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What is the role of the husband?
By Orson Scott Card May 20, 2010

So I'm about to talk to the priests quorum about how to turn that miserable custom called "dating" into a positive experience that might actually help them and the young women they go out with to learn something useful about each other.

The trouble is that the whole point of dating is to find a mate. In the Church, that means finding someone to be your companion longer than life itself.

How can I tell them anything meaningful about dating until I've talked to them about what life as a husband will mean? Only when you have some idea what husbanding is about can you decide whether you want to commit to that role in the life of a particular young woman.

Of course I'm aware that many people have made good marriages without a word of advice from me. For that matter, I didn't have all that much useful advice from other people before I got married. I had the example of my father and some other good men, but most of what I learned about husbanding was the result of doing it wrong, over and over again, until finally I got a clue.

I'm going to proceed in the hope that some of my hard-earned information might help somebody else learn faster than I did.

When I asked the priests "what does a husband do?" their immediate answer was, "Provide."

And that's a good starting point. If your wife is going to be able to spend some years concentrating on the raising of the children you have together, you have to be able to bring in enough money.

So I've spent a little time over the years talking to these young men about "enough money." The world doesn't think there is such a thing as enough -- not for oneself, anyway. (Envy finds it easy to believe that somebody else has "enough" money.)

The world judges men primarily by how much money they bring in -- and they estimate that amount by looking at outward signs of wealth or poverty.

We concluded that you've provided "enough" when all your children are clothed and fed and have beds and sufficient privacy for each child's age. If to achieve that you have to work long hours or travel far from home, so be it. But if you spend those long hours away from the family in order to "advance your career" or "afford better vacations" or "give my children the best," then maybe it's time to reevaluate your goals.

All this, these priests already knew. But now came the hard part. Because, as a husband, somebody else gets a vote about what "enough" is.

I've seen marriages collapse because of a wife whose idea of "enough" was radically different from her husband's. When a wife's ambition is greater than her husband's, when she would rather have him at work advancing his career than at home working and playing with the kids, or serving in the Church, then a man can feel like a failure no matter what he does, for he will either resent the time and work he spends fulfilling someone else's ambition, or he will live with the constant knowledge that he is disappointing his wife.

So one of the things these young men need to find out during their dating is just how each young woman feels about money -- whether it is about impressing other people with marks of status, or owning "nice things," or associating exclusively with a certain class of people.

My wife married a sadly underpaid magazine editor with the dangerous idea that he wanted to write and direct plays, and do a little fiction writing on the side. She had no idea whether any of my ambitions would lead to something like an income.

She came from a family where Dad went to work (as a professor) and Mom managed the household. There was a regular income stream. She approved of this way of life.

What she got was a family where her husband worked at home, and where no one could guess when the next check would arrive or how much it would be for. Also, her husband was allergic to money management, and so if anybody was going to handle the family finances, it would be her.

Fortunately, we had worked several things out in advance of our marriage. First, she knew that I worked hard and would do what it took -- including setting aside my literary and theatrical ambitions if it was required in order to provide enough for our needs. (Which, upon several occasions, I have done.)

Second, she was willing and able to turn astonishingly small amounts of money into "enough for our needs." There was no nonsense about having to get our kids into "the best schools," for instance -- we were both determined that growing up in our house was going to be the "best school," almost without regard to the reputations of the schools they attended.

In other words, we shared a very similar view of money -- it's nice if you can get it, but there is such a thing as enough.

I knew some young women with a different attitude, but I knew that I would never be able to make them happy, not financially, and that I would make myself miserable trying. Usually I never asked those girls out at all, and certainly not a second time.

Because my wife and I shared a concept of "enough," for thirty-three years we have had our worries and problems, our steep losses and sudden gains -- but we have never quarreled about money.

A future husband should prepare to be the primary provider, yes, within the limits of his ability. But anybody who thinks that's all there is to husbanding is going to have a steep learning curve.

Next week, I'll move beyond "provider" and talk about some of the other things that a young man must be prepared to do in order to build his half of a happy marriage.

Copyright © 2010 by Orson Scott Card

 
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