Husband as Hero

by Peter Vogel

If you'd asked me in my twenties I would have said there was no way I would ever get married. I believed that the only point of getting married was to have children and I had no desire to bring children into a world which was certainly going to be destroyed before long by nuclear war or environmental crisis.

Soon after leaving school I had started my own business and discovered that not being paid a wage meant working every spare hour. The business succeeded and over the next few years grew from a staff of three to over fifty. I found myself being a full-time manager no longer doing the hands- on work which I had enjoyed in the early days. My usual work day involved arriving at work at 9 am dealing with staff problems customer problems shareholder problems and financing problems until midnight grabbing a meal at a nearby restaurant and returning home to do it all again the next day. This pattern usually continued seven days of the week. My sanity was preserved only because I was also involved in environmental activism of various sorts which was peaking in the seventies.

So "settling down" was not high on my agenda; in fact developing any personal relationship was difficult given my crazy lifestyle. In a way my business had become like a family. It absorbed all my time a seven-day-a-week responsibility. Staff would come to my office in tears to tell me about some nasty office scandal and I would think to myself this is like being a father and adjudicating disputes between the children. My heart was no longer in it but I felt an enormous paternal burden of responsibility to keep my "family" employed. Of course these people were not my family and I did not get the benefits that accompany the responsibility of being a real father. In retrospect I can see what unrealistic expectations I had but I can remember at the time thinking "if this is what being the breadwinner of a family is about count me out."

I met Amanda on my 26th birthday whilst on a business trip to London. We were together for only a couple of days but after my return to Sydney I thought of her often and we corresponded regularly. I invited her to join me on a skiing holiday the next year and after this second meeting I was starting to feel there was definitely something special about us. A couple of years later Amanda emigrated to Australia and before long was employed by my company which was still growing at a dangerous rate. After nearly 10 years of this manic working situation my health was giving out. It had been a long time since I had enjoyed the work -- it had become a matter of duty rather than choice. I believed that if I stopped what I was doing my "family" would die. I knew things had to change but it just seemed impossible.

In 1987 the business was in dire straits financially and the major shareholder wanted to take control of management. At the same time a relative died and left me quite a lot of money. This was the time to make my escape. I left the company married Amanda and started a family.

When our first daughter was born we moved out of Sydney to the Blue Mountains as we didn't like the idea of raising children in the city. The plan was that I would build a "dream home" on a block of land we owned. This would be a part-time activity that would not take me away from my baby. I loved the whole pregnancy thing. I loved touching Amanda's growing bulge. I listened to the baby's heart sang to it in utero made my long-suffering wife pose nude every month so I could take profile photos of her swelling belly. I had no trouble at all adjusting to being unemployed since I had a new and much more exciting job lined up: being a daddy. When Poppy was born we were still living on savings and enjoying being parents. I was quite happy to change nappies and to take turns walking the baby in the night. Amanda and I had our own bedrooms so that we could each occasionally get a reasonable night's sleep.

Our little family continued in its fairy-tale bliss for a year or so until we started building the house. This was to be no ordinary house. The money to build it was in the bank and no expense was to be spared in creating what was to be a monument to my commitment to my new family. This was as close as a mere man like me can get to giving birth to a baby. By this time Amanda was busy producing number two.

The luxury of that interlude with no financial pressures just enjoying watching Poppy grow remains in my mind as the happiest time of my life. I spent a lot of time just carrying my baby around singing to her telling her stories. I would often sit and watch her as she slept in her cot. I loved putting her in the baby sling and taking her into town to do shopping which was a great opportunity to play at "proud father". Amanda and I would often wink at her as she sat in her high chair throwing food around. Long before she could talk she has learned to wink back.

bout a year into the house-building project the bubble burst. The company I had left two years previously went belly-up and as I was still a financial guarantor the bank came looking for its pound of flesh. That was the end of the money we had saved for the house.

Any rational person would have at that stage put the house building on hold pending financial recovery. But in my mind there was no question of faltering in this quest particularly given its symbolic dimension. Amanda's reaction to losing the money was "Oh no! Now we won't be able to complete the house!" while Hero Husband came to the rescue with "Don't worry I'll take care of everything". So without further discussion (not wanting to worry a woman in advanced state of pregnancy) I decided to borrow money to continue building and start a new business to earn the money to service the loan. This at a time when interest rates were a record 22% was not the action of a sane man. This was the action of a man who had made a commitment to his family and was going to keep it no matter what the cost.

The next couple of years were difficult. The joy of fatherhood was dampened by the demands of work which and dumped us back into the breadwinner/housewife dichotomy we swore we would never succumb to. I was tired and resentful and Amanda was tired and resentful. In retrospect Amanda acknowledges that she was suffering a bit of post-natal depression. Fortunately I sought advice from our family doctor who referred me to a counsellor who helped me unravel what I was so resentful about. It wasn't actually that I had to go back to work that was eating at me. It was more that I had fallen hook line and sinker for the Knight in Shining Armour routine in the hope of winning the heart of the Fair Damsel in Distress. Amanda and I had never discussed how we were going to resolve our financial situation; I had simply taken on that responsibility. I had no-one but myself to blame.

It was about that time I realised I needed some male support to sort things out. My day-to-day life was filled with females: my wife my daughters their play-mates the playmates' mums. I had no close male friends I could talk to. Once this need hit home I decided to start a men's group. Amanda was supportive of my branching out and was also prepared to look at her role in the tensions in our relationship. Our mutual goodwill and commitment has meant that we survived that tough "babies" time and problems get worked through keeping our family healthy and happy.

And I am pleased to report that with the support of my men's group I have finally learned how to say "I love you" without spending anything.

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