A minister once told me the key to a good marriage is to never argue over money and whatever you do within the first year of marriage is what you will continue to do throughout your married life. I found this advice to be very true.
My wife and I had been good friends for about seven years and it took several attempts by her to get me into another marriage, my fourth. I tried hard to be the man of the house. I mowed the lawn and changed the oil in the car. This was all well and good, but the down side was my wife didn’t cook three meals a day and really didn’t have a clue as to what her responsibilities were.
Shortly after we got married, we moved away and had to start sharing the domestic responsibilities. For the next couple of years, it was pretty much I’ll cook and you’ll do the dishes. Definitely, a workable system.
Then the rug was pulled out from under my macho feet. My wife, our primary breadwinner, was transferred. The town we moved to was considerably smaller and I had a difficult time finding employment.
I worked here and there, but none of these jobs lasted much more than a week. The main factor was the salary. The closest salary to the one I had previously been making was less than half. This caused a dramatic change in our lifestyle.
The daycare expense was greater than what I could earn, and that included lunches and transportation. It was financially far more realistic for me to stay home with our two boys, than to work.
Several times she suggested my staying home. I didn’t want to do that. It was not that I couldn’t, rather I didn’t want to. Up to this point I had only changed four to five diapers. The greatest fear I had was to be “spit up” on. It had happened once and I became ill.
I finally ran out of options. It became painfully apparent to me that our only option was for me to stay home and take care of the children. I have to admit this scared the hell out of me. I agreed to do it.
I will never forget the first day. The younger one had a poopy diaper. I thought I would take my time and wait for Mom to come home for lunch. She came home and changed him. Then asked me how long he had been in that diaper. I told her that I had just noticed he was stinky a few minutes before she got home.
The same diaper logic worked until she got home from work that evening. She hit the roof. Evidently, he had gotten a rash on his butt and I was the cause. I assured her that I had changed him during the day and she settled down. I knew I had dodged a bullet.
The next morning I resolved to change some diapers. I noticed he was stinky, and while changing him I was appalled to see what I had done. It was the nastiest rash I had ever seen, blistered and almost bloody. Guilt was not the first emotion, nor the last, I had over the rash.
As time went by, I got into a routine with the boys. It seemed all well and good until I had nothing to wear. I discovered laundry. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how; it hadn’t occurred to me that it needed to be done. Washing was easy. It was the drying, folding and putting away of the clothes that was difficult for me. Once I got control of the laundry, I started noticing other aspects of the house that I had neglected.
The first real pet peeve I had about the house was the sticky spots on the dining room floor and the incessant noise shoes made on drying Kool-Aid. I found to keep up with this, I had to mop three times a day. I actually started to enjoy keeping house, though I kept what I did for a living from my friends.
One Saturday evening we had neighbors over for dinner. The question about my career was posed. Before I could answer, my wife told them I was a homemaker. Our friends laughed and asked what I really did for a living. Again, my wife told them that I stayed home with the kids while she worked. The laughter started to wane and the next thing I knew they had to leave. Evidently there was something pressing at home that needed their immediate attention.
I found it strange and had an awkward feeling in regards to the tone when they left. I told my wife that they must have felt uncomfortable. After all, their children had broken two pieces of my green glass collection. This is undoubtedly what it had to be.
The following weekend we were invited to the birthday party of one of our friend’s children. When we got there everything was great. The guy’s stood in the yard and drank beer, while the women set up the table in the yard with all the condiments that go with a good West Texas Bar-B-Que. One of the women at the party asked her husband to run to the store for some mayonnaise. Since we were fifteen miles from town, I asked how much mayo she needed. She told me that she only needed a cup or so. So I asked her if she had oil, eggs and a hand blender. She did.
So I went inside and made her a couple of cups of mayonnaise. After completing that, I returned to the yard. When I rejoined the guys, they asked what I had done. I told them that I had just taught the women how to make mayonnaise. Then the man that had been over for dinner the prior week said, “See, I told you.”
It was at this time the jokes started: Betty Crocker, Susie Homemaker, and an invitation to dance to the radio. I was hurt by the jeers and tried to downplay it by saying my mother used to make me help her cook. One of the guys went so far as to get an apron from the house and offer it to me. Why is it a man can Bar-B-Que, but is not allowed to clean house?
Later that evening at home, my wife asked me if I had fun at the party. I told her I had not had as good a time as I’d hoped, pointing out the teasing.
She told me the girls had told her what a marvel it would be to have a man around the house to change diapers, and continually asked her if this was indeed true.
The longer I thought about it, the angrier I became. So what if one guy is a welder and the other is a househusband. What does it matter?
After this, I became proud of what I was doing and was very open about it. I no longer had reservations about telling people. I did find people’s reactions to how I spent my day to be anywhere from puzzled to totally ignorant. One of our neighbors went so far as to call the child welfare people to investigate.
When the investigator showed up and stated her purpose, I told her to go play golf and to leave me alone. At that time I thought the whole thing was a joke. About one hour later she returned with a deputy sheriff and a court order to search the premises for signs of neglect and abuse. Oddly enough, at that time, I was in the middle of baking some bread. The deputy told the social worker that there had obviously been a mistake. I offered the pair some iced tea. They declined. As quickly as they had shown up, they left. Case closed. I felt violated and vindicated all at the same time.
What is it that makes a person turn another person into the authorities for neglect based on the gender of the caregiver? The thought that a man was unable to take care of his children because his plumbing didn’t match his wife’s made me sick to my stomach. The trickle down from this put a strain on our social life.
I lost the majority of our friends in the neighborhood over this, but I really don’t mind. It has been a couple of years since I have stayed home all day with our boys, though I still make dinners, do the laundry and mow the lawn. My wife washes the dishes, takes out the trash and bathes the boys.
I would have to say that our pattern of life was established within the first year of marriage and we never argue over money.
David C. Duncan, a native of West Texas, grew up in Alpine. It was this remote environment that sparked his interest in writing, and with his roots firmly planted among these neighborly denizens, he grew to concentrate on people. Educated at Sul Ross State University in Alpine and a veteran of the United States military, his travels have afforded him the pleasure of meeting a diverse cross-section of humanity. It is this diversity which he unravels in his writing.