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Karen Hughes Got It Right - A Commentary

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – Hearing the news following the Karen Hughes resignation last week, I braced myself for a defensive backlash as she became a symbol, to some, of feminine betrayal. Well, I consider myself a card-carrying, post-feminist male, having been raised by the only career Mother I knew growing up in the 1950s, who in turn was raised by my Grandmother, the first woman professor at UT Austin. I feel that Karen Hughes' choice embodies the very essence of feminism, since the original root of the women's movement, whether suffrage or Roe vs. Wade, has always been about women having choices. Hers was the RIGHT choice, for two reasons.

First, it was her true feelings. Second, and this is my feeling, she chose to be with her son actively during his teenage years, something neither my Mother nor my Father were able to do for career reasons. I encouraged both my parents to follow their talented dreams. But now, I realize clearly how much I needed them at that volatile, post-pubescent crossroads.

Karen Hughes did what she did in part because, to attempt otherwise, would mean that she needed the one thing she could never have, a wife. And as my mother told me at 10, "Even women need wives." Karen Hughes did not have a wife. But many powerful men do.

I thought back to a few years ago, when I had attended an awards banquet where my company's CEO was honored as "Father of the Year." I sat with his wife, who undoubtedly should have been the day's true honoree, and listened while he waxed nostalgically about the fatherhood of his now-grown children. I had silently wondered: how much of what he was romancing in retrospect was actually something he had in very real ways more or less missed; events and developmental childhood stages that his single-minded ambitions had precluded him from sharing.

That same day, I watched as the recent immigrant father across the street returned home in his house painter's white uniform, romping in the grass with his three overjoyed toddler sons. How ironic the contrast seemed: that this workman and his wife offered their children something that is practicably impossible when the American dream of choice is to be the super-sized entitled male or his aggressively achieving female counterpart: They give their sons REAL time rather than 'quality' time, which invariably translates as that frantic coordination of manic upscale scheduling.

So many months past 9/11, most of us no longer care to ponder that momentary revelation when everyone at once seemed to sense that time is indeed the most valuable of all currencies. When having more time and less power, things or money became, however briefly, an alternative way to define being successful, even rich, or just plain happy. Now, our increasing national amnesia is seen instead by some as an indication of our country's collective healing.

But happily enough, Karen Hughes remembers. And Karen Hughes got it right.

Rawlins Gilliland is a journalist and former National Endowment poet. He lives in Dallas.