The role of husband is perhaps the most challenging role that any man faces. As a single man, the world was your domain. You chose your coming and your going. You chose what you ate, when you ate. You did all of your own social planning, shopping, and travel. As we stepped into the role of husband, and subsequently the role of father, all of that changed.
Some may decry the lost freedom that a married man experiences. Some men long for days of old when they needed no one's permission, when they had their entire living quarters to themselves, and all was at their direction. What is perceived as a loss is actually a gain.
Man is fulfilled in the married life, whether that be through a permanent marriage to a woman or to the Church. There's something about the social constructs of both marriage and Holy Orders that not only spurs a rapid maturation in men, but also remarkable stability. Vocation brings us into the fullness of what it means to be men.
The role of husband is so challenging because it requires all of our energy and effort; others depend on us. Our wives depend on us to provide for their emotional needs. They depend on us for stability and strength of character. They depend on us to help guard them from threats against the family. As fathers, our children are wholly dependent on us from their first moments in the world and continue to be through the long and arduous process of growing up.
While we are the head of our household and the leader of our family, these roles are not honorary ones. A husband doesn’t sit on his throne regulating the lives of his household. Rather, he must engage in the activities that real husbands engage in, namely, leading by example. He initiates family prayers, he proactively plays with his children, he finds ways to ease his wife's pressures and burdens, and he promotes domestic tranquility by ensuring that his own emotions foster a low-conflict marriage.
What so many of us are tempted to do, especially in times of strife, is to shift the blame onto someone else. Husbands can be quick to blame their wives for whatever ill the family is facing, but that's a recipe for disaster. We should recognize that injecting blame into any situation only exacerbates the problem. Everyone makes big mistakes and everyone makes little mistakes. So instead of focusing on who did what, focus on what we can do to fix it.
To this point, we haven’t considered the duties and responsibilities of the wife. In fact, reading with a certain bias, one might find these concepts to be completely sexist, painting wives as helpless without a husband. Not so. We've focused exclusively on the role of husbands because, frankly, we don't seem to have a good grasp on what that role really is.
Not only are we facing record levels of absentee fathers, some fathers who live with their families are mentally or emotionally absentee. They come home from work, exchange pleasantries, and then engage in their own pursuits, wanting to be waited on hand and foot. If we don't have a job description, if we don't understand what being a husband truly means, how can we expect men to step into the role?
We're innately coded to protect, defend, and provide for our families. When we have no direction or clear communication about what's expected of us, that's when our marriages start to crack.
As husbands, we must be proactive. We have to communicate with our wives about how she sees our role. We must understand what things we do that drive her crazy and how we can better meet her needs. This is an evolving conversation, not a one and done. On a daily or weekly basis we need to be checking in to make sure that we're not only meeting her expectations, but exceeding them.
We need to be active in our children's lives. We need to make diligent use of our time so we do the things we want to do while not stealing time away from our family. We need to turn off the TV and just roll around on the floor with our kids. We need to reintroduce family activities that reinforce family identity, values, and mutual growth.
Your marriage is not based on emotions or intensity. Your marriage is based on a mutual consent between you and your wife to love each other so fully and completely that it flows forth into your children and your children's children. You can only meet that standard if you're all in.