I’ve always said that men can be hugely benefited from spending a few years living on their own before getting married. On their own as in alone, not ‘on their own’ with their roommates on campus, or ‘on their own’ with their live-in girlfriends. On their own alone, paying all the bills, running all the errands, taking care of themselves and their affairs without any help from mommy and daddy. I did this for five years before I met my wife, and I still think it was one of the most valuable periods of my life.
With that said, there are some pitfalls. One of them, for me anyway, is that I got very good at living like a bachelor. I learned to streamline things. I learned the shortcuts. I learned to live in relative filth and disarray, because, hey, it’s just me and my imaginary friend here, and he doesn’t care about the mess. Eventually, like any self-respecting bachelor, I started using only paper plates and plastic utensils to avoid washing dishes. I would buy new packs of socks and underwear to avoid going to the laundromat. If something broke, I would just stop using it, problem solved. I got used to being lazy. And then I got married.
I try to fight off the lazy urge, but it’s been a struggle. I do ‘help around the house,’ but I’m probably illustrating the problem by writing that I ‘help around the house’ like I deserve credit for it. I’m as much responsible for the dirty dishes as my wife is, I’m just as capable of changing a diaper as she is, and there’s nothing written in the heavens saying that only she should vacuum the carpet. So I know that when I don’t do these things, I’m sending a message that I should be allowed to check out and enter into some kind of vegetative state while she continues working until the work is done. Families take effort, so when I refuse to exert it, I am to some extent refusing to be a part of the family. It makes sense that our wives get upset about that attitude. It make sense that something as ‘small’ as not ‘helping around the house’ could ultimately destroy a marriage. It destroys it because we aren’t participating in it. We have no right to be lazy husbands. Family is work, marriage is work, life is work, and it’s our job to do it all without complaint.
I guess all of these things are connected. The lazy man is likely a passive man, but not definitely. He could put plenty of effort toward doing chores and keeping everything in order, but be otherwise apathetic to the spiritual and emotional welfare of his family. I do believe, despite modern sentiments to the contrary, that men are called to be leaders in the home. We can’t sit back and allow things to just happen, leaving a leadership void that must be filled by our wives. Wives who, no matter how feminist or progressive they consider themselves, really do not want a man who won’t lead. No woman does.
I’m learning a lot about being a leader for my family. I’m learning about it the hard way, mostly. I guess when I was younger there might have been a time — despite the awesome example of true leadership that my own dad provided — when I thought of ‘the man leads’ as a sort of arrogant privilege. It’s tempting to see it that way, especially before we actually get married and have kids and feel the burden of carrying their physical and spiritual well being like Christ carried His cross up that mountainside.
What I’ve come to understand is that leadership is a responsibility, not an entitlement. It’s something we are called to do with humility and love, as servants, not as emperors. I’ve learned why men are tempted to pass the buck on to their wives or even their children, and I’ve learned why that can be such a devastating choice. But I’ve also learned the joy of embracing that leadership role, however imperfectly, and accepting the vocation that all husbands and fathers are called to.
The truth is, I worry all the time about my family. I worry about keeping them fed, and housed, and comfortable; I worry about their salvation; I worry about their happiness; I worry about their safety. I worry that I’ll fail them, that I’ll disappoint them, that I’ll drop the ball at the most important moment. These anxieties can be suffocating and overwhelming, and I sometimes feel like I’m not cut out to be what I irreversibly am; like I’m not qualified to be the leader of anything, much less a family. But the good news is that I’m right: I’m not qualified. I don’t have what it takes. If I try to be dad and husband all on my own, I’ll falter. It’s fortunate, then, that I’m not doing this alone — God is here. He is the true leader, and in the end my only job is to point us in His direction.
So in my worries, I know that He is the Answer. And if I ever stop searching for Him amidst all of this, if I become passive and apathetic, I will have finally failed my wife, and our marriage will be in dire straits.
I’ve run afoul of the ‘gaming community’ on more than one occasion, so I hope this doesn’t get me in trouble with them again. But it must be said that our wives married grown ups (allegedly) and grown ups should moderate the amount of time they spend playing with toys. I’m not suggesting that we husbands should never play video games, although I myself rarely feel the urge. We all have hobbies and recreational activities we enjoy, and if video games are your thing, great. Godspeed. Go in peace. But as opposed to other recreations like, say, jogging or reading books, it seems that some men tend to get lost in their games for hours and hours and hours on end every day. Video games are pretty unique in their capacity to take hold of men and swallow up a grotesque amount of time and energy.
There are many women out there — and I know this because I’ve heard from a number of them — who are absolutely miserable in their marriages because hubby comes home from work, turns on the Xbox or whatever people are playing these days, and enters into a video game cocoon for 7 or 8 hours, emerging only to eat dinner and then finally to sleep, just to start it all over again tomorrow. Maybe it’s a little limiting to completely chalk this up to immaturity, but immaturity undeniable has something to do with it.
A child’s life might be dominated by a desire to play with their toys and other frivolous pursuits, but as men we need to develop interests in deeper things. Our tastes should mature right along with the rest of us. Is it fair to our wives when we put her in a situation where her husband is just as obsessed with toys as her children are? Is she supposed to feel a great desire for a man who ignores her in favor of TV and Xbox? How is she supposed to relate to a man who hit 6th grade and has yet to graduate from it?
There’s a strange thing happening in our culture today. We seem to have decided, in my generation particularly, to drag our childhood with us into adulthood. That’s why we’re just as adamant consumers of video games, comic books, cartoons, and superhero movies as we were in 1994. It’s not that we should reject these things outright, but with age ought to come a certain perspective, and that perspective ought to help us shove these things to one corner of our lives. Something to indulge in, if we want, from time to time as a means of escape, but not a lifestyle. Not an overpowering, overarching, overwhelming distraction that consumes us and turns us into shiftless, lethargic overgrown juveniles.
If you want proof of everything I’m saying here, pay attention to how some people react to it. Keep in mind, all I’ve done is suggest that mature men should not be so obsessed with toys, including video games, that it takes over their lives. This statement is so true and so self evident that it shouldn’t need to be said. But there are some men who take their video games so seriously, who are so enraptured with them, so wrapped up in the so called ‘culture,’ that any criticism of video games at all, whatsoever, will be met with rage and indignation. Again, this is how a child might react when you take his toys away. For a man to lash out in such a way is disturbing, to say the least. But it will happen because it always happens. In fact, criticizing video games might be among the most controversial things you can say anymore.
I make this point, and the points before it, not from a position of superiority, but as someone in the thick of it and fighting to be a better man. I know that I desperately need to be a better man, a better husband, a better father — this is the single most important goal in my life. As men, we have to help each other in that quest to improve ourselves. Helping each other starts here, with a bit of brutal honesty. I’m sure you found yourself somewhere on this list. I certainly did.
But we can do better. We owe it to the women we married.