“How to be a [Good?] Husband” [Review]

I am always trying to be a better partner to my wife. Alas, I’m a little too much of a man. That’s why I picked up Guardian columnist Tim Dowling’s book How to be a Husband. I figured I could learn something, at the very least I could laugh at the pathetic silliness of men. I got way more than I bargained for.

“This is not really a self-help manual. If you come across anything that resembles advice in it, I would caution against following it too strictly, although I’m aware that is, in itself, advice. The kind of people who read self-help books are not, I’m guessing, looking to be more like me.”

He’s right. This book is a story of pitfalls and pratfalls, mistakes and disasters, love, anxiety and the promise that “We can always get divorced.” No, I would not like to be more like Tim Dowling, mostly because I’m already too much like him already.

I laughed all the way through this book. Dowling is a good writer and he has a knack for getting at the heart of a matter by making you chuckle all the way to the point. I enjoyed this book and then I put it down and moved on to another book like I always do. But then I had to pick it back up and take a better look at it.

Yesterday, my wife was laying on our couch while I made myself a grilled ham and cheese sandwich and she says, hey, why don’t we go to this IVF event in the city. I’m all for it. Then she says it’s a good opportunity to get the ball rolling. “What exactly does ‘get the ball rolling’ mean to you?” I asked. It means start doing the things we need to do to start the process of IVF and having kids. All of a sudden I’m excited and nauseated. And suddenly Dowling’s 20 years of experience take on more urgency for me to understand.

I went back to the book and opened to he chapter “Fatherhood for Morons.” I’m a moron, I thought. Teach me your ways. Sadly, there is no cure for being a moron. And I don’t get much help. It’s charming stories about Dowling’s boys and some very good tips for making sit-down family dinners bearable. I learn that boys can manage about 15 minutes of time at the table and that’s about it. I store this tip away for later.

I go back a few chapters to “The Pros and Cons of Procreation.” Maybe this is a better place for me to glean some advice. After all, we haven’t quite achieved procreation yet. I think we’re still in the “gleam in the eye” stage. I get a picture of inadequacy that I am not surprised by.

“When it comes to parenting I’m basically an understudy, ready to step in and distract the baby for short periods so my wife can use the phone. The child requires more or less the same things from his mother as his father; it’s just that he prefers all of them to come from his mother: feeding, dressing, reading, eye contact.”

“But I want all those things from her, too,” I think in a whining inner monologue. I am suddenly very annoyed at myself. Thank god I have some time to prepare for this and I am aware that I’m a complete baby before I have to compete with a real baby.

Okay. So I’m getting the sense that I really need my wife to stick around and like me enough to not throw me in the baby’s cot. Does Dowling have any tips on that? I’m given this tidbit: “Staying together has got very little to do with the vague promises you made on your wedding day and a lot to do with adapting to conditions on the ground.”

Crap. This isn’t helping at all. That’s it. I’m doomed. If a guy with 20 years of experience can’t tell me anything better than this, then I am well and truly doomed.

But it’s not all bad. Dowling makes his 20 years of marriage sound hard, but good and rewarding. He obviously loves his wife, though they are less effusive than the Atheist Wife and I are. (Honestly, even I think we’re nauseating) And as much as he makes fun of himself and his situation, it is clear that it has had its enjoyable spots, its rewarding moments and longevity that many would be jealous of.

So am I learning how to be a good husband? No. I’m learning what Dowling’s experience was like and gleaning some tidbits of wisdom, but I cannot claim to have a blueprint. He did warn me at the beginning that this wasn’t a self-help book. But if he can do it, I can do it. Maybe…

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