(Related note: We're building some momentum on instagram, and I'd be delighted if you'd join us...(#showyourreal) Whether that means laughing at life's imperfect moments, showing off your messy backseat, or being honest that you're rocking the same outfit for two days straight.)
Sharing HIS real today is my good friend Brian. I met Brian about eight years ago, when he was teaching at the same school as Dustin. I was away for school during Dustin's first six months living in Cincinnati, so he was forced to get out on his own and make some friends. Thankfully, Brian was able to take him under his wing (and by that- I mean let him sit as his lunch table) and they've been fast friends ever since (Brian's wife and I were taken into the fold soon after). It's common with "couple friends" for the wives and husbands to pair off to gab about gender specific things, and there is a fair bit of that when the four of us get together, but what I've always valued about Brian is that he can go toe-to-toe with anyone on things like tennis stats, LeBron trivia, and fraternity stories (and will. You've been warned...) but he has a soft side that try as he might...he's unable to hide. There are times when he could be described as a beer swilling, fantasy football playing, adolescent humor enjoying dude, but he's defined by the sensitive and sincere way he listens, encourages, and loves those around him. I'm proud to have my friend a snippet of his heart and life with you today.
Hi. I’m the Y chromosome in the room. I mean, I think I need to address the elephant in the room, and get it out of the way early. Yes, I’m THAT guy, the English major who SO wanted to be invited to your all-girls book club, not because I love a good Merlot, but because even in today’s metrosexual world it’s hard to find other guys who will willingly read books and talk about them. The guy who cringes when Dustin wants to talk power tools because I have no idea what a flange is or why in the world I need to own my own air compressor. But regardless, when Courtney invited me to participate in her reindeer games I was all-in. And over the past few weeks I have been privy to a world of real, and so I hope to return the candor those before me have shared.
To give you a sense of my humor, every time Courtney references her this series, to me it brings back old Dave Chappelle skits. Go ahead and click on one or two. Invariably the main character, in an effort to keep it real, has a horrific tragedy befall them. Unemployment, lost spouse, etc. It appears all the other authors have come out of this relatively unscathed, so I guess I will venture forth and be as real as I can be.
My ‘real’ consists of marrying my college girlfriend, re-inventing myself professionally as we’ve relocated several times for my wife’s advancement at her job, and helping raise our two kids (Megan, age 5 and Colin, 22 months). Jillian is far and away the breadwinner in our family. Something I strongly encourage and fully support. We married a year after college and both had strong, stable jobs but when she had an opportunity at a promotion we both knew she viewed her job as a career whereas I saw mine as just a job. So it was easy for us to relocate for her career, and I’ve been happily doing it since.
In March, we happened to be on a Spring Break trip with some friends of ours when the topic of
balance at home came up. It was in that moment that as a group we started divvying up parenting tasks and internally I began to feel like our friends were judging us with some sort of mental scoreboard:
Who cooks dinner? She does (but I do the dishes). Who makes the doctor’s appointment? She does (but I actually go to a lot of them). Who feeds them breakfast in the morning? She does (okay, I hate mornings. You got me there.) Who picks out their clothes in the morning? She does (but I get Colin dressed while she showers). Who does the laundry? Whew, we both do (Finally, I felt like I did something.)
To my friend’s wife, I could almost feel the imagined daggers shooting from her eyeballs at me as if I had somehow kidnapped my wife and through some type of Stockholm Syndrome convinced her to do all my bidding. And in the moment I felt like shit. I had to deal with the internal struggle of thinking about if I was taking advantage of Jill. I thought about Courtney’s quote about marriage and how a good one should have both people feeling like they are getting the better end of the deal. I had to deal with a sobering thought of wondering if I was doing enough.
And to be really real, the answer is probably no. I undoubtedly do expect a lot from Jillian, unfairly so at times. But over the course of that March day I got angry that other questions weren’t being asked. As if the role of parent/spouse is relegated to duties and chores. I get it’s a major aspect, but questions that didn’t get asked as we kept score were: Who plays Hungry Hungry Hippos and Uno with his kids? I DO. Who creates forts, draws pictures, plays the role of family photographer, and teaches them to hit tennis balls and kick soccer balls? I DO. Who plans family vacations? I DO. Who creates make-believe stories with the bath toys and reads for almost a half-hour every night to them? I DO. Who rubs his wife’s feet at night, brings home flowers unexpectedly, arranges babysitters, checks the parenting blogs in town for fun weekend activities? I DO.
Don’t those things count too? I realize those are seen by others as the ‘fun’ things, but why can’t my strengths be rewarded too? Jillian is an amazing leader because she is organized, remembers details, and is a type A person who is good at controlling situations. Why wouldn’t I allow her to handle the things she is better at than me?
Conversely, I am a clown. My strengths are in harmony, empathy, and positivity. Why not use my strengths to help create opportunities to connect with both my wife and kids at various levels.
But my wife’s job also forces her to travel a lot. She was gone 45 days last year and is on pace for 60 this year. That’s 1/6th of the year. So obviously dinner is my deal on those days, as is breakfast, as is … well … to be totally real, most times before my wife travels she lays out my kids clothes in advance and even pre makes meals and freezes them for us. Look, I’m spoiled, I get it. But I promise I do DO stuff. I think.
Later that night, my wife and I during our pillow talk time discussed that neither one of us felt like our system was broken to us, I think in part, because she does value those talents I bring to parenting and vice versa. I think my friend’s wife was appalled because it didn’t fit into her viewpoint of what fair and equitable is for her. But that’s because she’s viewing our relationship through a different lens.
A few weeks ago at church we were in the midst of a series on the 7 deadly sins and the day’s teaching was on envy. And I made a mental note about it because of this series. Because I find myself ‘keeping score’ in my own life. And I’m not envious in the sense I’m actively rooting for you all to fail in your parenting struggles. I mean, I’m envious of Court with her chalkboard walls and themed-parties complete with photo booths. Or Jami last week and her super kick-ass and not-at-all safe cardboard slide staircase of fun. Or of Julie and her ability to know she HAS TO ASK her husband to do things and does it instead of internalizing what might be minor issues at first but become larger issues. I’m ‘envious’ of all of that. I don’t want to trade families with anybody though. They are moments in time that if I’m being real, say more about me and my feelings of inadequacy at times of not doing more. But I’m guessing we all do that to some degree with the people around us. We constantly judge ourselves, our relationships, our parenting skills and everything else to what those around us are doing without stopping to breathe for a minute and wonder if what we ‘wish we were’ is any better than ‘who we are.’
I’m envious of Courtney’s chalkboards and designer chic style but in all honesty can I truly replicate that? No way. It’d be like trying to write my name with my opposite hand. It wouldn’t work because it would be awkward and unnatural. Same with trying to replicate someone else’s talents.
So through this series I’ve learned a lot about people’s real, but for me it’s also been about using this experience to accept MY real. And to truly own it. I need to have better communication with my wife about the day-to-day. I need her to feel safe to be real with me about what her wants are, like Julie did.
I know this sort of meandered away from the day-to-day. Honestly, we just try to survive in the moment. My son demands three breakfasts and if his dinner is not ready by 5:30 he throws tantrums that old men at a Denny’s would be proud of. But he also gives the best hugs and says the funniest things. My daughter seems like the biggest grown-up 5-year-old I’ve ever met. She’s a huge help with her brother and the best part of my day is reading with her at bedtime. There’s just something about the 20 minutes of cuddling with her, seeing her ask questions, helping her see the joy a book can bring, and having some one-on-one time with her that’s magical. And yes, on average, I fall asleep while reading to her about twice a week and she has to shake me awake. That’s real.