Portrait of the Artist as a Suburban Dad

Suburban Dad High

Earlier this month, a large box was delivered to our front door.  My husband couldn’t have been more excited to see it, and he immediately lugged the thing inside to tear it open.  He grinned like the Cheshire Cat when he had unwrapped his brand new Dyson vacuum cleaner.  Right away, he set to work hooking the thing up and running it all over the few rugs that adorn our home.

“I’ll save the last room for you!” he said gleefully.

“I’m all good; you go ahead.”

“Seriously?” he asked incredulously.

“Seriously.”

After he finished the rugs, he vacuumed the sofa cushions.  Then the doormat.  Then the blinds.  He was in ecstasy.

This is a far cry from the man that I first met nearly twenty years ago.  At the time, he was finishing up his final year of a Masters of Arts in Vocal Performance.  Just a few months after we started dating, I helped him pick out his outfit for his final recital, which centered on a collection of classical songs written and performed in German.  Of course in addition to his good looks and amazing charm, I was attracted to his gorgeous talent.  He always planned on using his degree to help motivate and educate his students as a public school teacher, and although he toyed briefly with the idea of trying to perform for a living, he now uses his considerable vocal chops to demonstrate to teenagers the mellifluous acrobatics of his most recent choral selection.  I am constantly begging him to sing in the car with me, but he sits silently while I wail away, claiming that he has nothing left after teaching all day.  On those few occasions when he sits at the piano and signs a ditty for the kids, they listen with rapt attention, knowing they are getting a rare taste of their Poppy’s substantial talents.

I’m reminded almost daily of the many ways in which my husband has humbled himself for my pathological beliefs in the way our family should function, and these reminders are punctuated by scenes like the arrival of the vacuum cleaner that attest to his devotion to domesticity.  (For Christmas, I got him a brand new set of fancy pots and pans, a fancy toaster oven, and a case of Guinness.  It was a big win for both me and him.)

Obviously in our family, our household roles don’t fall along traditional gender roles.  My husband is the homebody between the two of us, and because of that most things that fall into the category of domestic care are his domain: cleaning, yard work, much of the cooking.  I know that most of his work around the house and in our family is to keep me happy.  I can be a bit of a bear when things aren’t going the way I think they should.  Sometimes when I come home late from work, all will be well until I realize my husband has neglected to unpack the kids’ backpacks when they came home two hours earlier.  I tend to lose it for a bit, banging things around, stomping here and there, and furrowing my brow, practically ignoring the delicious dinner he’s prepared, our two happy kids singing along to the Frozen soundtrack, and the pile of spelling homework he’s completed with our daughter.  I’m working on my little bouts of aggression over rather unimportant aspects of our home life, and he does a lot to maintain the peace.

Friends that we’ve met in the last ten years or so tend to have no idea what talent my husband has hidden away inside of him.  They see the obvious aptitudes for maintaining a happy house, keeping his husband and children happy, all while holding down a full-time job, but they don’t see he’s really Patti LuPone in Life Goes On, pushing his family into the spotlight while he sings back up in the wings.

That’s my husband in the blue blouse on the left.

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The Phone Call: A One-Act Audio Play

Me: Hi there…thanks so much for calling me back.

Her: Sure thing!

Me: I just wanted to say thank you for stepping in to start the Girl Scouts troupe for the kids.  My daughter loved the first meeting this week.

Her: Well we just love her.  She’s so great!

Me: Thanks.  It means a lot that you’re putting such time and effort into making it a good experience for the girls.  I just wanted to touch base on a quick thing from Tuesday’s meeting, and I’m hoping it doesn’t make me sound like a totally freaky parent.

Her: Is it the God thing?

Me: The what now?

Her: The God thing?

Me: Oh…um…no…but what is the God thing?

Her: It’s in the Girl Scout Promise; they have to promise to serve God.

Me: Oh…wow.

Her: It’s very nonsecular and it’s mixed in with other stuff.  To be honest though, I was uncomfortable with it too.  I asked if we could skip that part and was told it wasn’t a good idea.

Me: Okay.  That’s fine…I mean that’s good to know.  We can have a conversation with her at home, and shame on me for not doing my homework and knowing that she’d be doing that God stuff.

Her: So that wasn’t it?Me: No…actually, I wanted to touch base on the Indian Chief game the girls played.Her: Oh, right.  It’s like a rhythm game where they sit in a circle and the “Indian Chief” gets to pick the pattern.

Me: Right.  I know that you didn’t think it up and that the girls had played it in school somewhere, and that’s something I’ll address with the school.  My husband and I were just talking with our daughter about it, and she just kept saying, “It’s just a game Dad!”  At seven years old, she’s already rolling her eyes at us like crazy [uncomfortable laugh], but the thing is that we used be in total agreement that who cares what you call things, I mean they’re just names after all.  And then we learned from doing some reading on the subject and talking to some friends who are American Indian that games like this can really actually enforce stereotypes, like this might help kids picture only a sitting chanting Native American when they hear about “Indian Chiefs,” and so now we realize that names do matter, and it’s important to teach our kids about that.  So does that make sense.

Her: Thank you so much for calling.  I was actually really nervous when the girls said they wanted to play that game; I thought it sounded offensive before I even knew what they were doing.  And then in the moment, I didn’t know how or even whether I should address it…I mean I didn’t want to go imposing my morals on other people’s kids.

Me: I can totally appreciate that, and what we’ve been talking with our daughter about is the idea that the game can stay the same but maybe they could call it something else, something like “Rhythm Captain” or something, hopefully something not so stupid as “Rhythm Captain,” but you know what I mean.  My husband is a music teacher, so he loves the fact that they’re playing with rhythm, and we just don’t want them to associate the game and action with an entire race of people, especially one as diverse as Native Americans.

Her: I couldn’t agree more.  Thank you so much for bringing this up.  I will definitely chat with the girls about it at our next meeting.

Next up, tackling God