CJ Kaplan doesn’t feel less of a man when his wife handles the family finances—she’s the only one qualified to.
Lisa stared daggers of death at the oblivious car salesman as he serenaded me with the incomparable features of the minivan he was trying to peddle.
“Dude,” I cut across him as he was extolling the virtues of four-zone climate control, “it’s gonna be her car. Talk to her.”
The poor guy finally looked at my wife and blanched as he saw the lost sale in her lethal eyes.
“Oh, but I thought…you would be…” he stammered helplessly.
“Yeah, she handles the finances too,” I said as we stood up to leave. “I just came for the free coffee and doughnuts.”
When Lisa and I met in college, she was an Econ major who took courses like Statistics just for fun. I was an English major who nearly flunked Calculus 101 freshman year and hadn’t been back to the Math Building since. (Ironically, I once had high school Pre-Calculus teacher who always told the class not to be afraid of any college math. Turns out I wasn’t afraid at all. I was fucking petrified.)
Although we never had any classes in common, Lisa and I were perfect for each other. I helped her with those pesky essays in her mandatory Humanities classes and she balanced my hitherto unbalanced checkbook. It was a match made in liberal arts heaven.
For Lisa, math and accounting always came easy. Perhaps it’s because she is the daughter of an actuary who used to routinely fire word problems at his daughters over dinner each night. While some families pass the time during long car rides with trivia contests or license plate games, Lisa’s family enjoys solving for x as the miles roll by. It’s enough to make me hide underneath my copy of Tennyson’s Complete Works and never emerge.
After graduation, Lisa became an economist for The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. (That’s right, an Econ major became an economist! How often does that happen?) As a G-woman, Lisa would go around collecting employment data from randomly selected businesses in the New York metropolitan area and then crunch the numbers for her boss. And by her boss, I mean then U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. Every time the government released salary and benefit data, it was likely that Lisa’s work factored into those numbers.
In my post-college life, I took a job as a copywriter in a Providence ad agency. While Lisa dressed smartly and did very official things at work, I spent my days clad in jeans and t-shirts thinking up campaigns for local restaurants and women’s shoes. When faced with my first major financial decision—where to open a checking account—I chose Fleet Bank because Citizens Bank was a client of ours and they had been refusing to buy any of my ideas.
“That’ll show ‘em!” I thought as I took my meager portfolio to Citizens’ archrival.
And that was pretty much how I dealt with all matters pertaining to money. Which is to say, stupidly.
A few months after we were engaged, Lisa and I opened a joint checking account. My relief was palpable as we signed the forms. I was putting our finances into the hands of the most competent person I knew. As we placed our order for new checks, the bank representative asked how we wanted our names to appear in the upper left-hand corner.
“Oh, you don’t have to put mine on there,” I said. “I don’t plan on writing any checks ever again.”
Of course, Lisa convinced me that both our names should be on there just in case. But, I was still resolved not to have anything to do with our finances other than to earn my paycheck. And that’s pretty much the way it’s been for the past seventeen years.
When my friends found out that Lisa was managing our money, they predictably busted my chops for not taking a more dominant role in my marriage. As if the person in charge of the credits and debits was somehow in charge of the relationship based on the Commutative Property of Marriage. (Or maybe it’s the Reflexive Property. I’m not really sure which applies here because, as you will surely recall, I’m bad at math.) Of course, my friends are the same guys who can’t go five minutes without calling their wives to tell them where they are, whom they are with, and what time to within thirty seconds they will be home. But, hey, at least they control the checkbook.
I’ve never actually thought of the roles we play in our relationship as masculine or feminine. We simply play to our strengths. When the kids wanted to learn how to play basketball, it was me who taught them. Not because I’m the man, but because I’m 6’3″ and played varsity hoops while Lisa is 5’2″ and shoots like a bricklayer. If I were to run the finances for our family for the sole reason that I’m the husband in the husband/wife equation, we’d surely be living, to quote the late thespian Chris Farley, “in a van down by the river.”
As the years pass, I’m ever more grateful that Lisa is our CFO. Not only is our bank account in order, it appears that she has also passed her unassailable math skills on to our children who excel in their numerical studies. And, as far as our relationship goes, all is equal.
Now if I can just get my father-in-law to stop quizzing us.
Photo—Financial Crisis from Shutterstock