by Sheila Wray Gregoire
It is commonly acknowledged that women bawl at movies. Remember Sleepless in Seattle, when Tom Hanks’ character teams up with his brother-in-law to mock women’s reactions to An Affair to Remember? “What about The Dirty Dozen?” they cry, pretending to well up. “And Trini Lopez, how he busted his neck when he was parachuting down behind the Nazi lines!” Hanks sobs, as his friend whips out the hanky.
Despite the fake histrionics, women know that men secretly weep at movies, too. I recently read a list compiled by The Sports Blawger of the 25 most tear-inducing guy flicks. They’re all definitely Kleenex worthy. There’s Old Yeller, the classic boy and his dog tale; or Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, depicting the struggle to persevere; or Saving Private Ryan, with its final haunting question, “Did I earn this sacrifice?” All of these movies aim at the heart of men’s values: relationships, integrity, and purpose. And we women love it when you cry.
We’re just really crabby when you stop. You’ve proven you have a sensitive side, so we think you’ll finally take Johnny out and throw the ball around, or maybe pick up that phone and call your mother, instead of leaving it to us. But instead you’re back riding your lawnmower, and the movie is forgotten.
There really is something to that “Men are like waffles, women are like spaghetti” thing. Men, like waffles, are compartmentalized. You live your life in separate boxes. You watch the movie, you cry, and then you switch to something new. To women, everything is intertwined.
Hockey legend Paul Henderson, when he speaks at marriage conferences, relates the story of a rip-roaring fight he and his wife Eleanor once had. They were arguing in the living room, when Eleanor made the mistake of retreating into the bedroom. He followed her, and his hands began to wander. She swatted them away. “What are you doing?! We’re fighting!” And he retorted, “We were in the fighting room. Now we’re in the sex room. I thought we had moved on!”
This compartmentalization makes women really nervous, especially when it comes to navigating the work/family balance. We’re afraid you’ll start to see it exactly that way, and think that when you’re at work, you work, and when you’re at home, you don’t. After all, we work wherever we are. We write grocery lists on sticky notes while we’re on the phone with clients, and we drive kids to soccer while we plan our next meeting. We want you to work in the family, too. But that work can’t just involve things like mowing the grass or fixing stuff. It has to involve relationships.
We don’t want you to leave important things like disciplining children or liaising with the school principal to us, just because we’re spaghetti people and we’re constantly thinking about these issues anyway. We need your input. And, given men’s teary responses to father-son movies like Frequency or The Big Fish, you have a deep-seated need to connect, too.
Two hundred years ago, finding balance between family responsibilities and work responsibilities wouldn’t have been an issue. The family all toiled together, with the children labouring alongside the parents, so most of the fathering tasks were thus accomplished “at work.” They weren’t in two separate spheres.
Today they are, and it’s easy to believe that work, which involves measurable goals and specific tasks, is more akin to waffle people than home is, which involves things like communicating and feeling and relating.
Perhaps, though, home does not have to be a pasta sphere. God’s priorities for family life lend themselves to waffle skills, too. Think about it this way. At work you likely plan. You need to know where the firm is going, and when your next salary increase will be. You compile charts and lists.
Why not do the same thing on the home front? What do you want your family to look like in five years? Where do you want to be spiritually? What values do you want your children to exhibit? What about our marriage? Now, are you on the right road to meet those goals? If not, what are you going to change?
We’re at the beginning of a new school year, and if you want to start it well, and make your wife smile in the process, here’s my advice. Take her out to dinner, notebook in hand, and do some strategic planning and praying with her. Show her that you want your family to reflect your values, but you have your own way of accomplishing this. Then go home and watch Old Yeller. And bring a hanky.
Sheila is the author of several books, including Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight: Help for women who want to feel more in the mood. Together with her husband Keith, she speaks at FamilyLife Canada marriage conferences around the country. She can be found at www.SheilaWrayGregoire, or at her home in Belleville, ON, with her husband and two daughters.
The article above was featured in the September 2008 issue of SEVEN magazine.