Playing Ward to Mr. Half's June

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Have you ever been nostalgic for a time you've never experienced?

For me it's the 1950s. Like David Wagner in "Pleasantville," I'm wistful when I think about cookie-cutter homes in new subdivisions, sandlot baseball, nuclear families having dinner promptly at 6 p.m. I don't want to know about all the dysfunction that simmered beneath the pretty pictures back then -- like in "Far from Heaven."

At least it was under the surface. Today, family dysfunction is out in the open -- see "Jerry Springer" and "The Police Report in Your Local Newspaper."

Believe it or not, the aspect of the 1950s that intrigues me most is that women weren't expected to work outside the home once they were married. Maybe I'm wrong, but movies and television always show them cooking breakfast, tending roses and hosting cocktail parties. I don't know any stay-at-home moms today who aren't readying to go back into the work force once all the children are in school. And they certainly aren't members of bridge clubs.

So, with my black-and-white-television, Johnny Mathis vision of the perfect family, imagine my shock when I ended up marrying a "baby atheist" -- a friend's wonderfully appropriate term for someone who doesn't believe in children -- and taking a series of jobs that put me in the office for 50 or 60 hours a week.

What the heck happened? Imagine how much more surprising it was when fate made me the sole breadwinner for my little two-person family. Did this make me Ward Cleaver to my husband's June? And the worst part is, I really enjoyed it.

The situation arose when I landed a job in central Florida and The Other Half didn't. He was going to stay behind in Cape Girardeau, live with his parents and keep looking down here.

But after considering what life would be like as a 33-year-old man living with his parents, Mr. Half decided to move south. I was worried -- I'd never been in a one-income marriage before -- but elated to have the company.

It was fabulous. When I went to work Jan. 5, Mr. Half was home to unpack and arrange the furniture. He had a hot meal waiting for me every night. The laundry was washed and folded. The house was clean. He asked me how my day went.

And, even with all that, he still took time to keep himself pretty.

The deal was that he'd have a job by the end of February. He was frantically looking after one week. I think he was horrified at the idea of having Starbucks money doled out to him.

Mr. Half's work ethic is something I love about him. I'd rather have a man getting jittery after a couple weeks at home than one who turns out to think it's cool.

And it's understandable that his pride was getting hurt. Even though I've been assured by a few men that they'd like nothing more than to be supported by their wives, I think that's a lie they feel compelled to tell so they'll look like sensitive men. Even after all this time, the concept is that men bring home the bacon, women fry it up in a pan.

Mr. Half had a job offer less than two weeks after he dropped off his first resume. I wasn't surprised, but I'm a little sad. My time as a sole breadwinner helped me see why men initially were resistant to the idea of their wives working outside the home. Who wants Hamburger Helper instead of slow-cooked pot roast? I see a lot of cold cuts and TV dinners in my future.

And I'll be watching a lot of Turner Classic Movies.

It will make me feel better.

Heidi Hall is the former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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