I was recently at a father-son campout put on by my church, and I ran into an old friend. We were catching up, talking about kids and marriage, when he mentioned that earlier in the year he was home alone with their four children while his wife was out of the country for a couple of weeks visiting family.
“It was the wildest thing,” he said. “While she was gone, I just kind of did my thing. I took care of the kids, I went to work. I cleaned up here and there. And when she got home, I told her that my life was easier when she was gone.”
We were standing next to a campfire. It was dark, and I’ll admit I literally took a step back. What the heck did he just say? Who was this person?
Now, please understand that for a number of years I lived just a few blocks away from this man. I knew him and his family very well. His children spent a good amount of time playing with mine, and I often had dinner with them, including on holidays. I have always found him to be an upstanding man, interested in partnership. He’s the kind of guy who pitches in and really loves his wife. So I’ll be honest, I was shocked by what he said.
“Really?” I said, “You told her that?”
I thought about the times my wife left me alone with all three kids for an extended period of time, and I don’t ever remember feeling like my life was easier. In fact, I was pretty stressed out trying to fill the massive gap my wife fills each and every day.
He backtracked for a moment with a “hold on” and a “let me explain” along with an awkward smile. Then he said, “Not that I didn’t have more to do when she wasn’t around. I did.”
He thought for a moment, trying to find the right words.
Then he said, “She expects more of me. She expects me to be a better father. She expects me to do the dishes right, and she expects me to be a loving husband. She expects me to work harder than I normally would.”
As he spoke, I thought about when Mel and I first met. I was 21. I didn’t know how to type, and I’d never read a novel. I barely finished high school, and in the few years since graduating, I’d been riding mountain bikes, getting tattoos, and attending punk concerts. I had zero aspirations. But there was something about Mel, something about who she was that made me realize that she deserved more than what I had to offer. Just being around her, long before we got married or had children, made me want to be more accomplished and better educated. She was so wonderful and sweet and kind and attractive that I felt the only way I could match her was to become something more than I was.
We’d only been dating a few weeks when I told Mel I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how to type, and I didn’t read all that well, and I honestly didn’t know where to start. She didn’t laugh at me. She didn’t look at me like I was pathetic. All she did was say, “I’ll help you.” And from that day forward, I expected more of myself, and she expected more of me as well.
My friend went on. He talked about how different he is when his wife is around, and as he spoke, I couldn’t help but relate. I realized that if it weren’t for Mel, I don’t know where I’d be, but I doubt I would have ever finished college or published two books or become a loving father and husband.
Growing up, I heard a lot of commentary from the fathers around me, where they used the term “nag.” They talked about how their wife was always nagging them to do this or that. But to be honest, I never could think of it that way. I know Mel loves me, and I know that when she asks more of me, it isn’t personal or spiteful. It’s with good reason, and whether it’s large or small, it has nothing to do with nagging and everything to do with improving my life and the life of our family.
My friend and I were still talking next to the fire. He’d gone in a few circles with his explanation. He explained that because she expects more of him, when she’s around, he works to be the person she expects him to be — and that makes him a better, harder working, more loving person.
“So yeah,” he said. “My life is easier when she’s gone. But not nearly as fulfilling.”