Becoming the Breadwinner

This post was originally published at Dads Good over at the Good Men Project. But since this is my first day of my new job I thought it was fitting.

I’ve never been a breadwinner.

My wife and I have been married five years, together for seven. I’ve worked as a journalist nearly all of that time, and if you haven’t heard—journalists make peanuts. Seriously. Mid-level suburban high school babysitters make more than members of the Fourth Estate. But if you’ve got ink in your blood, you do the job because you love it. Money be damned.

Meanwhile she works in banking. As a manager. Which means she doesn’t just make more money than I do, she makes WAY more. At one point it was more than double my salary.

And that bothered me. A lot.

But with time I learned to cope. My wife was fantastic about it and boosted my self-confidence by telling me I work just as hard as she does and I pull my weight around the house. When it comes to our son, I’ve had the majority of caregiving duties because up until a few months ago, she had a very long commute. She also told me I was her anchor, and big paycheck is a distant second to all the emotional support I brought her.

Slowly but surely, I took what she said to heart. I grew into my role as the husband of a breadwinner wife, and even took to the Internet (and this very website) in defense of those who questioned the manhood/work ethic of stay-at-home dads and guys who don’t bring home the bacon.

But as it turns out, I’m not as comfortable with it as I thought.

I accepted a new job earlier this week. And with it comes a bump in salary. Actually, it’s not so much a bump as a quantum leap. That’s a great thing and much needed for our family, so it is perfectly natural to celebrate being able to pay our bills, getting out of our financial hole and providing for our family.

But I wasn’t celebrating those things.

The first thought that popped into my mind was “THANK GOD I’M MAKING MORE MONEY THAN MY WIFE!”

And while my second thought was what a douchebag I am for thinking the first thing, there was no denying that’s what was in my head. I felt a surge of pride, like FINALLY I was a man. A real man. A real man who supports his wife and child with a paycheck, like all real men are supposed to.

If I knew how to hunt I would’ve gone out and killed a wild boar and presented it to my wife with a loud grunt. I felt like walking into the kitchen, unzipping my pants and unfurling my manhood on the kitchen table next to my offer letter. I half expected to see every male relative I’ve ever had to come greet me with a firm handshake and hearty smile, telling me “attaboy” and “welcome to the club.” I felt relief. Overwhelming relief that at long last, I was fulfilling my role.

And then I felt ashamed of being a huge, dumb asshole.

I mean seriously, what the fuck is wrong with me? I know how stupid I am for placing so much value on a paycheck. I have friends in real life and online who are stay-at-home dads and don’t contribute a penny, yet I realize full well they are doing something invaluable. Something far more meaningful than bringing home a paycheck. And if anyone ever told them they weren’t “real men,” I would tear that person a new one.

Yet for me, personally, it’s an issue. I wish that wasn’t the case, but for better or worse my misguided notion of manhood includes how many zeros are in my pay stub. My wife never EVER lorded her salary over me. Not even once. Likewise, I will never taunt her with my paycheck and I certainly don’t plan to do any less at home in terms of chores or raising my son now that I make more money. But I have to face the ugly truth that making less money than my wife is a far bigger issue than I ever realized.

And it bothers me that it bothers me.

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7 thoughts on “Becoming the Breadwinner

  1. My wife and I have gone back and forth on this many times in our professional careers. She’s always been an engineer with a solid paycheck. I started as an engineer out of college, then transitioned into a hollywood job, which paid peanuts,and then big money, then my own company, which was big money, then peanuts, and now doing OK again. All the while her salary has steadily increased and allowed us to have a pretty good living, while mine was all over the board. Feast or famine, though over time it has averaged out about the same.

    I found it helped to be really open about financial expectations because as much as people say it doesn’t matter in love and relationships, it always finds a way to creep in and cause havoc. Make sure each partner knows who is expected to do what. Sometimes just being home watching the kids is not enough. There are daycares, nannies, etc.

    If you do something while watching the kids, make a few bucks, that’s great and goes a long way.

  2. Don’t let it bother you that it bothers you…in our society we are taught that the man is to be the bread winner. My boyfriend makes more money than me and he still seems to think that he isn’t doing a good enough job taking care of the family. If you have a great wife/partner it will not matter how many zeros you have on the end of your paycheck. What will matter is how you treat them. Jobs come and go, but love and respect is what makes a relationship last.

  3. Just think of all of the money going into the bank and be happy, nevermind where and who it is coming from. Plus if it bothers you that it bothers you, tell your shrink, or am I to assume that that is ended already?

  4. “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

    Gordo Gekko

    Aaron, Let’s go buy suits like in Ron Burgandy!

  5. Long time reader, first time commenter 😉 How did the first day of the job go? Are we going to get any more details about what you’re doing?

    I’m sad to see you give up journalism, at least as a day job, but know about needing to provide for your family. We still expect you to post, no closing up shop at the Daddy Files right? I wish you luck on the new adventure and hope that you enjoy the new job too!

  6. Congratulations on the new job! I know all about journalism and its pay scale, but I know it’s hard to leave that field. As for the rest, don’t worry, you’ll work it out.

  7. It’s not what the paper says, it’s what you two say. And if there is a 50% partnership in other ways, then you contribute to things that are valuable.

    I’m in the semi-opposite situation which makes things extremely difficult. I make way more than my DH. However, I chose to go to college and get advanced degrees. He chose to drop out and party. I chose to pick jobs that would not only enhance my paycheck but my career, benefits, and stability. He chose whatever was the easier schedule and eventually starting his own business. I get up at 5am to go to work by 8. I get home by 6. I cook for our son, spend time with him, give him baths, and put him to bed. DH picks him up from school and is immediately on Facebook with his friends while the tv is blasting. I get home and clean on top of it. He does nothing. He does help change the diapers and put our son to bed.

    And that’s the problem with our situation. If he realized that our son will want to be with us until he’s about 12 then it will be friends, friends, and more friends/activities. The house does not clean itself. And a $100 cable bill which I’m stiffing over yet I hear boo hoos about not having enough money to go here, there, everywhere then there is a problem.

    Yet in your scenario? I wouldn’t feel bad about a damn thing. Your wife is lucky to have you and vise versa.

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