Agence-France Press – Ryad Kramdi

(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 31, 2019)

Today let’s talk about men and women and everything I’ve learned about it all from Red Green. And from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

You’ll recall that Red Green ended every episode of his long-running TV show with that special moment from Possum Lodge, what Red affectionately called “The Men’s Prayer,” the one that every male out the womb somehow senses is coming sooner or later, the one that goes like this: “I am a man. But I can change. If I have to. I guess.”

Those words are always spoken carefully. Solemnly. And, no, they’re not about any gender transition, but rather changing into the sort of man who your wife might at least tolerate most weekends.

I once repeated Red’s solemn words. There on the show. There we are – I can still see us – me and some buddies, invited on stage for that Possum Lodge scene while visiting CBC’s studio for a live taping. We’re there along with our social network, the Over-30 Unclaimed Precious Jewels Club, which includes female friends applauding us all the way.

So, sure, I am a man. And, on a good day, I can change. But change can be painfully slow. Slow, like you’re in a slow cooker, slow. Time is needed to loosen things. Unlearn things. Sometimes deeply-embedded cultural ways. Which leads us to Saudi’s Crown Prince. Today it’s cheers to Mohammed bin Salem. Yes, today is his birthday.

Cheers also because the Crown Prince can change. With enough political pressure, he’s also now able to say that half-hearted, hesitant men’s prayer. A recently-changed law now allows 14 million Saudi women to travel abroad on their own passports without male accompaniment. Stop the presses. Really. You have to live in Arabia to appreciate how breathtaking this is, like when, last year, Saudi women received the legal right to drive.

Remember, women in Arabia may be equal (sort of) to men, but with different roles in different circles of life. It’s nothing personal, just the way things have gone for centuries. The public square, for example. Is it for women? Well, they’re so vulnerable, you know? Fragile. Needing protection. So what once might have been a noble cultural value becomes a cage.

But now Saudi’s women are free flying. It may still take time for some to board a plane alone. Even so, fair laws are foundational to a just society, something my own family learned while living in patriarchal nations abroad, even as we learned it the other evening while watching the movie On the Basis of Sex.

It’s based on the life of Ruth Ginsburg, a young American lawyer who spent her career helping women on this side of the ocean – not in Arabia – gain some of their own legal rights. Which is to say that even in free nations, we’ve had our cages.

Yes, we bind and burden each other. Ever since Eden. And it’s easy to blame everyone else when things break. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. The serpent blamed God. Nobody likes to take responsibility for the toppled apple cart. Now to fix things. Here. Or anywhere.

Frank Sinatra, the singer, put it well when he said, “If you don’t know the guy on the other side of the world, love him anyway because he’s just like you. He has the same dreams, the same hopes and fears. It’s one world, pal. We’re all neighbors.” Which is to say that we need not travel over the ocean as much as across the street to help fix what’s broken.

Even so, I’d personally like to visit Saudi’s Crown Prince. With a birthday gift in hand. A movie, maybe. We were neighbours, after all, during the years my young family lived on the Arabian Peninsula, just one country south of his. Child #1 was a toddler then. She’s 16 now. With a well-used passport. She’s also learning to drive. I’d bring her for the visit.

She might have a word, something to encourage the prince in his prayers, you know? Yeah, sure, a birthday visit to see the Crown Prince. In another time and place, maybe. Then again, maybe by then Saudi will have a Crown Princess. In the meantime, there are all these other neighbours.