“Tell me,” the wife of one of my husband’s friends began a recent phone conversation, “that you do not start your husband’s car for him every morning.” “Oh, of course not,” I told her. “Only on cold mornings I do.” Astonished silence met my ears. The discussion that followed reminded me of one that took place at Faith & Family Live where Catholic women discussed the idea of a wife taking care of her appearance in order to please her husband.
Many women supported the idea, but some also rejected the notion out of hand. Angrily, I might add. Why do many women have a viscerally vicious response to the idea that a wife should do nice things for her husband? Are we not supposed to love the men we marry? Do we not, as individuals and as a society, demand that husbands do nice things for their wives? Why is the reciprocation offensive? Mocking men is so prevalent in American culture, you can follow its evolution on television. It started with Clair Huxtable on The Cosby Show back in the 1980s. We laughed as Clair caught her husband in all manner of childlike misbehaviors — from sneaking junk food to social gaffes. The mocking reached new heights in the 1990s, with Debra Barone’s biting remarks aimed at her husband on Everybody Loves Raymond. These days, the stereotype has become cliché in cell-phone commercials where the father figure is a bumbling buffoon whose all-knowing wife and children tolerate his incompetence with superior benevolence.
One cultural consequence of this mockery is that many women, even those in happy marriages, are fond of comparing the men in their lives to children. “He’s my biggest baby,” I often hear moms joke about their husbands.
“Really?” I want to ask. “You mean you have a child who cleans the gutters and makes sure your health insurance premiums are paid on time? A child who promised before God to love and honor you, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?” I am forever championing the cause of modern day mom-heroes. I do my best to encourage young mothers in the trenches by telling them that devoting their lives day in and day out to the service of their families is ultimately a great gift to God.
But I’m not sure anyone does that for Catholic dads who might be struggling with the financial stresses of raising a family, co-workers who challenge their faith, and a secular world filled with temptation.
Even as we wives and mothers demand recognition for every successfully changed diaper and cleanly swept floor, I think we could do a better job of offering that same level of recognition to the men in our lives. I worry sometimes that we women are so busy patting ourselves on the back that we fail to appreciate the contributions Catholic husbands and fathers make to our families, to our Church, and to our culture.
I was reminded to appreciate male contributions the other night while listening to the sound of smoke alarms beeping in the house.
There was no need to evacuate. You see, our smoke detectors are wired electrically, but they have back-up batteries. When the back-up batteries get old or begin to run low, the detectors do this really handy thing where they beep to remind you. All of them at once. Every 18 seconds. Usually beginning at 2:30 in the morning. That night, as I lay partially awake discovering this fact and reveling in the convenience of it all, I heard a thump at the end of my bed. I opened my eyes and saw my husband Dan standing there with a ladder. He spent the next ten minutes balanced precariously on the ladder, fumbling with a screwdriver in the dark, and replacing the batteries. Then he moved on to the next smoke detector, and then the next one, until at last the house was quiet again. When he returned to bed, I might have mumbled a thank you, but there was no thunderous applause. No band played. There were no high-fives. This was just an every-day dad doing what every-day dads do: whatever needs doing — in the middle of the night, and with no expectation that anyone will even be awake enough to thank him for it. My hero.