My Wife Is a Chauvinist Attorney,
I Stay Home
by Ralph Mustard
After our second child was born my wife and I re-evaluated our job situations.
As a government attorney she was making almost $70,000 a year, and I was
making $35,000 as a fund raiser for an educational non-profit organization.
I am a minister and we could have moved to any one of a number of places where
I was offered a job. There my wife could have worked part time and had
more time to be with the children (our older child was then almost 7).
But she wanted to stay with her job, for very good reasons, eg. job satisfaction,
retirement benefits, etc.
Our child care was costing us almost my entire salary, after deducting
taxes. It was a job in which I primarily used the telephone to follow up
on fund raising solicitations. For me there was virtually no job satisfaction.
Since I was almost 50 and had wanted to work from home and be with the
children more, it was logical that I should become the child care person.
Needless to say, I was not very confident that I could do an adequate job.
I had the prospect of several clients and hoped to be able to at least
earn my salary, plus save the child care expenses, and come out with a
financial and emotional net gain.
The result has been a financial bust, an emotional catastrophe with
my wife, and a most wonderful series of experiences with my children. In
fact, these have been the most rewarding experiences of my life.
On the money side it's simple: my clients got me to do lots of work
and did not pay. After almost three and a half years I have a very high accounts receivable
and no income. While my wife's salary really could cover our basic expenses,
our income is now about half that of the middle class in our urban city
where the poverty level starts at $28,000. Being only about $12,000 over
poverty, we manage to arrange a short fall every month, so that the home
equity debt is mounting.
Not one single day passes without me hearing a
litany of condemnations for not being a partner who can come to the table
with a fair share of the earnings.
With the children I have discovered that I am much more the nurturing
grandfather I loved than I am the stern father I feared. Every day, after
I pick the children up from school, we have a variety of activities: playing
with friends, going to the library for story time, going bowling, golfing,
ice skating, or reading together. Admittedly these things are fun.
I make no effort to disguise my delight. It feels as though I am doing
exactly the things I most love--this is my bliss.
My child care is my wife's nightmare. She has no joy, celebration, or
even glimmer of happiness in what I am doing with the children. This is
usually wrapped in the money gripes: "I wish I could goof around all
day and not work. I was snookered with this 'having the privilege of work'
stuff. Being a lawyer is not such a great thing--there's lots of pressure
and you have to work really hard."
I am very sympathetic to her complaints. I have sent out hundreds of
resumes with cover letters and only got one interview after I followed up
the letter with dropping by the office a number of times. Either white
males over 50 are dead on arrival or my several career capabilities are
down in the market. Naturally my wife expects not only that I will work
but that I will be the one who stays home with the kids when they are sick,
out of school for the many teacher preparation days, and holidays. She
cannot accept the possibility that: -a. I am doing something
of value for our family which should in part have the status of work,
and -b. getting a job is not easy for someone of my age.
The situation is painful for my wife and for me, and increasingly for
our children who are pushed toward being accomplices in my wife's anger
(she is also going through menopause). Yet it reminds me so much of what
I heard from women when I was serving as the minister in a church. The
man was uniformly unappreciative of what the wife did at home, complained
bitterly about any money she spent, even on the children's clothes, was
constantly wondering what she did all day, and resented the time she spent
with friends at the health club/lunch/tennis (confession: in good weather
I try and play tennis on a regular basis).
Being male or female no longer seems to be the root of the struggle.
The struggle over money and over time with the children is rooted in our
human fallibility, as Paul Ricoeur would say, or in our capacity for evil.
None of us are who we want to be, and the task of integrating all the broken
pieces of our lives overwhelms us. Focusing on the other, the one who is
responsible for our inability to do and to be whoever we wish to be is,
as Sartre taught us, to externalize the evil in our lives and to then label and blame
that which is outside of us. I am reminded of the 12 step process of Alcohol Anonymous,
which says (as do some central religious teachings): Attend to your own salvation for you must come to death alone.
My wife wants to feel appreciated; I want to feel appreciated. We had
been to therapy on three different occasions for between six months to
a year each time. We both know that this is the classical "push/pull"
in which both want the same thing at the same time and neither can agree
to take turns. It is the dilemma we try to resolve with our children by
the age of five. Yet now neither of us cares. The fact that my wife slept
with the first child for the first five years profoundly disturbed me;
the fact that she is still sleeping with the second child after five and
a half years almost has ceased to bother me. I have slept in a separate
room for that time. There is no emotional or physical intimacy. There is
nothing that I do which merits anything but harsh condemnation, with the
singular exception of cleaning out the basement. I have tuned out. We are
together because we both refuse to leave, because we both want to be with
the children and because neither of us is convinced that divorce is an
When I first starting picking up the children four years ago, there
were almost no men doing the pick up and the women gathered in their chat
groups could not seem to figure out what I was doing there. "Are you
retired?" asked one. "Do you intend to continue doing child care,
or do you plan to go back to work?" asked another. Now there are a
number of men doing the pick up, men who work at home as film makers, artists,
writers, investment advisers, housing consultants. I have never asked them
if it is going well. Men do not talk as easily between themselves as women
do. If it was my wife all of the tough stuff would have been on the table
in the first ten minutes. I am curious to know if other men are suffering
as they attempt to enter a traditional female preserve. Are other women
treating their at-home husbands as badly as their mothers felt they were
As my five year old and I got ready to pick up a friend for ice skating
on another of our many teacher preparation days, my wife called out as
she left the house, insuring the last word:
"Just get a job, bring
some money home, then maybe I can have a little time to be with my children!"
I hear her, and certainly will do everything I can to find work. Having
my face constantly rubbed in my "joblessness" in front of the
kids, especially when it is called laziness, leaves me with the recurring
wish to get a job, get my own apartment, file for divorce, force the sale
of the house, and require that she pay half of the child care expenses--just
exactly what many women in the church told me they wished they could do,
and it seems to me to be for the same reason: powerlessness and humiliation.
I have one job prospect which would pay $14,000 after taxes. It would
require having both children in after school. "Just take any job,"
she exclaims. That's what I did when I took the fund raising job, just
to have an income while the baby was born and she was on maternity leave.
I accepted one half of my former salary; now I don't seem to get one quarter
of my former salary. It was only last month my wife and I listened very
sympathetically to a mutual woman friend in exactly my situation. She complained
about her husband having been so insensitive as to insist that she get
a job now that their only child was in Junior High.
"It's not the same at all," my wife explained: "Her house
looks beautiful, although she doesn't cook. Her husband brings in real
money, over $200,000 a year. You hardly vacuum once a week, all you ever
make is pasta, you have to be told to do the children's laundry, and while
you usually do the plumbing jobs, I really hate that crazy electric switch
you put in my bathroom." There seems to be no exit. Where is George
Bernard Shaw when we need him?
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