Beating a dad horse?
Q: My husband and I have never had a good relationship. We got married six years ago because he needed someone to save him from drinking and destructive behavior, and I was seeking some sort of rebellion. I forced him to clean up his act by threatening to leave. He went back to school, graduated with honors, has a great job, and is respected by his peers. At work, he never misses a deadline or detail, and would never disappoint a colleague. At home, he’s a completely uninvolved father, husband, and household member. The simplest chore is too much. He only does what he’s absolutely nagged to death to do. Spending time with our two children is another chore. For instance, he was excited about our 5-year-old signing up for soccer, but found the kids’ league dull and became uninterested in taking him to games and unwilling to even take him to practice. But for the kids, there’d be no question about getting a divorce.
It was stupid to get married, but here we are. —Married Single Mom
A: Sorry, but who "rebels" by becoming a suburban housewife? What are you, from a long line of pimps, prostitutes, and smackaddicted death metal artists? At least you’re clear on the fact that you married a man whose interest in children is akin to that of a guy I saw in Starbucks last month: intently reading the paper as his toddler ran around the place trying to pull a large iron sign over on himself, then seeing if he could crack his head open on any sharp objects. Yes, there’s hands-on parenting, hands-off parenting, and "Hey, wait — is that thing mine?" Your husband may have detached his lip from the beer bong and started getting gold stars at the office, but drinking was just a symptom of the person he was — and still is: an addict. Addicts are adult babies who refuse to endure boredom, disappointment, and life’s struggles, grabbing for short-term gratification — no matter how destructive — and never mind how it mucks up tomorrow. As addiction treatment specialist Dr. Stanton Peele explains in "7 Tools to Beat Addiction," changing takes deciding another behavior — like giving your best to parenting — has more value than the momentary escape, whether it’s into Wild Turkey country or just sitting there with your thumb up your nose watching TV instead of taking your kid to soccer.
By trying to turn having a family into a form of rehab, you made your bed and you could be the only one ever making it. That might not be fair, but forget fair and go with what’s most important — encouraging your husband to step up and dad. Note the word "encourage." Because men are achievementoriented, you don’t get anywhere by nagging.
Instead, praise the guy for what he’s accomplished so far, and explain that kids with an involved dad do better in school, social relationships, self-worth, and even in their own adult relationships (per a bunch of studies out of Oxford). In other words, by enduring a little tedium with the soccer league, he’ll actually be making a substantial difference in the whippersnapper’s life. Give him props for even the smallest effort he makes with the kids, and he might eventually find it within himself to take out the trash — and before it starts looking ready for a trainer and a cage.
Hearse Case Scenario
Q: Eight months ago, I got dumped by my boyfriend right as I began falling in love. The next guy I dated killed himself days after our second date (not because of anything to do with me). The only guy who's asked me out since canceled last minute to go to his grandmother's funeral. He promised to reschedule, but hasn't called. I'm an attractive, intelligent, vivacious 20-something, but I'm so discouraged at this point, I'm considering giving up.
A: Oh, did you take the "The Wizard of Oz" literally? Because you're pretty much coming out of your apartment and stamping your feet, "Hey! Where's my yellow brick road?!" Let's see...one guy dumps you, another doesn't call you again because he's dead, and a third cancels on you because his grandma's dead, then flakes on rescheduling, and you're ready to buy a rifle and a rocking chair and retire to the woods. Hate to be the first to break it to you, but life is rough. It kicks you in the teeth, then you get to the dentist and they don't take your insurance. You can give up dating as one of life's great hardships, or accept that it's hard, and consider yourself lucky when a guy doesn't call you again simply because he's "just not that into you," not because all that remains of him has been poured into an urn.
© 2009 Amy Alkon, all rights reserved.
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