I can’t talk about My Big Fat Greek Wedding without giving tribute to the scene when Aunt Voula kindly details the biopsy results from a growth in her neck. “Inside the lump [was]found teeth and a spinal cord. Yes. Inside the lump *dramatic pause* was my twin.” Classic.
But moving right along, let’s talk about the part when sweet and geeky, still-donning-the-bifocals Toula laments to her mom, Maria, that her dad won’t condone her taking computer courses. Sniffling mournfully, Toula imitates her patriarchal father: “The man is the head of the house.”
Maria, a fierce and fabulous Greek dame, strokes her daughter’s hair sympathetically. “Let me tell you something, Toula,” she remarks. “The man is the head, but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
What follows is a scene in which Maria demands from her husband, Gus, a legitimate reason for Toula to not take the classes. When he comes up short and reveals his own sexist perspectives in the process, Maria storms out of the room, leaving him to sulk in his dejection and eventually change his mind.
On one hand, it’s a good thing modern families don’t function exactly like the Portokalos clan, believing females are failing to fulfill their life’s purpose if they don’t promptly marry, make babies, and parade trays of food from the kitchen morning, noon, and night.
But on the other hand, it’s disconcerting that the notion of a father being the head of the household has lost its luster. Families who seek to honor this role of a man are pegged as old-fashioned and somehow deficient, as if every husband/father figure is, like Gus, oppressive and sexist.
We’re all sorts of skeptical of men
Much of this is due to society’s mistrust of men. A tragic amount of women have experience with men who use and abuse them, while those of us with respectful, loving, empowering fathers, brothers, and husbands are somewhat of a rarity.
But even more than that, men getting shoved from the role of head of the family results from our broken comprehension of what true leadership is. We hear “leader” or “head” and conclude it’s this dictatorial title enabling a man to order other members around while he reaps the benefits of their housework, contributing zilch since he’s glued to the La-Z-Boy surrounded by his empty beer cans, Playboys, and flatulence.
Friends, that’s not leadership. That’s tyranny. And if we assume that every man allowed to “lead” will sink to that contemptible level, then we’re a sad bunch of stereotypers living the ugliest, most fruitless form of feminism.
What does leadership even mean?
I assure you, there are good men. There are great men who deeply respect the exquisite creation that females are and who yearn to uplift and help women flourish. I was raised by a man like that. Now I’m married to one, and both of them are the heads of their families in the most honorable manner.
Real leadership has nothing to do with oppression or egocentrism because real leadership “serves others instead of demanding to be served,” as husband and father Dave Willis puts it. It’s more a responsibility than a privilege.
So why in families does it fall to men?
Where it all began
To understand this, we have to look to the St. Paul’s declaration in his letter to the Ephesians. In chapter five, he says the husband is head of the wife, so accordingly, he’s head of their offspring, too.
But Paul didn’t stop there. He made sure to give guys a tall simile to live up to, saying, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” There’s a lot more to that than yelling for a cold one from the recliner.
Essentially, men are supposed to act as head of the wife and family in the same way that Jesus is head of the church. And Jesus’ relationship with the church has always been far from tyrannical. At one point, he got down on his knees and washed his disciples’ feet back when the options for footwear were sandals or … sandals. Sweat and stink were the least of their problems. Those feet were covered with calluses, dust, mud, debris, probably even some traces of animal feces.
And yet, Jesus got down and washed them, not because they asked him to, but because he insisted on it. That was his position in their lives: servant leader. Those disciples loved him, trusted him, and looked to him because he held a position of authentic, respectable influence as a man they were proud to follow. That’s the kind of headship a husband and father ought to hold over his family.
As Willis says, a man’s role is protector, provider and proactive presence in his family’s life. He’s called to lead by setting an outstanding example, fiercely protecting, devotedly providing for, and generously being present in his wife’s and children’s lives.
When the verdict is in his hands
Ugh. Okay. I can’t write this without acknowledging the times when the final say does fall into the hands of the man, even if it means disagreeing with his wife. Assuming a couple is a good match, this is a rarity.
Lisa Brenninkmeyer, author of Walking with Purpose, details an instance in which her family was living in Mexico and her young son was in need of surgery. She was adamant that he be flown home and operated on in America but her husband disagreed, believing this to be an overreaction.
“We have never fought like we did that night,” Brenninkmeyer writes. “I screamed, I threatened, I pulled out everything in the book, but [my husband]wouldn’t budge.”
Finally, she realized it was more toxic for their marriage and their son’s health for her to dig in her heels and doubt her husband’s decision-making capacity. She surrendered to his headship and united, they approached the journey before them. “In the end, we did airlift [our son]to Washington, D.C.,” she writes, “But all of this was done with peace between us.”
That’s the key: a union of peace in which both partners are aware and respectful of the other’s irreplaceable role. When we fight for control out of pride, painful chaos ensues.
Let me be clear: when it comes to disagreements and decisions, a woman should never, ever surrender her morality, dignity, or safety.
But in the event that her husband is emotionally stable and the circumstance is a true toss-up as to which route is more advantageous, and the man is not taking the “whatever you want, babe” stance (which, let’s be honest, most good men normally do) then the wife is called to let her husband make the decision.
I can feel eyeballs rolling back in outrage. Why should a woman ever have to submit to her husband just because he’s the man?
Submit is more like accept
But it’s not “submit” as in she hopelessly bows down to him, relinquishing her self-worth or position as his equal. No, it’s “submit” in that she accepts his intrinsic role as head of the family. It’s “submit” in the same way any cooperative, common-sensical male submits to his wife’s role as the one who carries their children in her womb. That’s simply a capacity nature intended for women, not men. When we fight it, we reap a lot of unnecessary suffering.
I’m not saying women aren’t meant to be leaders. No way, sister. We live in an unprecedented time when women are killing it as entrepreneurs, CEOs, and leaders in a plethora of settings, often with men under their directive. I’m all for this.
I’m speaking strictly in terms of the traditional family structure in which members are blessed with both a mother and father under the same roof. In this instance, the father is the head, but as Maria puts it, “the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Neck, you say?
This doesn’t authorize her to manipulate him. It’s an indication of the man’s responsibility to honor his wife and every aspect of who she is, including her opinions. He doesn’t have to like them, but he does have to respect and consider them.
“Neck” also doesn’t mean the woman is below the man. My qualm with this comparison is that necks are under heads, so it makes the wife seem inferior, which she’s not. Let’s say “neck” means that in her absence, imbalance and paralysis tend to ensue for him. She’s the pipeline through which he connects to the rest of the body. Without her, he’s disjointed. That’s why so many decisions fall to the wife/mother. Her opinion is often more grounded as a result of possessing more intimate knowledge of the kids and household.
But when it comes to those infrequent circumstances when spouses are at odds over a next step, we wives have to reach inside ourselves for the grace to respect our husband’s headship.
Humility is not optional
It requires humility, which is often wrongly equated with insecurity and self-doubt. But as C.S. Lewis said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” In order to be a flourishing wife (or husband, for that matter), the virtue of humility is an absolute necessity. Sure, my selfish nature may try to steamroll its way into being our family’s leader, but that’s a burden I wasn’t meant to bear.
I married my husband because I trust him to lead us to prosperity. No marriage should happen if a woman doesn’t have that kind of trust in the man. He’s not just her cuddle buddy, photo prop, or co-parent. He is the individual responsible for serving her, safeguarding her, leading her, and laying down his life for her.
I’m still entitled to my opinions
It doesn’t mean I’m obligated to nod and smile at every choice he makes, despite how much I may disdain it. I make it clear when I’m in disagreement with my husband, as I should. And Brenninkmeyer informs readers that when she surrendered to her husband’s decision, it was done in clear dissatisfaction.
But there’s a delicate balance between disagreeing and demanding control. The former leads to fruitful discussions and decisions, like the one Gus eventually made after Maria challenged his original verdict. The latter, however, leads to misunderstandings and turmoil in marriage.
What it all boils down to
This is a hard topic, and many women find it tough to accept their husbands’ leadership. But it comes down to whether she trusts and respects him as a man. I may disagree with my husband here and there, but at the end of the day, I hold a deep admiration for him in my heart and I know beyond any shadow of a doubt he has nothing but the best of intentions for our children and me. As a result, I’m honored to have him as the head of our household. That’s a responsibility I truly do not desire for myself.
The neck, however — the graceful, resilient, highly influential, indispensable, ever dependable neck — that’s my spot.
Copyright 2019 Elizabeth Pardi