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OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: My mother, the queen — The underappreciated impact of a “royal” housewife

The underappreciated impact of a ‘royal’ housewife by Fran Alexander | November 15, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

My dad called my mother "Madame Queen," not in a teasing, chiding or derogatory way, but more to acknowledge her status in our family unit. There were only three of us, and since I was an only child, I would have noticed if the title triggered any anger from the queen. Instead, she tended to ignore the nickname and didn't pull rank like perhaps she could or should have if she ever felt like genuine royalty. Even though her husband rarely countered her judgment, she probably didn't fully realize he was in awe of her hidden talents that even exceeded cooking her excellent pot roast.

Since Elizabeth II went to her reward in September, I've given much thought to the roles played in a family hierarchy. Clearly Liz had her hands full as a monarch over the entire United Kingdom (note -- not a "Queendom") as well as four troublesome children and a husband prince to rein in and reign over. No wonder she had so many dogs, probably her only source for mutual honesty in her realm.

The interesting dynamic of queendom (which is unknown to spellcheck) is that it seems like winning second place in the rankings of preferred rulers. Queens reign when there's not a male heir in sight to step in as king to a role that in Britain must be inherited. In Elizabeth's case, she and her sister were the only two in direct line for the crown, so England's consolation prize was to have a female ruler. Now after 70 years, it'll be interesting to see if Charles, Liz's first born, can carry off royalty being king as well as his mum did as queen. Some British doubt showed up in the shocked Twitter comment, "My god! They've just made a man Queen!"

My parents' roles were pretty evenly divided according to ability. My dad handled words and my mother handled numbers. She would have him write business letters she needed because he could compose and spell better than she, and he would turn over his shoebox full of bank statements, 1099s, receipts, etc. for her to figure out their annual tax report. He said if she died first, he'd just have to turn himself in to the IRS because jail would be preferable to the sheer hell of filling out tax forms. Since I inherited his math befuddlement gene, I wisely also married a numbers person.

My dad went first to that great library in the sky (word heaven) and the letter writing fell to me. Madame Queen kept on diligently doing her taxes, even volunteering time with the IRS to help others report and pay up, until at age 95 when she joined him in 2008.

The great contrast I came to see between my parents was that she felt he was the only one who had a real job, the one whom people knew and respected for his work. She saw herself not as an equal, her contributions invisible even to her. My dad's words placed him in a world where he was seen and known. In contrast, my mother believed when she married that the person she had once been was no more because when her role changed, she disappeared into it.

But as a young teen during the Great Depression, born in 1913 before women had the vote, she kept track of where each penny came from and where each went. She played quietly with her numbers to see if she could increase a little investment here or take a little risk there. All the while she considered what she did to be a hobby where she got her kicks with gains or felt depression with losses.

The great irony was that while my dad's career provided the basics, her "hobby" provided the extras that helped secure those basics. He had been right from the beginning about his queen's abilities, but the outside world wasn't set up to recognize someone who was "just a housewife" as having skilled talents. Sadly, it still isn't. Women are now in almost every profession, but motherhood and housewifery still cannot garner respect equal to a career that pays money.

As the years passed, I would tease my mother that I knew how Prince Charles felt, as he too grew old, probably doubting he'd ever be king. Truthfully, in my own case, I knew there'd never be another Madam Queen. My mother took her title and crown with her.

Print Headline: My mother, the queen

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