This scenario and others subtitled with a generic man’s name are fictitious. However, they are based on accumulated understandings about husbands either depicted in literature or real life.
My name is Mike. My wife’s name is Karen. This is a story I wish I didn’t need to tell.
I got a little tired of hearing about Tevye. He’s the main character in the Broadway play and 1971 movie titled Fiddler on the Roof. Karen bought the DVD of the movie and watched it regularly.
A little too much in my opinion.
I admit its storyline and music are creative and entertaining. But not so much after repeated showings. When Karen pulled the DVD off the closet shelf, I’d get scarce.
Yard work. Walk the dog. Retreat to the kitchen and read one of my Tom Clancy novels.
Maybe a nap somewhere in the house where I didn’t have to listen to “If I Were a Rich Man.” “Daidle deedle daidle; Daidle daidle deedle daidle dumb.”
After the DVD ended Karen would find me. She’d say, “you know, you’re an awful lot like Tevye.” And I would always ask how. And she’d say, “because you’re stuck in an attitudinal culture just as much as he is.”
Attitudinal culture? Now that is an interesting turn of phrase.
“Well, you are! You don’t come from the culture in which the fictional Tevye was born. But in some ways your experiences were similar. Those experiences you had in your family and community rubbed off on you.”
Here we go again.
Eventually we’d get to the heart of it. According to Karen I’m a 1950s male traditionalist. In those years superheroes were men who protected the weak and innocent. Cowboy movie stars were either loners or accompanied only by their horses and “sidekicks.”
Women in their lives, at the end of each movie, would watch with tears in their eyes as the hero rode off into the sunset. The End.
Karen said that real life is more complicated than Superman’s motto of “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” She would go on to say that the arbiters of all three of those lofty goals were men. Traditional, God-fearing men. Men who take good care of the “little woman” and their offspring.
Virtuous men who are willing to make sacrifices to care for and protect those they love.
Then out came the word “suffocating.”
Karen would explain to me she greatly appreciated the continuing effort I made to ensure she and the family were well cared for. She even said she loved me for it.
“But do you ever think of me as a real person? A true partner in life? You say you do, but never include me in discussions about substantive matters, like finances or making important decisions concerning our future direction. You insist you know best; that everything has been thought out carefully and planned for. I’m not to worry.”
“But I do worry. And I feel marginalized, not valued.”
I’m not an idiot. There is truth in what she said. We did discuss our children often. And I did defer to her opinion on that topic most of the time. But I know I dominated her in other ways, somewhat like my own father did. Property and job decisions. Management of money. Which car to buy. What church to attend. How to believe politically and who to vote for. Even how we would spend vacations, and when we visit relatives.
Both of us started having health problems as we grew older. That was expected. Because of a few bad experiences with the medical community and insurance companies, I let my opinion reign supreme. It was almost a compulsion on my part, so Karen held back. She let me be in control. After all, I did the research on the best options, so I made the decisions.
As the years rolled by Karen stopped using the word “suffocating.” I think the word for her new behavior was reticent. She would quietly give in to my opinion.
Karen had just given up. At that stage in our lives there was no changing the dynamic of our relationship. I prevailed and she submitted.
Strangely though, I felt a growing sadness. Not a victorious elation. The more she submitted to my wishes, the more depressed I became.
I had a couple of small medical emergencies and Karen, with the help of our children, supported my treatment and recuperation. The children and I did the same for her when she had problems. But it was almost like sleepwalking through the days. We did what was expected.
Then Karen started to forget how to do things she had done all her life. Mostly small things at first. The doctor checked her blood pressure, potassium levels, and conducted other standard examinations of possible ordinary reasons for mild brain dysfunction. All were negative.
“It could be the onset of dementia,” she said. “It can’t be diagnosed definitively, so please bring her back every three months or so for follow-up evaluations. In the meantime, I’ll prescribe a drug that is supposed to slow down the syndrome’s progress.”
And so, it began. A roller coaster ride at first. And then a gradual shut down. The odd feeling of sadness I felt earlier was escalating into a full-blown depression. How can this be?
Real men don’t whine!
I was always able to take care of my wife before. What was happening to me? Lack of sleep? Having to prepare meals for us? Cleaning up after accidents? Making excuses for Karen’s occasional bizarre behaviors or strange comments?
My nights were spent wondering if the woman next to me is Karen at all. If she is Karen, maybe I can apologize for the years I marginalized her, made her feel devalued as a human being and my partner in life. But then the morning’s reality hits me with yet another crisis, another way I must do penance for years of acting like a jerk.
There is no escape. I now realize I will need help. Our children and I are making plans for in home care at first. And we’re looking for a suitable memory care facility when the time comes.
There is no redoing what was done in years past. Now I just dread the future.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
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