Recently, I was sitting in a waiting room at my cancer center within the breast cancer clinic, which isn’t the most pleasant of places, also I hate to wait, so I’m usually irritated just having to sit there. The room was full of women in various stages of treatment, many sporting the typical trappings of treatment–scarves, ports, gray skin, drooping energy. On this particular day, there weren’t any male caregivers accompanying any of the female patients.
There was a single man in the waiting room, also a patient. He was gaunt, had a port, and no hair. I’m terrible at estimating age, but I’m pretty sure he was in his 70s at least. As each new patient walked in to wait, he insisted on giving up his seat if there were not open chairs.
The women obviously going through treatment were clearly grateful for the opportunity to sit down and thanked the man effusively. The female caregivers accompanying a female patient attempted to convince the man that they didn’t need a seat, that he needed the seat more than them. He would not be deterred. He insisted that each woman sat in his seat.
A lot of things went through my mind as I watched this kind man repeat this dance as each new person walked in.
First of all, I vividly remember the look of betrayal on my eldest son’s face when I told him he needs to hold the door for girls. We’ve worked hard to ensure that both our boys know that all options are available to both boys and girls, that neither boys nor girls are better than the other, that there is equality amongst the sexes. Who knew that holding a door would be such a curve ball?!
Secondly, I was astonished while pregnant how often men didn’t help, how men didn’t give up their seat, and how it was usually other moms who jumped in and helped. I’ve been told by men that I know well that they are afraid of being castigated by women when attempting to help and each of them had a personal story to share. I have a hard time understanding this reaction on both sides.
Third, whenever I see an older man who is helpful and courteous to those around him, I am reminded of my paternal grandfather. He wasn’t perfect; at the same time, he was part of the oft labeled “Greatest Generation” and it showed. We often joked that he could literally talk to anyone and he really could. He was also unfailingly courteous, especially to women.
At the end of the day, courtesy is courtesy. I’ve revised my instructions to my boys to be this: “hold the door for anyone who is behind you; look out for anyone who needs help and offer to help; if you are seated and someone older than you doesn’t have a place to sit, then give them your seat.”
While I was imprinted with this idea that men should be courteous to women, I hope to imprint my boys with something different, that we should all be courteous, full stop. Courtesy is always a good idea.