Thursday, February 5, 2015

How to Be a Husband, by Tim Dowling

Marriage and family life can be inherently funny.  Living with our soul mate can be rewarding, challenging, and entertaining.  Some marriages, like Tim Dowling's, sometimes "subscribe less to the 'soul mates' model and more to a 'cell mates' one."  Dowling tells some of his stories in How to Be a Husband.  He doesn't write this as a marriage manual; in fact, he writes, "if you come across anything that resembles advice in [this book], I would caution against following it too strictly."  Yet, "you cannot be married for twenty years without other people thinking there must be some trick to it."

Dowling, an American journalist, met a British woman when she was visiting mutual friends in New York.  They began a long-distance relationship, and eventually married so they could live together permanently in England, the culmination of which he describes as a "sham marriage we've hastily arranged just so we can stay together forever."  He writes about gender roles, and the unusual ways their marriage sometimes rearranges them.  They have three children together, who seem to have turned out well.  And, as noted, they are still married.  So they must be doing something right.

To paraphrase Bill Cosby, those of you with or without a spouse, you'll understand.  Here is a taste of Dowling's wit and wisdom (I know this is a lot of quoting for a book review, but I can't help sharing):

"Some people possess both a talent for cooking and an ability to derive pleasure from exercising their skills to feed others.  Whenever possible you should try to include such a person in your holiday plans, whether you enjoy that person's company or not."  (Neither Dowling nor his wife possess such abilities.)

One of my favorite sections dwelt on DIY tips.  I could relate to what he said about saving spare parts from a project: "To be honest these pieces of saved junk rarely come in handy, but the bits you throw away are always the ones you'll wish you'd kept."

"It's never too late to apologize.  By which I mean, when it's obviously far too late for saying sorry to do any good at all, you still should."  Amen.

Of course he has a few things to say about sex:  "The basic strategies for maintaining a healthy sex life are not, in themselves, sexy.  It has a lot more to do with emptying the dishwasher without being asked than you think.  I'm sorry about this."

"Waking up your partner for sex is famously not a good idea, although I've always imagined I would be a totally accommodating about it if it ever happened to me."  This made me laugh!  I wish I'd written this line!

"I had always imagined that my children would at some point graduate from being charges to being minions--that I would be able to assign them tiresome chores or dispatch them on small errands in exchange for their upkeep.  It would be like having an army of personal assistants. . . . It turns out that parenting is a lot more like being a personal assistant than having one."  Ah, parenthood!

"The best thing about marriage, at least initially, is that no change is required: someone is willing to marry you as you are, rubbish bits included."

This last line provides a nice theme for How to Be a Husband.  The book is chock full of self-deprecating humor.  Dowling is open and honest about his mistakes and goofs in marriage, career, and life.  And he certainly does not present his wife as a flower of perfection.  She is alternatively irritable, foul-mouthed, critical, and distant.  But under the turmoil and craziness at the Dowling house, I came away with a sense of a committed family, of a married couple who don't look past the "rubbish bits" but embrace them, because they know that it's all a package of this person they love and are committed to.

I thoroughly enjoyed laughing along with Dowling through his 20 years of marriage in 288 pages.  In spite of his disavowals, I may have actually come away with a few things to think about in my own marriage.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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