I am the recipient of a pleasant kiss on the cheek, with no worries about the children or shopping or dinner. I am the husband, the traditional husband, and it’s not a bad gig.
In the evening, I will recount the latest office politics over salmon and a leafy salad, and eventually I’ll turn my attention to whatever my spouse accomplished, what the kids have been up to, and anything else of concern to the household.
The Traditional Husband
Welcome to my temporary period as the “traditional” husband – admittedly a thumbnail sketch and superficial. If my description sounds like a throwback to another time, it certainly is. Yet the fundamental division of labor in the late 20th century spousal arrangement – hubby provides, wife does everything else – still exists in many households.
For some of us, this was the pattern of our parents’ marriages that we carried into our own adulthood – even if both spouses were working full-time: hubby provided, wife provided and did everything else.
In my parents’ domestic dynamic, my mother ruled the roost and yet she also rebelled against type: She did her bit shuttling to PTA, mastering flower arranging and baking cookies, but she returned to school part-time and eventually earned a degree. Yet she still rendered the expected services of the sixties wife and mother, a situation that contributed (I suspect) to her persistent unhappiness.
For his part, my father took care of providing and that was it – while retaining certain privileges that included coming and going as he pleased, playing golf on the weekends, never lifting a finger with the housework or cooking, and staying uninvolved in child-rearing. Generally speaking, he was a happy guy.
During the years I was married, my husband was more helpful than my father had been, grilling on the weekend or fixing things around the house if he was in town. He was also more of a presence with the kids, but parenting activities were wrapped around his schedule, whereas my schedule was wrapped around parenting.
Although I had a demanding career of my own – I was the household support system, the expediter, the facilitator. And I did everything I could to make my husband’s life easier. That was my role; it was not reciprocated.
A few weeks back, Lori Gottlieb wrote on “egalitarian marriage” in a New York Times Magazine article that concludes such partnerships result in less sex but overall, higher satisfaction. I take exception to her viewpoint, being one of those in a peer partnership that is anything but unsexy.
In a follow-up mention at the Times, what appeared to be an informal (and unscientific) poll of readers was conducted, in which the data are interesting all the same: some 82% of female readers consider egalitarian marriages better, as contrasted with 42% of male readers. In fact, some 46% of male readers apparently view traditional marriage as superior.
Personally, I don’t find these numbers surprising. When it comes to men enjoying their more privileged role, I get it. And the reason I get is because of the couple of months each year when I’m the “husband.”
I’ll just say it… it’s pretty great.
After all, what’s not to love about working all day and not dealing with shopping or cleaning? What’s not to love about delegating errands to the bank and the dry cleaner? What’s not to love about a delicious dinner waiting on the table, and conversation over candlelight about my office politics, even if they take place on the phone and on Skype, and in the next room?
Equal, With Privilege
When I was married, I went along with the way things were, as it was the way I raised – catering to a husband.
But my situation these days bears little resemblance to my former union. There’s more talk, more intimacy, more sharing of everything. And since the man in my life is a teacher, he’s off in the summer. So he takes over the lion’s share of domestic tasks while I work, and it is he who supports, facilitates, expedites, and makes my life easier.
Wouldn’t I be crazy not to find such special treatment an incredible relief? Especially after 10 years of being a single mother, and a decade before that, responsible for holding down a job, raising two kids, and taking care of a part-time spouse?
None of this precludes my guy doing his own thing – he spends more time with his grown children if he can, putters around or reads, and prepares for the upcoming school year. We’re also talking about 11 weeks and not 52, which is an important point. An extended period of unequal sharing would leave me feeling selfish.
Still, simplistically, I understand why some men would resist modification of roles that require letting go of both control and privilege. By control, I mean being the one whose priorities take priority. By privilege, I mean the luxury of focusing on work without worry or interruption.
And as things stand, when summer is ending and August rolls around, we return to our regular schedules and the division of labor that evens out. We are neither of us the traditional spouse, we give and take according to observance of each others’ time and needs, and we live by the more fluid model of an egalitarian relationship.
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