An Unruly Boxer Stresses a Marriage

New parents neglect the dog to messy consequences .

Cruising down the home stretch of a six-hour drive from Dallas to Emporia, Kansas, we exited the turnpike and pulled into Applebee’s.

I don’t make a habit of waking up before sunrise on Saturday and driving my family six hours to lunch at a franchise restaurant. The Emporia Applebee’s simply marks the halfway point between our home in Texas and my parents’ in Iowa, a fair meeting place. The health of my marriage hinged on my parents accepting our family boxer, Elvis.

Throughout nineteen months of wedded bliss there had been few contentious arguments. This is to say that I fold like a lawn chair on every issue where unpleasantness might brew beneath the surface.

It’s as though my wife is a great runner in baseball who can steal a base at any time, and my defensive approach is to let her go and casually toss the ball back to the pitcher, believing that we’re better off dealing with the next batter. Our marriage is a constant stream of aggressive base running and defensive indifference.

As her desire to live in a dog-free house intensified, however, I continued to step off the mound and look her back to the bag. Knowing my success rate, it was critical I never let getting rid of Elvis escalate beyond a hypothetical case.

♦◊♦

We bought Elvis as a puppy at a flea market shortly after our wedding. My wife spotted him, I talked her out of the purchase, then talked her into going back the next day for reasons still unknown. It sounded like the beginning of an All-American love story if I’d ever heard one.

But after our son was born, a battle began raging inside our home between my wife and Elvis.

I wanted our son to grow up with a dog. I didn’t want to budge on this. Unfortunately, we were failing as dog owners. Maybe because we were overly protective of our infant son. Maybe because parenthood exposed us as dog-likers when we’d once thought of ourselves dog-lovers. Either way, Elvis became the unintended victim of our time constraints.

Lacking attention, Elvis protested by destroying everything in his path. I tried to take him for more walks, but my efforts proved futile. My wife kept expressing her impatience.

It was only a matter of time until she broke for second base. I tried to throw her out this time, but Elvis intercepted the ball and chewed it to shit, just like every other goddamn thing in the house.

My wife continuously voiced her increased stress over Elvis’s outbursts. Elvis was an unintended victim of our constrained time; the consequence of his angst was general disorder in the house. While I was at work, my wife was now tasked with taking care of the baby, taking online nursing courses, and cleaning up Elvis’ mess. As much as I wanted to succeed as a dog owner, it broke my heart to se her so frustrated. It wasn’t fair. I agreed to accept my parents’ offer to take Elvis.

When we handed Elvis over, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d let him down and deprived my son of the opportunity to grow up with the unique bond a boy shares with his first dog. I was nearly halfway through the potato skins on the appetizer sampler before I was able to shake the guilt.

My wife’s happiness is more important than my pride as a pet-owner. She is home with the baby while I work a full-time job. I owed it to her to do everything in my power to make that job easier and more enjoyable.

In the weeks since Elvis moved to the farm—a real one, not the “farm” where many children are told their castoff pets run happy and free—our life has been exponentially better. We never come home to a disaster in the kitchen; our patio doesn’t smell like a boarding kennel, and most importantly, my wife smiles more.

Thank goodness I never get to make the big decisions. It turns out man’s best friend is actually a happy wife.

This essay originally appeared, in slightly different form, in Pureed Green Beans and Whiskey

Photo by MythicSeabass

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About Blake Friis

Blake is a writer and first-time father living in Dallas, TX. When not pushing a stroller aimlessly around Target or cowering in fear of a baby, he is documenting those misadventures at Pureed Green Beans and Whiskey. You can follow Blake on Twitter at @BlakeFriis.

Comments

  1. “Elvis” … cool name. We are animal lovers and I’m sorry you had to give up the dog. But dogs are a hand full and I can understand your wife’s point of view because in some ways I can relate. Dogs can be great for kids. One of the saddest days in my life was when our Golden Retriever (Billy Bob – Named after Billy Bobs in Texas) passed away.

    In the parking lot of the veterinary where he passed, I was hold my teen son, as he was crying he said to me, “Dad, you don’t understand, I lost my first best friend.” It broke my heart but I realized how important a pet can be to kids. Retrievers are just that … they love to retrieve. For example he was outstanding in that he helped my son with his swing. Unless you had a basket of baseballs, you’d be chasing and bringing back balls for hours. But with Billy, he waited patiently as my son hit the ball deep so that he could do what he did best, bring the ball back. He taught my son many things.

    Although I was also heartbroken, I could only feel the pain my son was going through. Months later, though I was determined not to have to go through that ever again, my daughter who worked at a kennel came home with a Golden pup that I fell in love with at first site. Ernie is now 9 years old and a big part of the family.

    We are a pet friendly family. With my daughter working at a kennel/animal hospital there was a time that we had three dogs, three cats, a black rat, and a parrot. Animals take a lot of work especially when your kids are young and are learning.

    If you ever get to a point where you would reconsider getting a dog, personally I would recommend a Golden Retriever. Major love dogs and are super great with kids. BTW, you didn’t let your son down nor did you let Elvis down. He’s in a good home and your home simply isn’t ready to have a dog. Don’t over think it. What you have shown in this article is that men have big hearts and we’re really not the uncaring people want to paint us as.

    • Blake Friis says:

      Wow! Thank you for sharing, Tom. I appreciate the recommendation. We would definitely like to regroup and have another dog one day, especially when our son is old enough to form the bond you describe.

      One thing the experience has taught me is when it comes to our children, there are no small decisions or safe assumptions. I never thought we would be tested the way we were, but it is an experience to grow on and learn from.

      Thanks, again, for sharing such a personal and relatable story.

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