Real Lives: MAN'S WORLD

THE OTHER evening I listened as my wife and a friend discussed, in their topical way, their loathing of new men in general and of house husbands in particular. There is apparently something unforgivably weedy and unsexy about men who are content to do their fair share. I was muttering to myself that they wouldn't be talking that way if Dr Germaine Greer were in earshot, when a horrible thought occurred to me. "But I'm a house husband," I said.

By their incredulous laughter I was made to understand that I had somehow managed to avoid this particular pitfall. My wife assured me that hanging around the house all the time and being a house husband were two different things. I reminded her of all the nappies I'd changed and that time I'd made bread, but she insisted that I had a long way to go before I could be considered a new man. I'm sure she didn't mean this as a compliment, because she said it in front of someone else, but the implication was clear: I was the marginally lesser of two evils.

Obviously these days a man has to walk a very fine line to stay inside the Attractiveness Zone, but I find that it's mostly a matter of attitude. I may shop and cook and bathe the children like some kind of hapless drone, but I do it all with the exceedingly bad grace of someone fulfilling the conditions of a community service order. I know these chores are just as much my responsibility as my wife's, which is why I'm always prepared to argue that it isn't my turn. My wife will sometimes insist that it's not about whose turn it is, but this is usually because it's her turn.

In principle our marriage is an equal partnership. In practice this means that neither of us does anything unpleasant without having a crack at getting the other to do it first, and all of our free time is taken up with arguing about who is the most tired. The worst part is that, as the man, it is my duty to defend the moral low ground, which sometimes makes me uncomfortable. It can be very difficult to say "I know what you mean - my back is killing me" to a woman who is eight-months pregnant, although I prefer it to cleaning up cat sick.

Sunday is one long fight for the right to wear the thunderous face. My wife prefers ambitious family outings - a restaurant followed by swimming, perhaps - so she can show the world what a bad father I am. I generally oblige by sulking. Then, as my wife becomes irritated with the slow service and starts shouting at the four-year-old for playing with the sugar, I begin to cheer up. By the time we get to the pool to find it closed for a private party, my wife is seething and I am humming to myself. Back at home I grudgingly make the children supper, and looking out at the steady rain, I smile as I remember that it's her turn to go out and look for the tortoise. I shall wait until bedtime to remind her.

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