Bitch or Check Out

Tom Matlack and ‘CoolMom’ Daphne Brogdon debate: In marriage, if women at their worst are ‘bitches,’ and men at their worst are completely checked out, how is it possible to find a middle ground with a house full of kids?

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Daphne: Simply put, it’s tough. Most women consider their husband to be an extra child. Example: in my household we are terrified of getting a tardy. My husband works very late as a chef and restaurant owner and my throat dries up if I think of my own principal from grade school (though in retrospect her blond bob was winning). We do not want Vivien to be late for kindergarten. But, I realized that while I am pestering my daughter to put her shoes on, trying to shove cereal into the mouth of my 2-year-old, I am also yelling at the middle-aged man in the kitchen reading the paper, “Take your shower now.”

Most women will tell you when their husbands are out of town, though they miss the lovable lunk, it’s easier. There is no expectation of help, so there is no disappointment. My daughter was on time every day my husband was on his recent trip. No problem.

When I went out of town, did I return to a soiled house with a mountain of tardy slips? No. He did get her to school on time, with a lunch. Bedtimes went out the window, but otherwise things were fine. But I had a pre-trip meeting with him and pointed out that white blob on the kitchen wall otherwise known as the school lunch menu.

“I have crossed out the meals she will not eat. If I have not crossed it out then pack a snack and bottle of water.”

He took notes. I’m not kidding.

I just made up an informational packet for a trip for my husband and stepson are taking to visit colleges. It has maps, hotel reservations, places to eat, and contact information. I am preparing myself for when I get the call from the road telling me they are lost or got somewhere late.

It will go like this:

“But, all that information was in your packet.”

My husband will say, “Uh, I forgot it.”

I will then be the bitch as I hiss, “Why do I bother?”

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Tom: I am a cave dweller. I have an office in the third floor of our house with a couch. I like to sleep there, not just on weekends, but during the week as well (especially on Monday mornings). I have a job (kind of). I write about men and invest in a variety of companies. Sometimes I yell at people on the phone. But I no longer have a real office, which makes this whole question much more complex.

My wife sees things that are invisible to me. There are three kids in our house: a 17-year-old girl, and 15- and 6-year-old boys. The teenagers are mine by a prior marriage. They like their stepmom better than me, or at least they trust her more, because of this instinctual divining power she has: how to talk to a teenage girl about her first date without embarrassing her, how to coax a 6-year-old into drinking the pink medicine without holding his chest down and pouring it down his throat while he cries bloody murder, what to do with a massive pile of dirty clothes (other than kick it to a darker corner of the closet), how to throw a dinner party, how to deal with in-laws; the list is endless.

So the issue is two-fold: how does she deal with her superhuman powers and how do I pull even a fraction of my weight? There are times when my wife makes clear that I am checking out and she doesn’t appreciate it. The key for me at those moments is not to get defensive, not to go back into my cave and wall her off. I try to remember one thing, “I adore this women … I adore this woman … I adore this woman.” The mantra only works because it’s true. I adore the feel, the smell, and the look of this woman and all the little ways she makes me a better man and cares for our three kids.

But after the mantra, I actually have to get off that couch in my office and do something. Shop for groceries, drop the kids at school, talk about what color I’d choose if we redo the wallpaper in our bedroom (guys, I am not kidding, this is important shit). Give my son a bath. Make my wife laugh. Just about anything but crawl back into that my cave, which is my natural habitat.

It’s a daily battle and some days are better than others, but I am checking out just a little bit less today than I did yesterday. My kids are still nuts, but I adore them, and I adore my wife—and she seems to appreciate what I am trying to get done, which means I have an extra long nap coming to me in the very near future.

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Daphne: Hang on, Tom, you know you are checking out and you want to escape. Why? Not that I didn’t just rush off for an hour this evening with my gal pal for a cocktail because our kids were bugging us, but why can’t you stay engaged? Why can’t men see the invisible? If, God forbid, anything happened to your wife or ex-wife, would you find a way to talk about that date, or would your kids be like, “Yeah, growing up I just knew my old man wouldn’t figure it out.” (Yes, I was raised in the ’70s.)
I think men/husbands/dads know that us women folk will know how to pack a snack and know the right flavor of kid toothpaste to buy, so they throw up their hands and let us. Do I take pride in the fact that my kids and my stepson come to me for things they don’t come to their dad for? Damn straight—but that reward is also a burden, and I would like dads to wake up. If you don’t, we are going to import a robo-dad made in China who remembers which day is swim class and that my daughter hates peanut butter.

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Tom: Something about being a divorced dad, at least in my case, has made me obsessive-compulsive about being on time. My kids joke about how I’m always early. Someone told me soon after I got divorced with two baby children (and was shattered by the experience), that if I only got to see my kids a few times a week that I should never ever blow them off and I should always be on time—if not early. And that has carried over to the rest of my life some 15 years later. I am the one taking the kids to school most mornings and, yes, we are usually early.

When it comes to the more important things—like bedtimes, making sure our little one is progressing in his reading, and thinking proactively about family activities—I am a stereotypical couch potato. My wife is the one who can be trusted with such things, and she does occasionally remind me of what I should be doing if I wasn’t such a loafer. Guilty as charged.

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Daphne Brogdon is CoolMom; she is also a regular contributor to Momversation.com. A comic and TV host, she resides in L.A. with chef husband Mark Peel, two young children, and a teenage stepson.

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. I was once so lazy and “checked-out” that i fed my cat a tin of creamed corn instead of fancy feast. I am that lazy that instead of looking at a tin, I will just pull whatever feels tin-shaped off the shelf without even looking inside the cupboard.

    I am so lucky I am with someone who is actually organised and responsible. If it weren’t for him, I’d probably be in some sort of Dickensian debtor’s jail, banging my steel cup against my prison bars :(

  2. I’m just curious as to why this woman married someone she clearly feels is beneath her…but then acts as if that’s the norm (“most” women”). Seeing your husband as an extra child just seems to me like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    • Catullus says:

      Why? Why do so many women (eg, my daughter’s mother) think putting a package into a microwave counts as cooking. Why do so many women think it’s damaging to allow a child to read for an extra fifteen minutes instead of going to bed at exactly the time Mom expects them to?

      Men should step to the plate. These kids deserve better than their unmollifiable mothers.

  3. Personally I think some mothers feel they are the ones who need to do everything such as bed, bath, lunches, field trips, practices, etc. But while many of those same moms call for dads to do more, they don’t really mean it.

    Well, maybe they mean it but when dad does try to step up he does things different than mom. And that irks mom to no end. So instead of letting him find his own way, she comes in and takes over which kills dad’s confidence and makes him less apt to volunteer in the future. The end result is some women yelling at men for more help, but then criticizing their methods to the point they take on a martyr’s attitude and say “Oh fine I’ll just do it all myself.”

    If women want dads to “wake up” then they’ll have to learn to back off a tad.

    • Catullus says:

      As Laura Kipnis asks, “Do men need to grow up or do women need to lighten up?” I suspect a little of both.

  4. echoing Veronica’s comments- who on earth wants to be married to their Mom? Who wants to be married to a kid?

    I’m the sole income earner. My wife handles more kid duties than I do. However, if she goes out of town all we do is cross reference our calendars. She respects me enough to know that I will handle things my own way. I may take a little while longer to get my kid to the doctor’s appointment because I need to pull up directions to the pediatrician’s office but things still get done. I don’t need to call her and act like a hapless loser.

    Its demeaning to think your husband needs step by step lists and lectures to handle things while you’re out. So what if your wife notices things you don’t? Appreciate the differences but remain equals. I doubt she likes being placed on a pedestal above you.

    When my wife heads back to work I’m certainly not going to give her a list of how to behave in the working world. If she asks me a question I’ll give her my opinion but I know she’s got a great head on her shoulders already.

    This whole debate seems to be written with the premise that MOM = All Knowing and Good while DAD= hapless, yet loveable lunk. This attitude seems to pervade way too many of the articles on this site.

  5. This article is in the style of sit-coms and advertising.

    Mother perfect, dad Homer Simpson.

    Really, if men are the children.. why is a woman woken up by an alarm clock desigend and made by men, in a bed made and designed by men … and it continues like that through out her day till she goes to bed, every thing she touches, uses and makes her life easy, has been designed, built and maintained by men, but she doesn’t realize this.

    • Gosh, Mark, judging by your last paragraph I guess we women should just shut our mouths and thank our lucky stars that men have provided for us such cushy lives (not to mention all these great products!) so that we can go about our business of…doing absolutely nothing, since men have done it all already!

      Men should not be constantly portrayed in sitcoms and in advertising as these lunkheads, but suggesting that it’s this way because women essentially don’t “know their place” in this world is insulting.

      • Nah Veronica, I dont even know what “know their place” means – Im saying that, women collectively are oblivious to how much they rely on men, I, like any adult male can go though my life without having to rely on a woman, do I call women useless? No, adult women do go through life relying heavily on men, even the so called separatists rely heavily on men and have failed to create one single truly independent community, yet women bitching loudly and often about how useless and awful men are is the cultural norm, there is something very wrong there, don’t you think?

        • If you look up inventions by women, it’s really eye opening. Because of woman, you can drive in the rain. Because of a woman, people are more protected in combat. Because of a woman, x-rays exist. Do some research.

          • Well of course there are exceptions, and we all know about them, but my point remains

            look at this so called “cool-mom” bitching and putting her husband down over crap, not once does she mention where her standard of living is coming from, where she is getting her budget for all her vanity items and who is going to work themselves into an early grave paying for it all, and who she turns to if anything goes wrong – her husband or she might phone another man to come fix it.

        • I don’t see the point of this argument. Very few men or women would want to go through life in a single-gender world. Why would we do that? To prove a point?

          And the line that women could not survive on their own? Come on, now. What are these magical functions in a modern society that only a man can do? Of course we can manage alone, men and women alike. That’s not at all the issue. Thing is, we don’t want to – we want to live together, to share home and family and workplace and all kinds of stuff. Figuring out how to do that is the trick.

  6. As usual, the way women do things is The Only Way. Men are incapable of doing things right because the “right” way is defined here as “the way the wife does it.” Frankly, I’m of the opinion that women don’t really want their husband’s help (as an equal partner) what they actually want is the husband to recognise that he is in fact the junior parent in the household. In other words, they want help only in the sense that they won’t have to physically *do* everything, but they definitely do not want to give up any of the power that comes with it. Because with that power comes not only the knowledge that you are the REAL parent, (and the superior person in the relationship) but the ability to martyr yourself because you “do everything” around the house.

    Question to the wives here: Think of a chore around the house that your husband refuses to do (I’m sure there is one- laundry, dishes, cooking, whatever) Now think back to the first time your husband did that chore in your marriage, did you correct him at all? Did you redo everything he had done, but the “right” way?

    I’m betting you probably did.

    Eventually, men get sick of this and just stop doing it.

    Do men need to help out around the house more? Probably, but women also have a role in this development, too. They’re also at fault, and I’m getting a little sick of this not being recognised.

    But of course, you can never criticize a woman, can you? That would be sexist.

  7. This is an interesting debate. I was a devoted husband, father, and generally a family man. I am not god but beleive me i paid my dues because it was important to me. I took the kids to and from the babysitter for about 10 years, helped clean, or cleaned the house myself, made home cooked meals 75% of the time, took the kids to the playground on weekend mornings to let mom sleep longer, rarely missed an event for the kids, looked after the yard, renovated the house numerous times, etc… now after 20 years of marriage I am divorced. Just couldn’t keep her happy. moving on and making the best of it. I haven’t been screemed at or critcized for about 2 years, NOW THAT is a good feeling. if i can give any advice at all it would be to make sure as parents: you find time to spend with each other and reconnect what once was. I was told we can’t afford to go away, I say we can’t afford not too?

  8. Tom Matlack says:

    I dunno, I thought the point of this little exchange was to have a little fun and point out that sometimes stereotypes are true (women can be bitchy and guys can be checked out) but really that is okay, we can have a good marriage and be good parents despite all that. If you have read my columns with any regularity I am a huge advocate for fathers and try to be the most proactive dad I can possibly be in my own life to my 3 kids. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes want to be alone and sometimes my desire to be alone conflicts with the way my wife views what I should be doing. Conflict is part of life, marriage and parenting. I really don’t think sugar coating it helps. I do think laughing about it does. Daphne is professional comedian (watch the video at the top of the piece with her kid reading my piece on raising boys) so the idea here wasn’t to make some dramatic sweeping generalization about all of man and womankind. Just swap some war stories and kid around.

    • Sure, Tom – but you can’t be surprised that this is a topic close to heart for a lot of people. How we behave – in terms of communication, activity, attitude, etc – around responsibility for home and kids *is* important to the climate of our relationships. And as many have found, it’s not easy – esp. when there’s kids around.

      Kid around or not – the stereotypes are out there, and because for many they’re in out faces, every day, it’s a trigger.

      I guess the mistake many of us make is hoping “it will all work out”. In my experience communication is needed, and a lot of it. As you say, sugar coating won’t work. Knowing who you are and being honest about it helps. Be clear about where you are at any give time helps. And – frankly – being clear that on evening where I prefer to go sit with a book and my headphones on and not talk or do stuff, it not because of some stereotypical male behaviour – it’s because of a perfectly valid need *I* have. Humour is great, but unfortunately humour is also sometimes one of the mechanisms that end up creating boxes for “male” and “female”; humour can be terribly normative.

    • Johnny_B says:

      I get it, and it’s pretty harmless as far as articles go, but it really does go into sitcom-stereotype territory, aka wife as all-knowing domestic goddess, husband/male children as lovable yet dimwitted and unable to fend for themselves. It just doesn’t agree with a lot of people’s realities, as you can see by some of the reactions.

    • Catullus says:

      Thanks for the clarification. We probably should have caught the tongue-in-cheek character of this piece. Then again, GMP does give space to the likes of Amanda Marcotte, so….

  9. I read this article yesterday and I kept coming back to this question… Why does she need to tell him to shower. He’s a grown man. What happens if she doesn’t? Surely he’s not so lost he wouldn’t make it to work?

    I have issues with treating men (or my husband) as a child. I think sometimes, when people do choose to treat their relationships this way, that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. She thinks he only does it because she yells. He wishes she’d stop yelling and does it anyway. Is the yelling necessary?

    If he would totally blank and miss work because he’s too lost to shower, then sure. I see the frustration. But if it’s just not happening in the manner she decides, that doesn’t really make him a child.

    And I take exception to the “most women” reference. If that’s the relationship that both of you are existing in, that’s your choice. But I don’t think it’s fair or accurate to assume that the writer and her group of friends comprises “most women.”

  10. on the comedy side of life, women , some say you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. I say if you want to be alone for a while then knock yourself out baby. This ain’t no dress rehersal, you only go around the loop once. cherish the moments together and work through the rest

  11. It comes down to human kindness and acceptance. I know my wound up ways drive my husband nuts, just like his laying around with his hand down his pants when we have to leave for Disney in one hour make me want to stab my eyes out with a fork.

    He accepts me, I talk myself into accepting him.

    It’s a choice.

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