Man and Wife
As the apple tree among the trees of the woods, so is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down under his shadow, whom I desired. Song of Solomon 2:3
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?
~~Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays”
I believe in love at first sight. I met my husband on a blind date and knew by the next morning that I would marry him. Then we dated. For seven years. My daughter, ever curious about my life before she came along, and now old enough to do the math, asks me, which leads me to ask myself: why did we wait so long to get married? The answer is one I could complicate, but that would be dishonest. Simply put, we were both scared. Though not yet Catholic, I had a Sacramental view of marriage, and understood it to be an unbreakable union, one not, as the vows say, to be entered into lightly or unadvisedly. I deferred to the wisdom of Stevie Wonder . . . “Be sure you’re sure.” I had witnessed too many divorces to remain wide-eyed or naïve. But my husband was wonderful, and I knew it. I remember receiving flowers from him, then just my boyfriend, at work one day. A co- worker remarked cutely, “Tell me again why you’re not marrying this man?” Over time, our foolishness and reluctance were defeated by our faith and friendship. Also I came to conclude through empirical observation that I had managed to find one of the very last real men on the planet.
As I pull back the lens and look at my life today, fully participating in the Catholic life, I cannot imagine marriage and motherhood yoked with anyone else. Least of all can I imagine marriage to one of the feminized men of my husband’s age and younger, tails of the dog who should be heads of the family, perfumed, plucked, and in perpetual pubescence, afraid to find themselves on the receiving end of a stiletto heel in the eye socket if they assert themselves in their relationships. One of the sadder results of this girling-down of our men is that they seem to happily march to the slaughter, elevating hobbies and pets, pornography and sports, dining out and drinking alcohol, to the level of occupations and vocations. They have a commitment to self, and expect to be lauded for individualism and open-mindedness, a “live and let live” attitude that enables them to languish in a protracted adolescence while the men forty-five and older set fix the cars, paint the houses, give up seats and hold doors, read books, and grow body hair.
I shouldn’t jest, really. For some young women, the pickings are so slim that they have to try to sculpt one of these hip husbands into a father. Truth be told, some gals I know prefer a passive, effete male. They are not prepared to submit to a husband in a traditional way in any event, so the two have a happy agreement to switch roles, much to my head scratching confusion. I was programmed by my mother to look for a man’s man. She used to refer to any man under his wife’s dominion as a “Harvey Milquetoast.” She told me quite directly, “You have to be able to look up to your husband. Not just love him, but look up to him.” Her view was Biblical and natural. And it has borne itself out in my marriage, as daily I stretch and grow in the loving cocoon my husband has woven for me and our children. The morning presents itself, and I stand in my kitchen, looking at the coffee maker. Peppermint tea or blueberry coffee? My son hugs my leg, smiling. Time to play! His bag of cars or his set of blocks? Am I cold? I press a button and I will be warm. I have a safe car in which to transport my children to stores and schools. I can donate to the charities that will help build a better world for all of us, the family in our house, and the family of humanity whom I’ve never met. Not to say that my husband’s contribution is wholly or merely financial, but the fact remains that it is exclusively via his sweat, his time, his dedication, his pursuit of professional excellence, his sacrifice, his refusal to be lazy or even many times comfortable and happy, that equips almost every move his wife and children make. That is a constant and chosen pressure, a Godly burden, one that requires trust on my part and selflessness on his.
As the day wears on, I watch my husband slip in and out of the many roles he must fill as head of our household, and my admiration for him grows. The suit and tie come off, and the workout clothes go on, as he attempts to stay healthy and strong. The workout clothes come off, and the paint- splattered jeans go on, as he repairs, paints, climbs, cleans, filters, fixes, lifts, and carries. At night he plays with his children, allowing them to pound and pounce on him, ask him questions that are on their face inane, but are vitally important to a three and eight year old. And when they are quietly sleeping, he goes back to work on his computer, finishing a leftover work project, or tackling our personal bills. For both of us, in many and various ways, it never ends, this work of being married, parenting, and participating in our parish and our faith. It is the flesh and blood of life; it is a body made of parts, and my husband is the head, guiding and supplying, deciding and dealing with the consequences of what he decides. He wears his shoes until they have holes in the bottom, so I tease him, “Time for new shoes, Willy Loman.” But the shoes are emblematic. I’ve seen him wear a hole in his stomach too, ill in the middle of the night from aggravation and too much coffee, but up in the morning dressed, out into battle, out to do what others aren’t willing to, for the number of hours others aren’t willing to do it.
I remember so distinctly the first time I was walloped by true marital love. My husband was finally able to get himself a nice, new car. I practically had to break his arm to do it, because his first concern was getting ME into a safer vehicle. So I knew what it was like to get something FROM him, to have something new, a luxury, for me anyway. I knew the feelings that yielded. And they were nothing in comparison to the feeling of watching him drive off the lot in his new car. Nothing at all. Love’s defining face had shown itself: his happiness trumped my own, and by a landslide. Again and again, I feel that, and it floods me with contentment and confidence. He leads me, and I follow him, but not because he is dominant, but because he is a domicile. He is my home; his very body protects mine and our children’s. His mind holds the images and terrors, the truths and lies, the uglinesses of this world. He shields us from them and filters them through his man’s heart.
Back in my girlhood when I had cold feet about marriage, I feared giving myself and my life over to a man because I feared no man would be able to perform the all-important and all-encompassing duties of husband and father. I saw wives unaided, unappreciated and abandoned, clutching on white knuckled to the wheel of a ship they were never meant to steer. I saw kids raised by men who behaved less like fathers than like punk friends you don’t want coming around calling for your son. I used to think the trick was choosing the right person. Now I see it’s a matter of BEING the right person, the ladylike, nurturing, 24/7 wife and mother who stands by her husband’s decisions, who will refrain from mocking, controlling, yelling, flirting, nagging, complaining, and demanding. She deserves and will remain deserving of the husband and father who will do the revolutionary: who will be counter-cultural enough to wear the pants in the family. Not a petty dictator, but also not a perpetual “dude” who enjoys a double standard in all things. A man. A man who is man enough to walk on the outside of the sidewalk, to shovel the snow, to rake the leaves, to listen to the dreams of his wife and children even when his mind is cluttered with a thousand demons and his body is exhausted by his labors. This is not about tit for tat, an exchange of goods and services. For an exchange, two parties are needed. We are not two, but one.
The Sacramental marriage is a thing of ecstasy, holiness, and shared burden. One flesh cannot be divided, and one flesh cannot keep score. The naturally dictated dynamic of a man and his wife will not and cannot deteriorate into a power struggle, because the power lies in and remains with Christ and Christ alone. The home is the “little church” and the residents of that home manifest Christ with each word and action. The virtuous wife and the Godly man do not build a fortress; they ARE a fortress. This fortress guards the children God places in it. Our fortress is what guards my daughter and son. My daughter feels the unshakeability and immutability of this fortress, and this is why she asks, “Why did you guys wait SO long to get married anyway?” In her perception, we were putting off paradise, and I often regret that long wait. But I must not look behind and analyze my former fears; instead I look above and ahead, to my husband, with my husband, for my husband, for his salvation, (oh, his salvation, my children’s salvation!), the condition of his precious soul, entwined with mine and exposed to me, set firmly in me, like the precious diamond in my engagement ring. Glimpses at the different facets of his soul, these are the treasures that are bestowed upon a real man’s wife.
Copyright April 2012 Nicole Motsch-DeMille