It was a Friday morning, and I had the day off. My wife was heading into her job at our children’s school and was taking our older two kids with her. I was going to stay home with the toddler. My wife and I talked about our day like we often do in the mornings. Then she mentioned that Norah, our middle daughter, had gymnastics lessons right after school.
“You are going to have to make dinner,” she said.
I let out a heavy sigh. I always do when Mel suggests that I make dinner. It’s not that I can’t. I obviously can. I have. I just find it complicated. Sometimes I get into cooking something and end up feeling like I got in way over my head. This ultimately means I need to do more cooking, but because I don’t have all that much interest in it, it typically doesn’t turn out all that great for anyone. It’s not terrible, but this certainly is not an area of talent for me.
Before I met Mel, I lived on a solid diet of frozen burritos, breakfast cereal, and soda. But I also wore the same jeans for a couple weeks straight and never changed my sheets and had nappy hair that hung down to my shoulders. I was the cliché single guy. But when I think back on who I was before becoming a father and a husband, I realize how much my wife has made me into a better person. But when I think back on my aversion to cooking, I wonder if she still has work to do.
“How about we just order pizza?” I suggested, like I always do.
Mel was in the kitchen, opening a recipe on an iPad. She was dressed in black slacks and a blue cardigan. Her shoulders slumped, and she turned and looked at me with white-hot eyes. It was the look a working mother gets when she’s rushing out the door, already running late for a full day. It’s the look she often gives our children when they are dragging their asses to get ready in the morning and she 100% doesn’t have time for it.
“Dude. You can make dinner,” she said. She didn’t yell it. She didn’t have to. The tone is what got me. Suddenly I was as bad as our children. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was whining — like a baby.
“It’s not that hard. Just follow the recipe.”
“What if I screw it up?” I asked.
She laughed as though she were about to let out a big secret. “I screw up cooking all the time. Don’t worry about it. You have a master’s degree. You can make turkey and rice soup.”
I thought about a quote on fatherhood by Louis C.K. where he says, “Fathers have skills they never use at home. You run a landscaping business, and you can’t dress and feed a 4-year-old? Take it on…”
And he’s right. I do complicated things all day. I work at a university. I manage about 60 student employees. For hell’s sake, I’ve written for the New York Times. I should be able to make dinner for my family. But it always feels like something I’m going to screw up. I’m going to get tablespoon and teaspoon crossed and end up with way too much salt, or I’m going to misread something, and add this before that, and wind up ruining the whole meal, and ultimately order pizza anyway. I say this like it has happened before, but I can’t, for the life of me, recall when.
The fact is, I could make dinner. I knew I could. I just felt insecure about it. Perhaps it was some antiquated notion that I couldn’t make food because I was a man. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about egalitarian relationships, but for some reason, I still find myself subject to subconscious ideas that I can’t do something because it ought to be a woman’s duty. I hate it when I do that, and there my wife was, calling me out on it.
But that’s something I have to give Mel credit for. She calls me on my bullshit, particularly when it comes to something like this. I think a lot of mothers do. Mothers are the all time great bullshit-callers. However, I have to admit, it took me some time to be able to listen to what she had to say rather than get offended by it.
I let out a breath, and said something I think a lot of men struggle to say (but should say more often), “You’re right. I can make dinner.”
She gave a sideways look that seemed to say, “I know you can.”
Then she showed me the recipe, told me that I needed to use the slow cooker, and then ran out the door to get to work.
I decided to give it my all. I started the meal way earlier than I needed to. I gave the toddler Popsicles and an iPad so she’d let me keep focused. It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it did keep her busy just long enough. I watched a few videos online about how to mince garlic and cut an onion without crying. That really is one of the best things about the internet: I never have to feel embarrassed about finding the answer to anything, even if it is as simple as “What is a garlic clove?”
And once it was all said and done, and slowly cooking in the pot, I thought about what my wife said before she left, “Dude. You can make dinner.”
What she was really saying is, “Things are changing. You need to pitch in, here.” Mel and I have been together for almost 13 years. We’ve had a few different arrangements during that time. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, a college student, a provider. Mel has filled all those roles too. And yet somehow I’d held onto this idea that I could get out of making dinner if I bitched about it. But now, with Mel working, and me home on Fridays, it was time, once again, for a change, and that change meant taking on another role even if I felt insecure about it.
This happens, sometimes, during the transitions. When couples change from one dynamic to another, suddenly they have to change how they operate. It’s not always smooth, but the fact is, in 2017, a woman can bring in the bacon and a man can cook it. And sometimes those roles swap one way or another, and it’s in the swap that things can get complicated.
Mel came home after gymnastics to a set table, and all three kids proceeded to tell me that dinner tasted funny. And I will be honest: It kind of did. I think I added too much oregano. But it was warm and palatable, and once all was said and done, Mel and I did the dishes together.
“You are going to have to make dinner again next Friday,” she said.
I nodded. “I know. I got this.”