My wife and I were driving to the Oregon Coast when she said, “This is a lame anniversary.”
We were in our minivan. In the back seat our 5-month-old baby was sleeping. We’d dropped our older two children off with friends for the weekend, and now we were going to spend a few days in a resort next to the beach. It was October in Oregon. Rain was expected.
Mel looked out the window after she said it. I didn’t say anything for a while because I knew it was true. I felt a pit in my gut. Our goal had been to take a trip to Hawaii for our ten-year anniversary, but with the new baby, it just wasn’t in the budget. We looked into taking the whole family to Disney Land, but we didn’t really have time, and it just seemed too hard to do with a new baby, so we ended up going three hours away from home.
“Do you really feel that way?” I said. “Because that makes me feel like crap.”
She turned to look at me. She placed her hands on her jeans.
“It’s not you,” she said. “I understand the situation. I know that this was the best option for now, but I just thought we’d at least leave the state. Do something more exciting for our ten-year-anniversary.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I thought we would, too. But I also wasn’t planning on us having a baby earlier in the year and needing to buy a minivan. I just…” I paused for a moment. “I’m trying really hard.”
Thinking back, what she said about our vacation being lame wasn’t meant as an attack, I know that, but I took it that way. Ever since Mel became a stay-at-home mom, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the only provider. Sometimes it’s simply pressure to keep the bills paid, but other times it's pressure to give my family a better life. Sometimes I look at friends I went to high school with, and see photos of them in Hawaii and wonder how they did it.
Mel twisted her lips a bit and let out a breath. “I not blaming you. I just wish we could’ve done something more, that’s all.”
I looked at Mel and said, “I want to do more, too. I want to give you more. I want you to have more. I want to know that you have what you need. What you want. It’s something that I struggle with, honestly. I know that this sounds so out dated, but I want to provide for you. I want to take care of you. I want to open your door. I want to pull out your chair. I want to buy you flowers. I want to be your provider. I want to care for you. I want it bad enough that I work two jobs. Sometimes I stay awake at night imagining what it would mean if I lost my job, and feeling sick to my stomach.”
As I spoke, I beat my palm against the steering wheel a few times, and by the end I was gripping it tightly, my knuckles white.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, taking care of you and the kids means a lot to me, and I just want to know that what I have to offer is good enough.”
What I said came from deep inside. Until that moment, I don’t think I’d realized how having Mel at home the past few years had made me fall into such antiquated marital rolls. When Mel and I first got married, it was her goal to be a stay-at-home mom, so I made it one of my goals, too. I know that if I lost my job, Mel would gladly go back to work. It wouldn’t mean anything. No one would think less of me, so I don’t know why I put so much pressure on myself to be the only provider. I don’t know if it’s because of my religion, or my upbringing. Perhaps it’s because my father left when I was young, I saw how hard my mother struggled, and I swore I’d never let my wife struggle like that. I don’t know, but what I do know is that during the past few years that Mel has been at home, I’ve started to take pride in caring for my wife and children. But at the same time, I feel a lot of weight, too, and I think a lot of that weight is because I know how much being a stay-at-home mom means to Mel. I love the hell out of her, and giving her what she wants is really important to me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m over reacting. It’s just that what you said really confirmed what I was already thinking, and I blame myself for not being able to have a better vacation. I shouldn’t, but I do. “
I expected her to get angry. Or perhaps to argue with me about how it’s not all my fault. Instead, Mel thought about what I said for a moment. My hand was on the shifter between the seats, and she reached out and held it. Then she told me a lot of the things that I was already thinking, about how she would go back to work if needed. That I didn’t need to put so much pressure on myself.
“You like being at home with the kids… right?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “I love it.”
“I do it for you,” I said. “It’s what you always wanted, even from the beginning. I know that it means a lot to you, so it means a lot to me.”
“This vacation isn’t what I hoped for, but you are what hoped for in a husband,” she said. “I love you.”
“Even though I couldn’t take you to Hawaii?”
Mel smiled. “Maybe next year.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.