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Money and marriage: Last year my wife earned 100 times more than me

SHARING IS CARING!
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Im in the vanguard of gender-evolutionary change, and backing her all the way so why do I feel like a failing?

My wife and I are on conference call with our accountant, Ronnie. Ronnie works from a home office on 57 th Street, looks a little like Larry David and has the kind of brusque New Yorker manners that border on the brutal.

“Kate,” he says, his voice tinny on speakerphone,” it looks like you’ve had another great year. And those pensions are actually starting to look good .”

My wife smiles modestly.

” So, Tom ,” Ronnie says with an ominous pause,” I believe the return is good, although we’re in a little danger of the government taking the position that what you do, basically, is a pastime .”

” A pastime ?” I say, weakly.

” Yeah, the Hobby Rule, it’s called. You got your stamp collectors, your comic book collectors, they go to conventions and then they sell some of their stuff. It’s really simply a pastime. I know yours is not a hobby – you’re a published author- but there’s nothing stopping them saying,’ Well, Tom basically is just writing because he enjoys it .’ If you’re not making any fund, they won’t let you write off loss .”

” I ensure ,” I say, wrestling a mixture of hurt pride and indignation.” But don’t they understand the idea of the business that’s just had a bad year ?”

” You can have a bad year ,” Ronnie tells me.” You can’t have a consistency of bad years. If you’re in the real estate business, yes, you can lose fund, but you can’t … You can’t live on … If you were single, on your own ….” He is having problems spitting out the actual amount I earned.” You can’t live on that ,” he says finally.

My wife gives my hand a squeezing.” Come on, you were writing two books and taking care of business with Juliet .” Juliet’s our three-year-old.” Do hobbyists write for the New Yorker ?”

I’ve been freelance long enough not to dwell on this setback. Soon, I am joking about the conversation, taking an inverted pride in the story with each retelling- a stamp collector! A bad year, yes, but a bad consistency of years!- until Kate starts to frown. It’s a familiar ritual for us: me joking my way out of how wounded I am, my wife maintaining a watchful eye to see if the jokes are going to turn serious again.

Secretly, I wonder if we haven’t turned into one of those couples where the wife is always building excuses for her husband:” Oh well, he was never a Master of the Universe type .” Or:” He’s good at maths .” I know I have no cause for grievance. Who could ever complain about a wife who earns six times more than them( actually, last year it was more like 100 times more than I did, but we’ll leave last year out of it, OK ?). The company where she is vice-president pays for everyone’s American healthcare; the mortgage is in her name, because my credit rating is nonexistent, and she pays more of it than I do. Her hours are brutal: from 9am to 8p m, sometimes later, which means she doesn’t have time to get our daughter to school and arrives home merely in time for her bath.

That leaves me in charge of get Juliet ready for nursery, picking her up mid-afternoon, then running the indicate- park, play-dates, dinner, bath- until Kate comes back from work. When she goes away on a business trip, I take over full day. We have a thoroughly modern marriage — “post-heroic”, in the words of historian James MacGregor Burns. I thrill to my wife’s victories at work as much as I used to thrill to my own, and offer good advice when it comes to negotiating her office politics. But as jazzy and loose-limbed and modern as my marriage sometimes makes me feel- looking after our daughter while my wife goes to march against Trump on inauguration day! Pointing out which pink pussy hat is mommy on the TV!- this only heightens the small pinch of disgrace I feel whenever a waiter returns Kate’s Amex card to me rather than her in a restaurant. Or when our accountant compares my livelihood to that of a hobbyist. What are these burp from my reptile brain?

Tom
Tom Shone with his wife, Kate, and their daughter, Juliet. Photograph: Dave Morrison

Clearly I do care. On some level, I care deeply. I also know that I shouldn’t, and this creates a instead volatile dynamic in me that has taken a lot of managing. I’ve read all those articles in Forbes and Businessweek about how stay-at-home daddies are the new feminist heroes, illustrated with photographs of Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina‘s spouse, Frank, and former Yahoo boss Marissa Mayer‘s husband, Zachary, all standing there with their aprons and smiles. That’s the point. They have chosen this life for themselves: their smiles are the smiles of men letting you know how OK they are with this, and how many ideas for start-ups they have had on the school run every morning. My smile is a little more the strained, polite smile of a human who may well have chosen this life for himself, but can’t for the life of him remember when or how it happened.

There are many of us out there.” One of the things that I struggle with in terms of how I ensure myself is that there’s no real precedent in this role ,” says my friend Nathan, who a few years back let his 13 -year copywriting career slide in order to pursue a career as a photographer. His wife has an executive position with a large media company. They have two children, aged five and six. From the moment they’re awake, he is getting them garmented, making breakfast, brushing teeth, building lunch, getting them to school, then he picks them up again mid-afternoon. Introduced to people, he will describe himself as either a “photographer” or a” stay-at-home daddy”, depending on the level of trust he feels.

” It constructs me want to wince when I hear that term, because I haven’t perpetrated 100% to this ,” he says.” It’s no big deal in 2017 for a mommy to be at home with the children, but it’s still murky and weird for a daddy. I notice it the most on Fridays. I don’t want to start a daddy club. I don’t want to deal with it .”

The majority of my male friends are in the same boat- out-earned by their wives and girlfriends, to varying degrees, which may say something about my social circle, but also about huge shiftings in the way women and men live, work and marry.

” The post-industrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength ,” writes Liza Mundy in The Richer Sex, a book I sought out in 2012, just a few years into my marriage.” Within a generation it is likely that more women, married and single, will be supporting households- especially households with children- than men .”

Wrestling with a king-sized depression about my work, or lack of it, I took consolation in Mundy’s soothing statistics about the recent “Mancession” in the US, in which three-quarters of the eight million jobs lost were lost by humen, and the share of sole male bread-winners declined from 35% in 1965 to 18% in 2009. Women are now the primary breadwinners of 40% in US households. There are as many as two million stay-at-home-dads in the US, nearly double the number there were in 1989. In the UK, the numbers track in similar proportions: 31% of British girls are the main fiscal provider in their family, a rise of 80% in the past 15 years.

” For the first time, humen will start thinking of marriage as a bet on the economic potential of a spouse, exactly as women have done for generations ,” Mundy writes, while women ” will place even greater value on qualities such as supportiveness( a glass of wine at the end of the day, a chance to unburden ), parenting skills and domestic achievements , not to mention that old masculine standby: protection. They will use their economic resources to find men who are good at sexuality, but also- equally important- good at rinsing dishes .”

“Bah!” I can remember believing when I read that. You try being in the vanguard of gender-evolutionary change: it’s not all glass of wine and fun with Fairy Liquid. It’s painful and confusing and humiliating in ways you can’t put your finger on, and find hard to talk about.

” My mommy still thinks that me remaining home with my children and being present, and accountable, is not a worthwhile attempt ,” says another friend, Jack, a sculptor and father of two, a six-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy, whose wife is a lawyer.” She thinks I need to be on an artists’ residence in Italy for a month. She doesn’t get that I choose to be there for my children in a way that my father wasn’t. It’s something that I have to deal with every day, this notion that in some way I’m not doing anything because I’m not out there earning fund, basically .”

Absent fathers seem to figure a lot in the back tales of my male friends pushing this trend. In my case, my parents divorced when I was six; my papa didn’t pay my mother child support. She raised us, got us through school and university by herself, even though our finances were a little rocky. We moved home a lot: 13 days by the time I was 13. I craved stability, and made up for it with a wild and prolonged burst of overachievement, first at university and then in my career. A film critic for one of the Sunday papers by the time I was 26, a home-owner by 27, my ideas of love and romance were forged in the heat of that early success. My relationships were always infused with a slightly deigning valour: I was always falling for slightly lost daughters, whose resistance to male authority kept my own company, but who did not take their careers anywhere near as severely as I did mine. An artist, a poet, a yoga instructor- all women I could woo from a position of superiority, win over with my achievements, dazzle.

Tellingly, my wife was the first girl I dated who was my professional equal. I can remember my friends’ surprise upon meeting her: a task! A good one! For a company they had heard of! I had come out to New York to work for a new magazine whose lavish$ 1m launch party on Liberty Island was attended by Madonna and Henry Kissinger, the assorted -Alisters lounging on pillows and blankets beneath trees hung with Chinese lanterns, while George Plimpton narrated a fireworks depict. The evening seems a little phantasmal now, like the last days of Versailles, or a Gatsby party, the magazine world artificially buoyed by the last of the pre-internet ad revenues and a dotcom bubble that was about to burst. We didn’t know it but the industry in which we worked, in which I had discovered such early success, was about to walk over a cliff.

The magazine had closed by the time I fulfilled Kate. Dozens more would follow in the next few years, along with hundreds of newspapers, newsrooms shedding chores by the tens of thousands. Her industry, meanwhile, remained firmly recession proof.” 6,000 drop in number of UK journalists over two years — but 18,000 more PRs” runs a headline from the Press Gazette in 2015, which could easily be the story of our marriage. Newly wed, fielding polite investigations from my in-laws into” how the writing was going”, I hustled in a newly choppy freelance market and watched in horror as my income began its slow, steady descent to a point roughly half of what it had been when I was 26. It was a little like pedalling furiously on an exercise bike on which someone is secretly switching up the difficulty level.

As my wife’s income and mine began to pulling further apart, we began, unsurprisingly, to argue about fund: did the wedding need to be that big? Did we need to get cabs all the time? How many times could we afford to eat out? She thought I was penny pinching- her family prided itself on their largesse and extravagant gifts- and here was I, heading into my 40 s, for many humen their earning prime, basically budgeting like a student again.

” I don’t care who earns what ,” was my wife’s constant refrain.” It’s not my fund, it’s our money. For richer, for poorer, right ?” Once marriage vows came into it, I knew I had to concede the point, which only built the disgrace I felt all the more acute, something to be addressed in private.” I could see you were in pain, and I wanted to help ,” she says now,” but every time I came near the subject, you were so angry and down on yourself, it just seemed to make it worse .” In private, she now tells me, friends of hers were asking,” Why doesn’t he just go out and get a different chore ?”

Now, it seems obvious. Why didn’t I? Why does the frog sit still in a pan of slowly boiling water? It’s amazing how slow we are to recognise broad, historical forces at work in our own lives. Pride and a little inverse egotism were at play, as I’m sure they are for many whose livelihoods have slowly evaporated, be they blacksmiths or elevator operators: we’d rather blame ourselves than be seen to complain about the state of our industry. On some level, I felt this was just happening to me and me alone, and as such I ought to keep it to myself. I had started my career in the middle of one recession, so why start beefing about another now? If I had looked around, or been in closer contact with my peers, I would have considered a different story, part of a larger reconfiguration of the media landscape in the age of the internet: those jobs weren’t coming back. The profession that had once devoted me a mortgage and a pension, and put me on a private jet to make small talk with Gwyneth Paltrow, was now something closer to, well, a hobby.

It’s telling that what eventually pulled me out of my funk was the arrival of my daughter. It’s true what they say: a baby arrives with a loaf of bread under its arm. It’s almost as if one big change burst the dam and allowed me to take stock of all the other changes that I had been so resistant to, and had been sheltering within my marriage to avoid. I got a job teaching. I started writing summaries of legal briefs for a non-profit organisation. I wrote and sold the screen rights to a novel. Money from books would eventually form a more reliable revenue stream than that from journalism. Most importantly, I started to believe my wife when she told me she didn’t care how much I earned. And to do that I had to stop [?] caring myself, just a fraction at first- a crack in the door that my daughter has pushed fully open. Because I know she doesn’t care how much I earn. She doesn’t know anything about tax returns or the internet or mancessions or post-heroic marriages. She’s three. When she looks at me, all she sees is the guy who drops her off at school and makes her lunch and cooks her dinner. And I have turned out to be pretty good at those things.

” I just know my kids more than a daddy who doesn’t get to expend as much day with them ,” Nathan tells me.” In some ways, I know them better than my wife does. She’ll always kind of trump that with her maternal instinct, and that’s cool. But there are things about their interests, their tics, their behaviour that I know simply from spending the extra hours with them. That doesn’t seem like something our father’s generation ever actually knew about .”

The slight twinge of shame I still occasionally feel when going over our numbers with our accountant, or when my wife pays for a meal, I now shrug off like a phantom-limb twitch. Another day. Another life. One day, I may tell my daughter about it.

* Commenting on this piece? If you would like your remark to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in print, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publishing ).

Read more: https :// www.theguardian.com/ money/ 2017/ oct/ 14/ money-and-marriage-wife-earns-1 00 -times-more-than-me-tom-shone

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