Spectatorship in the Home
Engaging the Husband's Responsibilities at Home
Husbands have a vested interest in not learning how to do things well around the house. If they do it well, it might become a regular assignment! So men all the across the land learn to practice what we call "intentional incompetence."
The libido of the American man is focused almost entirely upon his business so that as a husband he is glad to have no responsibilities.
A strong part of a woman's identity is expressed through her home.
If I could change one thing about my husband: "I would change his quiet spectatorship to active participation and inquisitiveness of what's happening in my life and the children's."
Bill Cosby has a classic video of a stage act that is certainly over twenty years old. It is called, "Bill Cosby, Himself," and is one of the staples of the Finzel family's humor collection. After renting it for years, Donna gave me my own copy for my birthday last year. When we really want a laugh, the kind where we have to stop the tape to catch our breath from laughing so hard, we can always count on Bill.
In one of the best routines, called "chocolate cake," Bill's wife wakes him at 6 A.M. one morning to fix the kids' breakfast (they have five kids). Of course, Bill has no interest whatsoever in getting up at that inhumane hour. He grunts and rolls over, going back to sleep. "It is her job. Let her do it," he reasons. In the next moment she is standing over him with a bucket of ice-cold water: "If you don't get up in five seconds and get downstairs and fix them breakfast, I will soak you with this bucket of water!" she screams. All she wants is one morning in bed! Is that too much to ask of a father, who leaves you to get the kids out every morning?
Bill finally rolls out of bed with one eye open and goes downstairs in his robe, angrily groping around the kitchen for something to give the kids for breakfast. The first child down, his little eight-year-old daughter, spies the chocolate cake on the counter and says, "Dad, can I have chocolate cake for breakfast?" Of all the things in the kitchen, she spotted the cake first even though it was behind him on the counter! "She's got x-ray vision!" Bill begins to think, "Well, actually what is in chocolate cake? Milk. Eggs. Butter. Flour. Sure, why not? Those are, after all, the ingredients of a balanced breakfast." Pretty soon all the children are in the kitchen, and Dad is serving up chocolate cake for everyone for breakfast. As he serves, the children sing in blissful harmony, "Dad is great he gave us the chocolate cake! Dad is great he gave us the chocolate cake!"
Things are going great until ... you guessed it. Mom comes downstairs. Everything falls silent the party is over. She spots the kids and the chocolate cake. Of course, they turn on Dad, "He made us eat it, Mom!" With fire in her eyes she tells him to go back to bed she will have to feed the kids breakfast herself if she wants it done right. And instead of a problem, Bill scores a success. Back to bed that is what he wanted all along! He can hardly keep the smile on the inside as he charges back up the stairs to their bedroom.
Husbands have a vested interest in not learning how to do things well around the house. If they do it well, it might become a regular assignment!
So men all across the land learn to practice what we call "intentional incompetence."
Comedienne Diane Ford put it best: A woman works her tail off all the time. The guy does two things around the house, and he's got to show her, "Honey, look! I fixed the screen! And look over there: I washed my dish! I put my shirt up!" What can the wife say? "Well, why don't we put a little star on the refrigerator?"
One complaint we hear over and over again is wives having to wait on their husbands to fix things around the house. The husband says he will do it (read promises), but then neglects to ever get to it. If the wife takes the matter into her own hands, she gets chewed out for (a) not letting him do it, or (b) spending "our good money" to have someone else do it.
Listen to this exchange of one couple:
Her: (at the bedside table stacked high with books yet to be read).
Honey, I think I'm going to go out today and get a bookcase for all this stuff. Want to come?
Him: Come? No . . . gee . . . I've got too much to do today. Besides, why spend the money when I can make one myself? How about if I take next Saturday and get some wood and build one. Can it wait until then?
Her: Well, sure . . .
[Cut to next Saturday, A.M.]
Her: So, you're gonna make that bookcase today?
Him: Don't bug me. I said I'd get to it ... soon.
Months go by. No bookcase gets built. Finally in frustration she goes out and buys the bookcase. You know what his response will be:
He gets really mad: "What'd you do that for?" he asks. "I told you I'd take care of it."
One wife was so fed up with her husband not picking up after himself that she tried a new approach. Nagging never worked and only annoyed him. "On our anniversary, I gave Chris a card that listed all the wonderful things he was to me what a great cook he was, how much I admired his patience with the kids, and that I thought he still had the most beautiful blue eyes. At the bottom in really small print, I wrote: "If you could only learn to pick up after yourself, you'd be perfect."
"He laughed when he read it and said, 'I didn't realize . . . Does my sloppiness really upset you that much?' Can you believe it? Where had he been for the last ten arguments? But he got better after that. And now when he leaves his junk around, I only have to point to it and he gets the message" (From Good Housekeeping, March 1996, "Your Husband's Bad Habits," by Sara Nelson, pp. 80-81.)
HER HOME IS HER IDENTITY
A strong part of a woman's identity is expressed through her home. Whether she is consciously aware of it or not, I believe it is true. Her home says to the world, "This is who I am, and here is what I'm like." Considering some women are unaware of how strongly their identity is tied to their home, it should not be surprising that men are completely baffled by this fact. They say the common, "Oh, you care too much what people think," when they see their wives seemingly excessive effort to care for her home. Hans will ask if we can have someone over for dinner at the drop of a hat and then get upset when I go into the "get the house ready" mode. He'll say something like, "What's wrong with them seeing how we live in the natural?" Men!
To be fair, some of us truly do get obsessive about our homes "when company is coming." We need to step back and remember our priority
of people (including our husbands and kids) above tasks. But men need to look a bit deeper when they feel their wives demand too much when it comes to the home and what they want out of their husbands.
Some women are, of course, more messy by nature. Their personality is more laid back, and they don't even see the mess. Many of these women are super mothers, who are great with crafts and doing other creative activities with their kids. Being like that is, of course, a valid expression of who they are. "Life is messy" as the saying goes. Life is also short, and spending time with our husbands and kids should take priority over a perfect home.
Pity the poor family who lives the other extreme what I call a "maniac perfectionist" who drives herself and everyone around her crazy with her demands for cleanliness. We all well know that there is absolutely no end to the work of homemaking. Thus a balance must be found to have a truly happy home for all. Remember, women, Scripture commands us to be "given to hospitality." Our home must be not only an "expression of me," but also a place to open willingly and often to others. Even when it's not "finished" in our minds, or as clean as we'd necessarily like, we must make it an open place to share the love of Christ with others. Real life happens here. Our kids' friends, neighbors, the hurting they all should be coming through our doors.
The easygoing way of messy women may also be a thorn in their husband's side. The Bible warns against laziness and the results of being a sluggard; some women do struggle with this. If you struggle with this, ask the Lord to help you with His fruit of self-control. Then seek out advice and good books on organization and discipline.
Finally, there are also those who struggle with depression, with physical limitations, or the overwhelming demands of many young children. Those women may be unable to keep their home as they would like. They need even more the attention of their husbands in carrying a greater weight in household work.
Hans and I have lived in many homes in our twenty years of marriage. We started out in a "garage apartment" behind the home of a wealthy family in Dallas. In exchange for free rent and utilities, we were "on call" to baby-sit for their two boys on the weekends and occasionally when they went away as a couple. It was certainly our most simple home two rooms, one of which we shared during the day with the maid, who did the family laundry in it. Since that time, we have lived in eight other homes! It has always been a challenge for us to make each one our own. We are blessed with the same taste and agree on almost every detail. (Yes, we know what a blessing this is. It's nice to actually be alike in some way! Hans is unusual in how quickly he fixes things and gets to tasks I ask him to do . . . my "Honey Do Lists." I am very grateful for this.
This chapter probably wouldn't have even made our "Top Ten" except for how strongly this issue came through to us from those wives who completed our survey. These women are very frustrated and feel stuck between a "rock and a hard place" on this issue of husbands helping out and doing their part at home.
Listen to this cry from a young mother on the East Coast. In response to our question, "If you could change anything about your husband, what would it be?" she actually made a list for her husband:
1. Change "I love you" statements to actions of love: Help with the dishes, pray with the kids at night, and work with the children to
make them do their chores and have quiet times each day.
2. Change your laziness and TV watching to help with the homework and reading books to the children in the evenings.
3. Change your view that our two separate roles in life don't meet anywhere. You come home each evening with this attitude "I work all day, and I'm tired at night, and I'm going to relax."
4. Change quiet spectatorship to active participation and inquisitiveness of what's happening in my life and the children's.
Our heart goes out to this friend. She doesn't have the courage to give him this list, and that might not be the right approach anyway. On top of these attitudes that she has to live with, she home schools their three children, and a fourth is on the way! What options does this wife have? Really, with little support from her husband, only two that seem obvious. The two common options seem to be:
Option one: End up being a "nag" because jobs don't get taken care of.
Option two: Forget about it and try to ignore those things that are left undone.
Obviously neither option is good. Proverbs warns over and over again of the damage nagging can do to the family. We believe that nagging creates quarrels nine times out of ten, as seen clearly in these verses. Here are a few powerful admonitions from the Book of Proverbs:
"A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping" Proverbs 19:13.
"Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife" Proverbs 21:9.
"Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife" Proverbs 21:19.
Women, we must be careful not to allow nagging to be a characteristic of our lives. But husbands can also be reminded that "wealth" and "plenty," such as being a workaholic to get ahead financially, don't bring peace into your home either. You need to "engage" yourself, to "carry your share" to enjoy a joyful home with a happy family.
"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife" Proverbs 17:1.
"Forgetting about it" doesn't work either. Sure some women adjust and decide not to let their frustration control them. But neglect on the part of the husband of those household involvements and problems is actually neglect of her. Men, as I already said, realize that your home reflects your wife. She usually cares more than you do that those things get done. Loving her is meeting her needs. Although she may be able to "forget it" for a time, it's possible she may only be stuffing it. Remember all that we said in chapter 7 about how the disappointments or issues in one area of a woman's life often carry over to negatively affect her attitude toward her husband overall. Two of a woman's needs "financial support" and "family commitment" fall into this area of carrying your share at home. If you are committed to your wife and family, then you need to willingly support them.
There are two other options for this couple. One is for the wife to pray for her husband that he will change. Ask God to bring some men into his life who can help him see the light. Pray that he will get involved in your church with a men's group that can help. Encourage him to go to Promise Keepers (more on that in a moment). You can also press for the two of you to get some professional counseling. The couple in our story here are headed for trouble, and one of the best things they can do at this stage in their life together is to talk to their pastor or a counselor about their problems.
MONEY CAN'T BUY YOU LOVE
Many men get hung up on the notion that money is the solution to all the family's problems. If they just work harder to bring home more money, then she will be more happy. I am certain that for most of the women I know they would rather have more of their husband's personal attention and involvement at home than more money in the checking account.
The marriage vows we repeated years ago said, "In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer..." We have been in many levels of financial security in our years of marriage. As newlyweds, we struggled to make ends meet even with our super "free-living" situation. Next, we had some years with two incomes in California when we had lots of freedom financially. Then we spent ten years living overseas in Austria on a limited income prescribed by our mission. It was a real challenge to find affordable housing in Vienna during those years. Our housing allowance was limited, and the cost of housing was sky-high in Vienna. We made it a matter of prayer to even be able to find an apartment or house.
The Lord provided each time, and it makes me smile to think how we managed and made each one of the three places we lived in Austria into our own Finzel haven. Overall it was fun. Hans and I both have a strong creative side, and we certainly had to use creativity in many of those homes. Our last house in Europe actually had two kitchens, one on each floor. That may sound elegant and convenient, but it was really a major waste of limited space. The house also had an annoying fireplace coming up through the middle of one of the rooms. Solution? Ask the landlord if we could "take out" the kitchen and store it. He said, "Yes, of course!" So we made that cozy former kitchen alcove room above the garage into the nursery for our eighteen-month-old twins. The other problem, the fireplace, actually acted like a great "room divider"! We made half of the room a family and TV room and
the other half a playroom for our four kids.
Our point here is that no matter what your financial resources are (or are not), you can make a house a home. You can give your wife that place of joy to express herself. Moving ten times in our first twenty years of marriage certainly was not our plan, and is not ideal, but in spite of all that stress and work, we had fun! Much of the joy I feel as I look back on all of those places we lived (in spite of all the moves) comes from our working together to make each one into our Finzel home.
It means so much to me that Hans cares enough about me to help "make it happen," whether that means spending money, wallpapering, putting in extra outlets in a kitchen, or even heavier jobs. I'm very blessed that one of the most natural ways Hans expresses his love for me is in this way.
PROMISE KEEPERS TO THE RESCUE
For several years now, Promise Keepers' meetings have been having a powerful impact upon tens of thousands of men and on their families. In our church, the first summer only five or six men went, but our pastor allowed them to share the impact of the conference with our church body on a Sunday night soon after their return. Wow! We were amazed at the changes and new commitments to the Lord and to their marriages these men had made. It had truly been a taste of revival for them.
The next summer, well over 100 men from our church attended, and the impact upon them and our church was multiplied! As a woman, I find it most ironic that much of what has been portrayed in the news media regarding Promise Keepers has been jaded and downright untrue. Contrary to their cries of "male chauvinism" and "power feeding" for men, the outcome has in my view been one of the best things that has ever happened to help women! Why? Because the speakers have
challenged these men to be who God intends them to be! Men of God, who seek to know Him, be accountable to other men for keeping their lives pure, and honoring their commitments to be better husbands and fathers.
We personally know men who went "kicking and screaming" "forced" to go by their wives or family members to Promise Keepers. These men were skeptics, who I believe were also fearful of what it would mean to go to such a conference with 40,000 to 60,000 men. Yet in every case, they were revolutionized in a positive way! Several of them came to faith in Christ. Others opened their hearts to their brothers for the first time with their own struggles as they shared meals and driving time together. So, as a wife and woman, I for one am thrilled to be counted among the thousands of women who want our husbands and sons there every chance they can! Ladies, encourage your husbands to go and do everything you can to make it happen. The message is loud and clear at Promise Keepers: Men are to be involved as husbands and fathers in the home in substantial ways.
HERO HUSBANDS WE KNOW
Donna and I have the rare and valuable privilege of both being from families where the mother and dad stayed together their whole married lives in a positive and nurturing marriage. In chapter 4 you heard about Donna's dad and his spiritual leadership in the home. He and Mom Bubeck have been married almost fifty years, and their relationship is truly a tribute to doing it right.
I, Hans, grew up in a very different home than Donna did, being a first-generation American living in the home of immigrants from Germany. My parents moved to America right after World War II to work for the U.S. government in building missiles in the budding space program. My father's boss was Dr. Werner Von Braun, and he and a group of scientists and engineers were brought to America after
World War II to begin the U.S. space program. My family, along with 100 other German families, immigrated to and settled in Huntsville, Alabama, on the southern rim of the beautiful Smoky Mountains.
Our home was a traditional German home, where we spoke the language of our parents. My experience was typical of a third-culture kid, in many ways similar to the lives of missionary children growing up in foreign cultures. It was a good childhood, and to this day I believe I model my own role as husband and father based upon the example of my dad even more than I realize it.
My dad, whom we called "Vati" German for "daddy" was certainly not a perfect man. The older I get the more I realize that some of my own inadequacies are the same inadequacies that I saw in him. The awesome power of genetics! One thing my dad was great in was being involved in the home as a helping father and husband to my mom. My dad had an intense career in the U.S. space program. You can imagine the pressure during the years when they were building rockets to put us on the moon. I remember hearing the roaring blast of rocket engines being tested at the NASA space center in Huntsville, even though the test stands were twenty miles from our home!
After the Apollo program came the space shuttle, and there was always plenty to do with long intense hours of work. And yet I could always tell that my father loved his family more than he loved his work. I also noticed through the years how much he loved being alone with my mom as they would take trips together to different places around the world. They loved traveling together more than any other recreational experience.
When my father was home, he was really home. He didn't have hobbies or lots of personal friends who took him away from home when he wasn't working. He was busily engaged in the evenings and every weekend in taking care of the house and making it a home. I remember his Saturday morning trips to the hardware store to gather
the necessary equipment for that weekend's "honey do" list. He took good care of everything that broke down in the home, and he did it proficiently. I can also remember the countless hours he spent working with me on my go-carts and then later numerous collections of motorcycles, which I acquired as a teenager. He was there for me, and he was engaged in my life when I needed him.
Unfortunately, my father was a smoker, and he died of lung cancer in 1984. My mother never remarried because as far as she was concerned, there could never be a man who would even closely measure up to the stature of my father. To this day she worships him and, of course, misses him intensely. Vati taught me a lot of great values. He showed me how to be a good husband and father who engages in the things that need to be done around the house to keep the family corporation operational. He wasn't perfect, and I'm not perfect. But I do thank him for providing such a strong example in this important area of husbandhood.
This chapter is one that could easily be seen as a put-down on men. Women hate to nag their husbands, but the alternatives are none the more appealing. Husbands' working in the home is an area that many men don't want to hear about, but it's an issue that is very real and on the front burner for most wives.
What's a husband and father to do? In two words, "Focused engagement." We like the way our friend on the East Coast puts it: Change quiet spectatorship to active participation and inquisitiveness of what's happening my life and the children's. A few other tips to help you along the way:
Remember her view of your home everything about your home matters to your wife because it reflects her! Part of respecting and loving her is to understand how important this is to her.
Don't procrastinate whatever that means in your life, whether you set a three-day limit to do what she asks for fix-it jobs or "do it now" in the case of taking the garbage out or other small requests.
Take the initiative surprise her by doing tasks without being asked. As we said earlier, she is not the maid. Doing dishes, picking up (or telling kids to pick up) things, cleaning bathrooms, and so on are not exclusively her job description.
Do some research by asking her What needs to be done that I could do tonight? What are the few things that bother you the most that, if I did, would mean the most to you?
Set aside one Saturday a month for projects Many dads spend Saturdays with kids at the ball games. Why not make one Saturday a month a day for those projects she needs done around the house?
If you're not going to do it soon Let her hire someone else to do it. As in the case of the wife with the bookshelf or the woman who wanted to pay to have someone clean the windows, if you're just going to make promises that you can't keep, then free her up to spend the money. She is happy, you're off the hook, and life is good.
Go to Promise Keepers Men, sign up and go with your friends. Women, do whatever you can to make it possible for your husband to get there.
Chapter Nine || Table of Contents