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Parenthood in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”

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This is another blog from Gender studies. The point was to reflect on how parenthood was shown in Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale” and compare that with our own experience as parents. The quotes and such are from the book. Enjoy!

Two of the greatest joys of my life have been my children. In The Handmaid’s Tale, I certainly identify with the description of Luke, “What I remember is Luke, with me in the hospital, standing beside my head, holding my hand, in the green gown and white mask they gave him. Oh, he said, oh Jesus, breath coming out in wonder. That night he couldn’t go to sleep at all, he said, he was so high” (126). Arthur, my son, was born first and was a breech delivery. I understand that as a male, I cannot fathom the physical aspects of delivery, but I felt so bad for Bonnie. My memories of the look on her face, though, when she first saw and held our son will never fade.  Atwood writes and I’ve often wondered about it, that “But who can remember the pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow…” (125). One year later came Moriah, my daughter. She presented normally and both were delivered vaginally. The doctor actually let me cut the cord when she came. Since remarrying, I’ve become a grandfather (is there such a thing as a step-grandfather?) to two darling babies, Brandi and Sophia. Something I’m surprised Atwood omitted is that “new baby smell” that all infants seem to have. I don’t know if men are expected to notice it, but I do, and I love holding little ones when I get the chance. The absence of the Commanders during the birth is something I can never understand, though I know it’s common among men. Frankly, men who consider babies and child-rearing “women’s work” have always disgusted and annoyed me. I love every second with my children and grandchildren.

Shorter provides a description in the article “The Post Modern Family.” Bonnie and I were both in the military when our children were born. She was in the Reserves and I was active duty. We didn’t fully fit Shorter’s description, though he makes some valid points. Moriah and Arthur identify strongly with family, including their in-laws, have an interest in family history and genealogy, though Moriah has stronger interest in that than Arthur does. I don’t remember any real scenes of “teenage rebellion,” but we always spoke with our children and treated them like human beings with something to say. It is true that Bonnie and I divorced after 25 years, but our children were grown and in college by that time. I managed to always plan my leave dates around Bonnie’s military training and always had weekends off, which I know was rare. For socializing our children, we had close neighbors whose children were the same age as ours. We arranged more “play groups” with neighbors than baby sat for each other.

As for gender identity, the children always chose what toys to play with, we never dictated. I see the same happening with my grandchildren. Touching on my own gender identity, I’ll admit that there is a bond between a mother and child that a father can never have. De Beauvoir’s point that though “we are born male or female, we become men and women” is absolutely valid. The Commanders in The Handmaid’s Tale, and some “men” I have known, are little more than sperm donors – a concept I find abhorrent. It takes time and dedication to BECOME a father and, for me, it’s worth every second of the effort.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1998. Print.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex.  Trans. H. M. Parshley. New York: Random House, 1993. Print.

“The post-modern family.” Internet Archive Wayback Machine. United Nations University. N.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2016.


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