It happens almost every day: I say something to one of our young sons and my wife, Lindsay, tells me how I could have said it better. She’s always right, and I always get mad. Mad at her for not letting anything slide, mad at myself for being an insensitive or lazy communicator, mad that I’m not afforded authority simply because I’m a man, and finally, mad at myself for being a typical man for getting mad about that last part.
Maybe we are experiencing the “end of men,” but from those ashes, new men are rising – albeit meekly – and I think I might be one of them: a cultural link between 20th century patriarchs and badboys, and a hopefully distant future in which males are imprisoned and harvested for their sperm while women live peacefully in communes off in the idyllic French countryside.
In my case, it’s not just social evolution that’s fueling this new gender dynamic. My father says people are either simple and strong, or complex and weak. My wife comes from a long line of strong women and I from an equally impressive lineage of emotionally challenged men. While her great-grandmother was busy surviving the Titanic, my grandfather was drowning his Catholic guilt with a gullet of Pabst Blue Ribbon and deep-fried catfish.
I sometimes try to be cool-headed and decisive, but it’s rarely backed by quality forethought, and my confidence flees faster than a weivel in a spotlight. Lindsay, however, not only has mysterious things called instincts, but also manages to trust them implicitly. Confidence is her default state. Emotionally, she can pop out of a bad mood in seconds, and rejuvenate physically with a fifteen-minute rest. Given that, should I really be deciding where our kids go to school? How about what brand of shoes they wear, or how many Gogurts they can eat? I have input, but it carries only an honorary weight, like that of a retired coach who stands by the sidelines whispering in his successor’s ear.
And so we’re beautifully stuck together: a sexy, hilarious, matriarch and her fussy, loyal and witty husband, trying to navigate a culturally irrelevant marriage and raise two mercurial little boys into confident, happy and strong men who never try meth, or assume anyone’s listening just because they have a penis.
This isn’t to suggest that my wife is flawless. After all, a type triple-A person is only as endearing as her flaws. Before we had children I would get a thrill from asking her the names of various presidential assassins. According to her, Abraham Lincoln was killed with a lead pipe in the book depository by P.T Barnum. Her brain combines famous names and board game fictions into a Mad Libs answer. It’s adorable, but only because she’s so intelligent in other ways. Her ability to locate the North Star with her eyes closed and understand exactly why one of our children is crying will always feel suspiciously like witchcraft to me.
Now that she’s become a mother, and lost roughly one-quarter of her mental faculties as a result of sleep deprivation, making fun of her for not knowing who invented the automobile seems cruel. Yet, strangely, her decreased ability to think or remember things, hasn’t been balanced with a corresponding dip in courage or authority. It was as if her brain took all the space it used to store facts and replaced it with emotional strength and conviction. Our matriarch can’t follow the logic of the joke on a Popsicle stick, but can sense a child falling in an adjacent county, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would say it’s emasculating, but I think that would require me having expressed any true interest in feeling like a “Man” in the first place.