostly gone, along with the tea or coffee unfortunately, since everyone drinks the hard stuff now.

Men always had their studies and workshops, while women hald sway in kitchens and parlors. (Where, I might point out, men are always welcome.) But — tell me if you disagree — it seems to me, the man-cave idea has taken over the world lately, still another example of the way men feel threatened by women these days, and for no good reason. Unfortunately, it seems to me that women are much more likely to want to adopt male specialties, than vice versa. Just look at the TV shows now that feature women with guns and a good left jab, along with the usual sexual emphasis, of course. Where’s the show that features strong, real men with gentle natures — not seen on TV since the passing of the Waltons?

I remember the days when I was young (I mean really young — say 7 or 8) back in the 1930s and my dad had a study filled with books where he spent a lot of his time, writing sermons and such. On the other hand, his door was open to all of us, and there was certainly no gender-based exclusion.

Still, my two older brothers definitely had a man cave, consisitng of the entire attic, which was one finished room on top of the whole house. It had previously been the bedroom for the maid — yes, we had a maid, until I was about 4 — and when she got caught smoking, and was fired, poor soul, the boys took over and built a full-scale civilization all over the landscape; a fort on the bed, and railroads with towns and all the accompanying paraphernalia on the floor. They spent every Sunday afternoon up there for 10 or 12 years. (And my oldest brother still has it, or a version of it!)

Well, of course, I was jealous. From the start, you see, I always hated the man-cave concept. So I demanded my own space in the attic. Grudgingly, my brothers gave it to me — in the form of a little woolly fireplace over near the window. They handed me a tiny toy car neither of them wanted. It had to rappel to get anywhere in my country, which. I named Hol-Switz, for my two favorite books at the time. (About Hans Brinker — Holland and Heidi — Switzerland.)

Seeing as how my share of the room was so mountainous, with nothing but the mantel to ride my auto on, and nobody offered me a passport to the country next door, I spent most of my Sunday afternoons reading downstairs. But at least I had made my point. The whole idea of the “man-cave” is hurtful to women, whose kitchens and family rooms are free for all.

Incidentally, there’s an interesting ending to the no smoking rule in our household. For years, nobody in the family smoked until I took it up to lose weight after the children were born. And lose weight I did. Four times I lost weight, and four times I put it back on and more, when I stopped smoking. It seemed I had no choice but to keep smoking, but I never let my father know the disgraceful news.

Until. He started having sinus problems and the doctor (if you can believe this) recommended that he smoke menthol cigarettes. So one day I walked in on him in his retirement apartment, smoking happily away, and I seized my moment. “Daddy” I said. “You’re smoking! Mind if I join you?” With a cloud of smoke around his head, he was not in a good position to scold. So I dug out my cigarettes from their hiding place, and for a couple of years we smoked away together as companionably as two old friends.

Which we were. Without a man cave.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.