I wrote a letter to my wife a few weeks ago about the difference between being a good man, good father, and a good husband. It was written on the heals of me being a “bad” husband yet again. The letter was born from an epiphany which came as a result of an argument where neither one of us was being heard but mostly I wasn’t listening.
The epiphany was this: Being a good dad and a good person is NOT the same as being a good husband.
Surely this is wrong, I thought. How could I have missed something so obvious. Maybe this is common knowledge to other men but I honestly never made the connection.
I wasn’t bad in the sense that I cheated on her or abused her physically, mentally, or emotionally. No, my offense was that I couldn’t understand the message(s) she was trying to communicate and instead of hearing the words she was saying I acted like a child… a 5 yr old according to our marriage counselor.
To be clear I wasn’t acting like any ole’ 5 year old. I was acting like 1986 me when I assumed the responsiblity for making an unhappy family happy; my first foray into becoming a co-dependant. I was the child who continued to be calm, loving, and even funny in the face of divorces, suicides, and alcoholism. I was the fixer of all emotionally broken things with an ill-equipped tool box filled with only cute smiles and simple reassuring words like “Its ok mommy” (I still love you) or “it’s ok dad” (I’m not disappointed or hurt).
Fast forward to the first year into my second marriage and I found myself, again, doing everything I knew how to do to keep a family happy. My toolbox was still woefully inadequate. I became agitated when it wasn’t enough. I felt helpless and frantic trying to understand why I wasn’t enough while at the same time emphitacally making the case that I was enough.
In reality I am enough and this wasn’t the message that was being delivered. But then again what does a 5 yr old understand about being married? How well does a 5 year old comprehend the intricacies of a woman’s mind?
5yr old me vs. 35yr old me
5 year old me: I’m smiling… is she buying it?
35 year old me: Should I be smiling or frowning? Fuck it, I’ll smile… is she buying it?
Quite often my wife induces feelings in me so strong and positive that I need to express them. Feelings of love, support, comfort, and desire. In these moments I love to write her or speak to her about the feelings in long heart felt narrations.
I still lust after her too. She’s not so much the skimpy clothes wearing flirtatious kinda sexy. She’s more of the smart and confident type of sexy. The type of sexy that gets more appealing as she grows as a person and a wife… she’s also fucking hot. She has soft brown skin and a silhouette that awakes the animalistic instinct in me to pounce! In a completely respectful, loving, and tender way of course.
She also invokes anger, resentment, and sadness. Anger that makes me withdraw, resentment that makes me lash out, and sadness that makes me plead for a solution to end the pain.
When I had the epiphany I was somewhere in the anger/resentment/sadness zone, a 5yr old scrambling to understand a situation he was ill equipped to deal with. I wanted to withdraw but I was lashing out. I was lashing out but also desperately trying to come to a resolution. I was frantic.
Finally I said it, quietly with a barely recognizable twinge of sarcasm that could have been read as anger or sadness. “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll do more. I’ll keep doing more. I’ll keep doing more not because I think it will work or make a difference.” Fuck, I thought, this is teetering on sounding like my marriage vows. I continued… “I’ll keep working at this and do what you’re asking me to do because working is what I know how to do. I’ll do more because I promised you in my marriage vows that I would.” Son of a bitch, I litterally just quoted my vows. I caught it but I wasn’t sure if it broke through the wall she had just built to protect herself. Before I got out of bed I made sure I got the last word, “But not today, today I’m not in that place”.
I got out of bed, hugged my daughter, and as my heart started to soften I started brewing coffee for my wife but my head was still spinning. Suddenly a few questions started rattling in my head.
What was she asking for? Simple; She wants me to be the boyfriend she fell in love with. Write her love notes, take her on dates, make her coffee, and protect her body, mind, and soul. Cherish her and not only take care of her but make her feel taken care of. She wants me to make her a priority and make her feel loved. She expects this everyday not just on date night or on vacation, every single day.
You might read “simple” from above and think you’re catching sarcasm but you’re not, I’m dead serious. In reality it turns out that I’m a fucking brilliant boyfriend. Perhaps I even over-sold myself. But, ‘it’s too late to turn back now’. I signed on the dotted line and made vows pledging that she deserves my best self and that I will always work to be that for her and that I will support her to be her best self. See, brilliant… now I just need to figure out what the hell that actually looks like inside a marriage and what it requires of me.
Coffee still in progress, I still wasn’t sure if I was pissed or not. I wasn’t even sure if I had answered her honestly when she asked if I was being sarcastic and I said “no”… sarcastically. But a feeling started to grow in me. I replayed all the times I emphatically said to her “I’m a good person”, “what more do you want from me?”, “we do go out”, “we just got back from vacation”… etc.
I started asking myself other questions:
- Was I really a good man?
- Was my dad a good man?
- Was my dad a good husband?
- Can a good man be a bad husband?
- Could a good husband be a bad man?
I didn’t and still don’t presume to know the answers to these questions. But I do know my dad was a great man. I’m fairly confident I’m a good dad and good person. I’m also quite certain I don’t have many examples of what a good husband is.
However, if they are all 3 mutually exclusive it does explain a lot. It explains why my Mom divorced the most significant man in my life. In fact it’s probably why a lot of great men find themselves divorced. Great men who are great to their children yet their wife’s leave them. Before you go all nuts I will acknowledge that some men are assholes from top to bottom… but so are some ladies so let’s get back to reading about me.
These thoughts were rambling, incoherent, and after 15 minutes of spinning thoughts I decided to write them down. I’m not going to share the letter as it was personal from me to my wife but the basis is below.
—caution: metaphor ahead—
I realized that, in this house, I need to be the rock. I need to be steady and consistent. As her husband, she comes first and I come last (people with dirty minds, I request the highest of 5’s please). Again, my role is to be the foundation or perhaps a better metaphor is that I am the soil that the foundation is built on. The soil needs to be taken care of and can be cultivated and molded as needed. At the same time the soil needs to be hearty and promote growth. The best soil is flexible and easy to maintain. The best soil is the type of soil that is healthy from the start. A good farmer recognizes what the soil can do and what it can’t.
I am the soil, I am base with which my marriage can can grow roots. I am the soil in which my wife and daughter can feel safe to secure themselves too. My wife is maybe the farmer who saw potential in me that I didn’t.
It dawns on me that it is possible for me to be a good co-worker, great dad, good person, and a
shitty… subpar… imperfect husband. I can grow X but in order to grow Y I need to be willing to be cultivated.
But I was a great boyfriend. She said it herself so the logic follows that a good boyfriend makes a good husband which means she’s wrong and you just wasted a bunch of time reading this.
Good day to you.
Or… a boyfriend and a husband are different too? Nah, when we were dating it was just the oxytocin speaking. The love drug wore off but I’m still exactly the same, she just can’t see it.
Yup, I’m right you wasted your time.
But husbands and wives share homes… they share finances… the time is limitless vs finite i.e. “til death do you part” vs. “it’s not you, its me”.
Shit, nevermind, you can come back.
So I spun for a while, played a little bit of denial, but eventually came to the conclusion that there was something to my gut feeling.
If I am willing to listen to my wife and be receptive to changing my perceptions then I’ve got a fighting chance. I can’t look at my wife as a girlfriend with shared financial responsibilities because she’s more than that and if she’s more than that then I need to be more than that.
I think that this is where the learning begins, this is maybe where our relationship starts on a new chapter.