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.