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?
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?”
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.
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.