She wins bread, he loafs

Raised to be helpless, partial to pipe dreams, this dad sings the praises of the working wife.

Published October 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

It's Tuesday, 11:30 in the morning. My tennis partner and I are strolling off the courts, past the pool where dozens of one-piece moms tend their toddlers. A voice rings out.

"Hey, it's Frick and Frack!"

We look across the water to see Sam in a chaise, lounging.

"Hey, Sam, good to see you keeping your nose to the grindstone."

"The secret to life," barks Sam across the deep end, "is a working wife."

Time stops. Heads turn. Sam, you moron.

The mothers look from Sam to us. We are guilty by association. Sam, you stupid fat-mouth. I could cat-gut him. My partner slowly raises the middle finger of his right hand (these are the kind of guys you end up hanging out with when the wife works). Mothers shield their children. Sam grins stupidly. I skulk away.

Because he's right.

The secret to life is a working wife.

Not for every man, mind you, but for a guy like me, her work is key.

See, my boyhood was filled with deprivation. My mother lavished me with love and attention. I was breast-fed white bread -- it wasn't the smartest preparation for late 20th century manhood. She washed my underwear and wiped my nose, ironed my shirts and cut my French toast, single-handedly constructing my cross to bear, systematically depriving me of even a hint of the new world order.

My poor, misguided mother listened to my every whine and whim until I turned 13 and dropped her like a hot potato.

The old man had the life, set the standard. He hit the road by 7 a.m., was back by 7 p.m. Never saw the guy break a sweat. We grunted when we passed each other in the hallway. I understood the program. Dad made the dough-re-mi, Mom did all the shit work.

I survived the '70s and '80s by staying single. When I finally got married, I did it for all the right reasons. Sure, when a screenwriter marries a working woman his friends tend to scoff. "Total mercenary. Just bought himself another 10 years," they say. But he loves her. Yes, he does.

And after her long day at work, who does the laundry? Forgive me.

I did cover my ass, presented my new bride with a very reasonable argument: I'll do my part, but never forget, I have much lower standards than you. When that stopped working, I went out and hired a housekeeper.

Then there's the issue of kids. Suffice it to say that babies pose the single greatest threat to house-husbands across the land. Speaking from the snot-stained thick of it, I say it is best not to linger on the past, the ancient days of the last best sex, but to look ahead to the time that her hormones eventually fall back into line as she regains her place in the car pool lane.

Once there, consider these strategies for successful house-husbandry:

  • Don't go out and hire a housekeeper without consulting your wife.

  • Do remember that flowers work (plant them, don't buy them; throw in a rustic, hand-made arbor where possible).

  • Don't sleep in for public consumption. You're up early, you're helping with the kids, you're seeing them all out the door and you're back in bed by 8:15.

  • Do fail to take out the garbage every once in a while -- a subtle hint that there are indeed several chores which you routinely handle without making a big deal about it.

  • Don't ever enter a formal agreement involving the division of household labor.

  • Do congratulate your wife at every payday and together with the children offer worship in her presence. Don't let your wife pay the bills (you'll never be able to siphon off the petty cash required for the unique demands of your lifestyle).

  • Don't ever let her give up the glimmer of hope that one day you're going to make a real big score.

  • Don't give up that idea of launching your own professional sports league.

  • Don't hesitate to throw a genuine tirade once in a while about your own work (as long as it's not about the difficulty of launching your own professional sports league).

  • Do agree with everything she says about her job (except when she considers quitting).

  • Do keep yourself groomed. Don't kiss your wife only when you're looking to get laid.

  • And finally, do not, under any circumstances, experiment with role reversal in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. By the way, my wife is the director of a private school and all 29 of her employees are women with the one exception of a part-time music teacher named Seabreeze.

    It's the only way I could handle this house-husband stuff. The idea of watching her venture off each morning into a sex-charged corporate world teeming with Armani-suited youth (I'm talking here about guys who actually work out, are hip to Lauryn Hill and have hidden nose hairs) fills me with terror.

    Because as every man knows, the real secret to life is protecting your balls.

  • By Rob Ryder

    Rob Ryder is a screenwriter and a basketball consultant to movies who is indeed launching a new professional basketball league.

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