Knowing Thy Role
December 16, 2004
“I thought we had an agreement: you take care of yourself and I’m responsible for everyone else in this family.” --my wife, November 2004
Never before have truer words been spoken. The famous quote was uttered by my wife (and mother of our three children under the age of five) as I expressed my displeasure that she did not refill my water glass after she filled hers. Of course, that would have been my third glass of water simply because I found it refreshing, while my wife was fighting to find a minute to sit down and refuel after chasing the kids around for the past 12 hours. Needless to say, the point was well taken and I have been refilling my own beverages since, without complaint.
Since that hauntingly true remark, I have discovered that as long as I can get myself up in the morning, make myself presentable, earn some money, and return home to do it all over again, I am basically an average husband and father. Anything I do beyond that is a bonus. Fold some clothes? Bonus! Take the kids out to dinner, leaving my wife in a quiet home for an hour? Bonus! Bring home some flowers? Bonus! Send my wife to a spa for a manicure or massage? Double bonus! Basically, if I keep doing the basics and throw in a bonus every week or two, I’m nominated for Father of the Year.
Mothers, however, have it much harder. We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true. My life doesn’t drastically change as we keep adding children to the mix, but from my wife’s perspective, each additional child is extra laundry, extra feedings, extra shopping, extra teaching, extra yelling, extra loving. Extra, extra, extra, like a newspaper stand in the ‘30’s. The strangest thing about this imbalance is that (after the nervous breakdown), the women seem to enjoy it! They are rewarded beyond our comprehension because we, the men, the husbands, the fathers, are selfish and can’t see beyond the hard work.
My wife calls me a “hands on” father, so this admittance of being on the easy side of the street is not coming from a guy who parks it on the couch with remote in hand while the kids are busy making hieroglyphics on the walls with permanent markers. I’m not saying that a 9 to 5 desk job is easy, but spend a week doing each and you’ll realize which is the real work. My father-in-law used to say he was going on vacation as he headed out the door to work, leaving his four children in the care of my mother-in-law.
Men aren’t stupid. In fact, we are just smart enough to realize that our children are much better off with us in the role of “guy who shows up after the sun goes down, engages in family activity for a while, but keeps an air of discipline about him in case a situation arises in which mother has to threaten with ‘just wait until your father gets home.’” As for the men who stay home to raise the kids, God bless you, but you are out of your mind!
Spending ten days with my children on vacation further drove that point home. I had a great time and loved every minute, but also realized that I am not capable of catering to a drama queen, a two year old who thinks her hands are sticky even if she’s eating pretzels and dry toast, and a constantly crying baby round the clock, seven days a week.
I would be forced to lock the front door and make my children live in their pajamas, but somehow my wife takes them to school, dancing, classes, play dates, grocery shopping, etc., and never misses a beat. Sensing my children’s need for outside activity, I have chosen the 9 to 5 life. Worry not, though, as I will always be available when called upon, and when water glasses are empty, I will be pouring!