One Man’s Reflections on the Male-female Tug of War – through the lens of time

| September 17, 2018 | 0 Comments | Email This Post Email This Post

hundting black gold

By Thomas E. Cochrane

I was raised by a single mother, and my grandmother and aunt were each dominant women, but it was nevertheless a male-dominated society when I was growing up. So during that earlier era, women may have ruled the roost, but men made the important family decisions, period. Later, as the 1960s unfolded, societal attitudes began to gyrate: new technologies were developing; the civil rights movement, anti-war demonstrations, and gays were in the daily news, the space race began, and the Kennedys were assassinated. In the midst of all this upheaval, folks had begun to believe it was also time for equality and women’s rights. But, in our home, I made the decisions unilaterally without much input from Kay, my first wife. I quit a good job teaching high school science (although not high paying) and headed back to graduate school, and Kay agreed to support the family by teaching while I completed my advanced degrees in geology. But my carefully constructed plan for self-advancement was not to happen — she became pregnant. For fifty years, I blamed her for derailing this key early goal of mine.

The oil industry was a white, male-dominated business – at least it was in the Midwest at the time I landed therein. The few professional women working in the arena were underpaid and also under-estimated as to their abilities. It took a very competent, strong woman to survive much less rise in the company’s management ranks. There were however many secretaries who jumped in response to our beck and call, but they weren’t considered ‘professionals’ at the time. We took them to lunch, partied with them after work, and chased them in pursuit of clandestine affairs. By the 1980s, many members of this female work force had been replaced by computers and we fellas now had to write and edit our own reports.

Tornados, Rattlesnakes

On a personal level, these dalliances in the office place led to my divorce and then marriage to my lawyer’s secretary. Ann was highly intelligent, considered herself to be a liberated woman, was outspoken, and professed to have all the answers. I was branded as being in a mid-life crisis at the time—and, who knows, maybe I was. After being a very active Catholic in the local church, I rejected my faith for my new wife, a third-generation atheist. Having left my family, I was soon inserted into this new one consisting of Ann and her three children. Kay got remarried in a short time, but my children did not like her new husband. He was abusive and overbearing, and ultimately assaulted her. The children, one by one, moved in with Ann and me. Soon we were raising ten youngsters/teens—his, hers, and theirs.

Ann was bi-polar and suicidal (ten children and yours truly had created a lot of pressure for her). This mixed group of different families and a wide range of ages gave us all a different perspective from other more normal households. Over time, the children became very self-reliant and seemingly raised themselves and each other. Disputes were solved democratically and rarely did we, as parents, have to decree something or make a judgement in a dispute. A sort of egalitarian environment developed, with each person in the family considering himself or herself on an equal footing with the others. There was no male domination over the females in our household.

Ultimately, I guess I owe my liberation and change of perspective to the children. Ann and I hung together until 1988 (16 years) — all of the collective offspring were off following their own lives by then. Again in this second marriage, I made a unilateral decision on a certain project without Ann’s concurrence. Truth be told, this pattern of mine was the ultimate cause of our breakup. It actually IS difficult to overcome one’s early programming. Sometimes I’ve even wondered if the male dominance thing may be genetically wired into our genes. Although, for society’s sake, I hope not.

Then, in the 90’s, I met Susan, who had also been programmed by her dominant ‘old school’ parents along with an abusive, dominating husband, now her ex. We vowed to each other we would not follow that line of thinking – and we have now maintained this relationship for nearly thirty years. I have worked with her in her business — at her direction — and she has advised me in my business activities. Now an octogenarian, I’ve finally and fully embraced the realization that communication and consensus of thought and action are necessary to develop a long-lasting relationship based on equality.

historical geology

It wasn’t until I was working on my second book (an oil patch memoir) that I saw in hindsight how far I’d come from my earlier “Father Knows Best era” thinking. So I spent the closing chapters, entitled “Final Thoughts,” outlining my changed attitudes in this area of my personal life, as well as professionally — as I also morphed from a “company insider” with Big Oil to my now longtime environmental activism (including my efforts to help prevent any resumption of offshore drilling here in N. California where I’ve made my home for decades). It’s hard to admit at the book’s conclusion I was indeed a chauvinist but…you know what they say about confession being good for the soul (and I’ve since returned to my Catholic roots as well). Heck, I even recently wrote a letter of apology to Kay for my boorish behavior during our years together.

So who is it that says old dogs can’t learn new tricks after all…?

Author bio:  


Thomas E. Cochrane is a CA Professional Geologist CA (#6124), frequent guest speaker, and the author of “Shaping the Sonoma-Mendocino Coast, Exploring the Coastal Geology of Northern California,” a regional bestseller. His new book was just published (August), “Tornados, Rattlesnakes & Oil – A Wildcatter’s Memories of Hunting for “Black Gold” and chronicles his yesteryear adventures in the Midwest oil patch – plus offers his sage perspective on “Big Oil” as a former industry insider, and now-avid environmentalist. He was recently named a Director of the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, a 501(c)3 nonprofit which is a member of the National Land Trust Alliance and California Northern Region Land Trust Council. To learn more or get in touch, please visit:    



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