The Everyday Husband
Observations on the Routines and Attitudes of Young Husbands
Roles and Duties
The prevailing framework with which dads approach their role as a husband is as an equal partnership with their wife. Many dads describe their responsibility in the partnership as a leadership role and a support role simultaneously. Dads tend to view their leadership role as consisting of sacrificing for the family, protecting them, and being stable in the midst of emotional turmoil. They see their support role as listening to their wife when she needs to talk, upholding her decisions, and doing the chores that she doesn't want to do. A lot of dads say that as the husband they're the leader because as Christian men they know that's what they are supposed to say, but several of the dads seemed uncertain how to explain being the leader in what they also view as an equal partnership in which they often play a supporting role.
Even very traditional dads tend to have less of a split-responsibility partnership, and more of a shared-responsibility partnership. These dads complete a variety of domestic duties and reject conventional divisions of household labor. Traditional dads see completing domestic duties as one of the best ways to love their wife sacrificially. Other dads see completing domestic duties as just a natural extension of having a household or the only way tasks will be done the way that they like them. Most dads will take at least some responsibility for childcare and cleaning the house and their wife will often do chores such as mowing the lawn.
Providing, especially financially, is the most commonly cited duty of a husband. While all dads see providing for the family as a crucial element in their role as the husband, their definition of providing varies greatly. The most traditional dads see financial provision as their sole responsibility. Some of these men have a wife who works, but it is important to them that her employment is optional for the family. Less-traditional dads see contributing financially as an element of their provision, but they also discuss providing discipline for the children and emotional stability for the family as a part of their role as provider.
Another very prevalent duty dads discuss is listening to their wife, but this duty is often referred to with a negative tone. Dads recognize this as critical to being a good husband, but many do not particularly relish the task. Dads complain about having to hear the same facts multiple times and having to just listen rather than helping their wife find a solution. Yet even when they don't enjoy the task, dads see it as their duty to listen to their wife daily, and even more when she’s processing stressful circumstances.
Most dads can give specific examples of how they fall short as husbands. Overall, they think that they're doing a pretty good job, but they are very aware of their own shortcomings. This is not to say that they don't recognize their strengths as well. A lot of dads can also give a list of what they’re doing well, but shortcomings seem to be top of mind.
Most dads feel like they're failing to meet their wife's emotional needs. This is often related to the frustrations they have in actively listening to their wife. Some dads say they lack the patience to be consistently engaged emotionally. Others say that they already know what she's going to say so they get distracted. For many dads, finding time alone with their wife is the biggest barrier to being emotionally supportive.
While addressing their wife's emotional needs is the most commonly cited short-coming, not all dads feel like they are lacking in this area. A minority of dads cite listening to their wife and being there for her emotionally, particularly during difficult circumstances, as a strength they exhibit as a husband. These dads describe being a reliable friend to their wife as what they do best.
When most dads are discussing their strengths, they typically point to things that they tangibly do, rather than more abstract qualities, such as emotionally supporting their wife. Some of these concrete strengths include providing financially and working around the house, especially taking care of the "man things" such as fixing pipes and getting the cat off the roof, but even in sharing this they are clear that they also help with less "manly" domestic duties.
Not all strengths are abstract, however. One particular dad views holding less traditional perspectives than his peers as his primary advantage as a husband. This dad thinks that the way he treats his wife as an equal partner and is willing to take responsibility for most domestic tasks while she earns more money is the primary reason that his marriage is strong, while most of his friends are divorced.
Not all dads view these aspects of being a husband as strengths, however. While most see financially providing as something they do well, several expressed that they think they are failing in this arena and regret not being able to provide more.
Favorite & Least Favorite
For some dads, having kids is their favorite part about being a husband. For other dads, their favorite part about being a husband is being alone with their wife, so they are excited for the kids to grow up. Either way, there is consensus that for the present, having kids and being a family is a "beautiful thing."
Most dads say that the companionship they enjoy with their wife is their favorite part of being a husband. They say that while friends can make you feel good, knowing that their wife has unconditional love makes the friendship with her the most valuable relationship they have. Although several dads mentioned that listening is their shortcoming, multiple dads reported that having someone to listen to them is one of their favorite parts of being a husband. They like being able to share everything with one person. The security of knowing that they always have someone to lean on and who can lean on them is extremely valuable to dads.
The other common favorite dads have is the commitment and maturity that marriage requires of them because this makes them a better person and they are very proud of the relationship they have with just one woman. Many of these dads seem to have internalized Gary Thomas' message in Sacred Marriage that the purpose of marriage is not to make us happy, but to make us holy. One dad said that his favorite part of being married is knowing that he's a part of God's purpose. Very honestly, several dads admit that the way marriage forces them to be less self-centered is simultaneously their favorite and least favorite part.
Disagreements are unequivocally dad's least favorite part of being a husband. Some dads dread fighting over different parenting approaches. Others struggle to balance work and family demands. One dad says that his least favorite part of being a husband is having to come back together so quickly after disagreements, while wounds are still raw. Another dad says that some days it seems like his wife is always complaining and creating issues, so although he realizes his life is richer, more rewarding, and more enjoyable with his family, sometimes he thinks that it would be easier if he had his own apartment and could come home to relax in peace. Dads have strong aversions and responses to disagreements with their wife.
Most dads blame societal influences for bringing the biggest challenges that they face as a husbands. Some say that the lack of clear-cut gender roles creates disagreements as they force families to tediously coordinate every aspect of household responsibilities. Others say that the way women dress and do not respect married men as off-limits can make it difficult to be faithful. On the other hand, another man says that the biggest challenge is trusting his wife not to look for someone better-looking or who makes more money. Still others say that the biggest challenge is beating the statistics to keep their family together. A lot of dads see their primary obstacles as forces outside of their family, and in a lot of ways outside their own control.
Jobs play a major role in the other challenges dads face, especially if you include the dads who mention finances. In addition to dads describing money and how much they earn as a major struggle, several say that it is challenging to balance the competing demands between work and home. Even when they are home, dads often find it challenging to let go of difficulties at work and not take their office frustrations out on their family. However, one of the dads who works from home specifically mentioned that the challenges he faces have decreased now that he does not work in an office. Yet for the majority of dads, work limitations and demands present significant challenges for their family life.
Dads mention their own parents, especially their own fathers, immediately when asked about marriage role models. Some dads have positive qualities to share about their fathers, and others share what they do not appreciate about the way they were parented and their parents' relationship, but they almost all mention their parents as soon as they begin talking about role models.
Those who view their own father as a role model for marriage often mention general qualities about him, such as the way he would do anything for their mother, the way he took care of the family, the way he was so faithful and dutiful, and about the strong bond their parents shared. Sometimes a dad would mention something a little more specific, such as the way their parents talk to one another while smiling and giggling like teenagers, the way their parents love going on vacation and to restaurants just the two of them, or the way that although they had disagreements, they never fought in front of the kids.
Even dads with less than glowing reports about their own fathers' marriage sometimes have something they admire that still causes them to view their father as a role model. For example, one dad said that his parents merely co-existed, which is less than what he wants for the relationship with his own wife, but at least they stayed married no matter what. Another shared that his mom left his dad for his step-dad, so growing up he was unable to acknowledge positive qualities in his step-dad, but now he tries to model the patience his step-dad exhibits toward his mom, even when she is critiquing everything.
There are only a few dads who either do not even mention their own fathers, or they do not have anything positive to share about them. These dads look to friends and coworkers, as well as pastors, as role models. While dads who look to their own father as a role model tend to talk more in terms of qualities that they admire and work to achieve in their own lives, these dads talk about their role models with more of a comparative tone. The dads without fathers as role models see relational qualities that they like in those around them, such as strong communication or prioritizing their wife, and evaluate how well they measure up to their friends. The only exception to this is a dad whose role model is his grandfather. Possibly since this relationship is also a familial bond that has been present since childhood, this dad talks in terms of living up to the example his grandfather set.
Dads have a much more difficult time discussing who they go to for advice than sharing who the people are that they admire. It requires a lot less to aspire from afar to qualities of another than it does to actively ask that person for guidance. Only a handful of dads have someone who they can regularly go to for counsel. These mentoring relationships tend to form with a friend who seems to have a specific quality that enables them to share solid advice. Some of the friends are a pastor, some have parents who are pastors, and others are the age of that dad’s parents. Other than that, many dads will talk about their relationship with their wife with their friends and co-workers, but they are not looking for guidance so much as comparing how their relationship measures. Very few dads have someone who they can talk to about their marriage in order to seek solid advice.
Originally published August 2011
© 2011 Focus on the Family.