Good Men Aren’t Always Good Husbands

And then a morbid possibility offered itself up to my imagination— the realization that death also meant A Dying Wish — that priceless currency you can only spend once. There is no crisper bill.

No one could refuse A Dying Wish, especially not that of a young woman who was tragically dying Before Her Time. In an instant, I knew what I would ask my father to do. No. What I would tell my father he had to do.

“If you don’t, I will haunt you,” I practiced this thrilling little threat, repeated it in front of the mirror with a wry smile. I felt alive. I felt like I had already won. Not quite exhilarated but sardonically purposeful. This was the best part about dying. I would finally be free to say what I’d always been too scared to do.

My father is a good man. A selfless father, whose devotion to me, my comfort and safety, my happiness no man could ever live up to. (Perhaps why I am dying without ever marrying anyone in the long line of exes vapor-trailing behind me, each of them good in their own way — only two despicable beasts among them.)

He is a good provider. He is clever and funny. Not only is he smart, but he has so much wisdom worth sharing. He is no Polonius. He doesn’t drink or smoke or gamble or womanize. He is never unkind but for the very rare dark moment. But my perfect father is not a good husband.

He never told my mother that she had to do all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, dishes, or ironing. But like a silent tyrant, he just let her do it all for almost thirty years.

Three decades. Longer than I have been alive.

I don’t even think she’s angry. It’s worse. She’s sad.

Not that it was ever explicitly decided and stated that it is all her responsibility but he has never even offered to “help” with “her” responsibilities in their 360-some months together. 1,560 weeks. And he has certainly never just taken it upon himself to make a single meal, change the sheets, clean the toilets, scrub the shower, or mop. He supposedly doesn’t know how to run the washing machine. He never ironed his button-up shirts to crisp perfect edges and corners but he looks immaculate every day in the office, in court, at fundraisers, at church — anywhere he needs or wants to be. He does not do the grocery shopping or have any idea what the household inventory is of toilet paper, printer paper, dish detergent, linens, kitchen staples or even any of his own favorite foods.

And here’s the worst part. My mother is an attorney too. She works full-time too. She earns. She contributes financially.

He diligently checks the oil in both of their cars. He’s usually the one to take the trash out and bring the bins back in. But as many a blogger has pointed out, men often do the household tasks that only need to be done once a week like the garbage or once every six months or 50,000 miles like getting the oil changed or taking the car in to get the tires rotated. Not the sheets every week and definitely not three meals a day, every day.

So.

I will lie supine on my Pre-Raphaelite deathbed and I will tell him my dying wish is that he joyfully and consistently takes on half of the household responsibilities. I know she wouldn’t be able to sit still and watch him while he did 100%. So I won’t ask him to spend the next 50 years repaying her for their first 30 years, most of which she worked as well. She was not a stay-at-home mom. She was a working mom who is still working for him even though she’s retired.

“Is he or she the main character in his or her life?” Monsieur Perdu asked in The Little Paris Bookshop. “Or is she a secondary character in her own tale?”

I can’t bear it any longer. I am not above being dramatic and I will guilt-trip him for the greater good. Death would be the perfect excuse to demand of him what neither my mother nor I are brave enough to.

Stop treating mom like your employee. Even a valued employee is still an employee. Graciously saying thank you isn’t good enough. Not even close.

She wants him to take initiative. To insist on helping or that he’s making dinner tonight.

Pull your own weight. Do not sulk about it or slam cupboard doors while you are cooking and doing the dishes. Smile and ask her what sounds good for breakfast. If she can’t think of anything, you use your imagination and offer her options like she’s always done for you. Then make whatever she decides she wants.

I might even ask him to apologize for taking advantage of her socially conditioned servitude. For letting her do everything even though he surely suspects she doesn’t want her life to look like this. For relaxing and reading the paper while she tends to his every need.

They pay the bills equally. It’s time they lived equally in the home they share together.

And if my dad has the audacity to lie to his dying daughter on her very dramatic deathbed, I will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Gentlemen — if you recognize yourselves, your asymmetrical relationships in this story — do not wait for the ultimate guilt trip to do right by the woman you love.

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