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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Part 7: Dinner dance

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2003

Part 3

Franco and Mike Muraca came to Canada from Calabria in the 1960s, and married two other young immigrants, Nicoletta Mancini and Rosarina Palma. The brothers were artisans who began as bricklayers and within a few years created their own successful companies. Mike has a heating and air-conditioning business; Franco is a specialty flooring contractor.

The two couples (Rosarina died nearly 10 years ago of ovarian cancer) had children for whom, as Carmine put it, "they dreamed up the world." In Mike's words: "We wanted to change ourselves. We saw people who could change to whatever they want."

They changed themselves through their sons and daughters, and raised those daughters to see the same unlimited opportunities as their sons saw. "It was easy to do," says Mike, choosing his words carefully, "because it was rewarding. It made our families stronger."

Maria recalls being told by her parents from the age of 10 or 11 that she was going to be a doctor. Her brother Giuseppe interjects: "There was an attempt at equality. The reality is, and . . . I'll get shot at this table for this [a chorus of laughter] . . . we were expected to have advanced careers, whatever that would mean, but the expectation was also that, when there was something needed around the house, when there was help needed, my sister was expected to do it, that was part of her duty. It created that balance. And I see her today, and I think she thinks that's a great thing and, you know, at the same time she's got a university degree, she's got her career . . ."

Maria cuts him off. "We were equally encouraged to pursue our dreams," she says flatly.

"They're equal," their father says.

But, interestingly, it is a theme the young Muraca men keep returning to through dinner. Yes, their sisters were raised equally to pursue their dreams. Yes, they have their degrees and their careers. But, yes, there is the cultural expectation that they will be "maternal figures" [quiet female voices ask, "What about paternal figures?"] and will choose to be at home with their children.

Although, Carmine acknowledges, times have changed and the values of the larger Canadian society are encroaching. "We're not expecting, we as men, we are asking . . . and I think we're evolving to being part of a team."

Maria gestures around the dinner table. "We clear the plates," she points out. Giulia asks quietly: "Have you seen any man get up and help?"

Nannies are discussed briefly, and not with enthusiasm. The impression is clear that the next generation of Muracas is not likely to be nannied.

Women in business are compared to women in professions. Mike says: "If you really want to be a CEO, a woman has to be single. You cannot have a child every year, every two years . . ."

Trish, the woman in business, says: "If she's a CEO of a company without children, people look at her and say, 'Wow, what's wrong with her, why doesn't she have any children?' The assumption is that, if a woman had been married, she wouldn't have that life, but if a man is married, he'd still have that life."

Finally, Maria the doctor addresses the issue. "I feel torn between succeeding at my profession and my role as mother," she says, admitting that she foresees problems. She is asked if she wants her children to have the same at-home parenting she had. "Probably . . . probably," she replies.

In fact, the more Maria and Trish talk about their career plans, the more clear it is that they have carefully planned their futures with motherhood in mind. Rather than rejecting their mothers' stay-at-home lives, they are tailoring them to suit their needs.

Trish says she became a chartered accountant in part because it offered the chance to scale down her work week, to work at home and perhaps run a business from there. "But I also see that you need to be assertive and aggressive in what it is you want [when integrating family and career], because you're never going to have anything handed to you on a silver platter."

Maria chose family medicine because the residency is relatively short, two years compared with five in other specialties — she plans to have children within five years. Also, she can work in a clinic with colleagues to share the load. "So I can take a year off and know that the rest of the doctors will be responsible for my patients and it won't be left to me to find a locum."

"Women plan," Genny says.

"Women micro-plan," Trish says.

4 ROBTv Workopolis