Last Friday, I informed my wife that I would be getting the leaves up in the yard. Henrico County picks up leaves in my neighborhood only twice this fall, and one of those days would be the following Monday. Since we would be in New Jersey for the weekend, it had to be done on Friday. Our conversation went something like this:
Pam: Wait, you’re going to bag up the leaves on the day before you have to drive 5 hours to New Jersey??
Me: ..er, well…yeah.
Pam: With that shoulder? The last thing you need is to screw up your shoulder or throw out your back right before making that kind of drive!
Pam and I have had variations on this conversation at least a hundred times over the nearly thirty years of our marriage. I make a simple declaration of my intentions to do A or B. Pam replies with a couple of paragraph-long warnings about all of the horrible things that might happen because I plan on doing A or B. I proceed to do A or B anyway. Many times, she is proven right by events. But it doesn’t matter, because although I listen to my wife, I often choose not to hear her. Why is this? I have a theory.
All of my life, I have been accused of doing the sorts of things that women seem to think are dangerous. When I was a kid, I was the tree climber, the bull chaser (a story for another time), and the kid who would throw rocks at hornet’s nests in the tops of trees. So, the first influential woman in my life, my mother, would be the one yelling things like, “Douglas, you better put your old shoes on before you walk through that trash fire,” or “Don’t shoot that BB gun in the house,” and “If you fall off that roof and break your leg, don’t come running to me!” Then, as I became a teenager, it would be various girlfriends who would say, “Doug, are you sure that recruiting the football team to lift Mr. Jefferson’s MG on top of the breezeway roof is such a good idea?” Now, as a grown man, it’s mostly Pam looking incredulously at me as I’m walking out of the door to play golf. “You’re going to play golf today, the hottest day of the year, seriously? 100 degrees in the shade today and you decide to play golf?”
What all of them are essentially saying is, “Be careful. You might hurt yourself.” And, that is why I don’t listen. The possibility that I might hurt myself is half the fun of the thing. This is what women don’t understand. Asking a man to be careful might seem like prudent advice, but to a man it sounds like, “don’t have any fun.” If men throughout history listened to this type of womanly advice, we would all still be living in mud huts, eating berries and roots.
The fact that Pam has, more often than not, been prescient in her warnings isn’t the issue. The reliability of our wives’ instincts are not the point. The reason men don’t listen is because, we don’t want to be reminded about the calendar. We don’t want to be reminded that we aren’t twenty-two anymore. We are fully aware that back then a badly turned ankle meant Bayer aspirin and a bag of ice, while today it means x-rays, crutches, pain-killers and three weeks of rehab. We know all of that.
But to acknowledge it would mean admitting that we aren’t real men anymore. We would rather take the risk, or better yet, deny there even is any risk. Doing so helps us to hang on to our sense of worth, our dignity, and the last vestiges of our self respect.
So, we look at our wives as they warn us about the latest harebrained scheme we have cooked up, and we nod in agreement. All the while, we hear nothing, just like the parents in Peanuts television specials, “Wa, wawa, wawa, wa.” We would rather be daring than careful. Besides, if a leisure activity does not carry with it at least the possibility of putting ones eye out, is it really worth doing in the first place?