At the beginning of 2001 I packed up my whole family, wife, two kids, all of us and moved to a suburb of Fort Worth, Texas. I, little old Dave, the young pup photographer and field producer who worked in Omaha, Nebraska had gotten a job in a top-ten market. (In fact, it is at this particular station that I met Rene Syler, though I’m sure we communicate more now than we ever did in the same city!) My wife, Andrea, was proud of me. My kids were sad to leave where they were born but in the end it looked like overall it was probably a good move for us.
By the time we’d made the move to Texas, Andrea and I had different career paths. Where we’d met as a photographer and reporter in a tiny little market in Iowa, she was a pharmacist now, professional and successful. On the surface, you’d likely think we had a great marriage, wonderful family, good home and wonderful life. You’d be right – on the surface. Inside that house though, things were quite different. I’m not painting a bleak picture, but it wasn’t wine and roses every night, Well, wine, maybe, but definitely not the roses. To afford a house, two kids, private school, everything we’d promised each other, two careers were a necessity. While neither of us was close to family there, I have to be honest; Andrea made sacrifices that I couldn’t.
If you’ve EVER had a relationship or marriage with someone in the media, particularly local media, you have to know it’s not easy. Your schedule is made by other people, you work many holidays, you don’t get time off easily as there are four months out of the year when the ratings are gathered and there are the weeks leading up to those months when you need to shoot the stories for that time. When tragedy strikes, you have to work. In my time there, I went to Washington D.C. in the wake of 9/11, worked a Saturday when we invaded Afghanistan and I spent a weekend in East Texas/West Louisiana chasing the pieces of the destroyed Space Shuttle Columbia. I spent New Year’s Eve in Israel and every October 30th, Andrea’s birthday, I had to work because the November ratings period had begun.
So Andrea had to live with this. She worked a lot of weekends. She made more money than I did. She grew aggravated and angry with me when I would work those holidays and family events. Needless to say, by the time we’d had the twins, Noah and Samuel, Andrea had felt really put upon, and I don’t know that I blame her.
Part of what she wanted was the socialization, but she only knew a few people in the neighborhood, in the school, the typical parent associations. So when the opportunity to have a meeting of new moms and be sort of a housing development support group, Andrea jumped at the chance to go. I wasn’t sure she needed it, but she wanted it. She was no longer a reporter and only got the retail socialization that comes with working for a chain pharmacy.
That morning I left her and kissed her on the cheek, as I always did, and told her I loved her. I knew she was going and she was very excited. As a husband, you’re always apprehensive about these kinds of meetings. I really wanted Andrea to have more than work and home but I have to admit, I never knew what I was in for after I got home.
That night I got home and Andrea was sitting at the kitchen table, a mug of coffee in her hands, staring straight ahead, but not really seeing anything. I walked in the back door, which led to our kitchen and looked right at her. She hadn’t even noticed I’d come home. At that point, I thought I was in trouble, I really did.
“Sweetheart, you OK?” was likely my response. I remember hers to this day.
Andrea got up from the table, walked over to me, coat still on, door still open, and stared at me for what seemed an eternity. I was tensed up, waiting for the first volley, wondering what I was in for. Instead, she moved up, gently put her hands up my back, and kissed me like we were teenagers again. Deeply, passionately, lovingly kissed me. When she pulled away I must have looked a bit askew and asked her “what was that for?”
I remember the conversation, or the majority of it, because it blew me away.
“I went to the Mom’s group today,” she said, walking back to her coffee, “and I couldn’t take it! All these women did was complain about their husbands. I wanted to talk, to get ideas, to have coffee, hell, to have fun! All they wanted to do was complain about how horrible it was being married.”
You can see how I was a bit flabbergasted.
“One woman said she never gets any time to herself because she just can’t leave her husband with the kids. She couldn’t forgive herself if she did. She had a nanny watching the kid while we met.”
I had to ask Andrea what she did.
“I stood up, literally said, ‘I can’t take this any more, you’re all a bunch of f*#king nuts!’ and left. Andrea hated cursing, so I knew she was particularly upset! “I said to get over themselves. It’s not like their husbands are going to kill their kids, for God’s sake. They love them. If they didn’t I’d hope you’d have left them a long time ago!”
Here’s the thing. I had never looked at it from that perspective. There were a few things I was forbidden from ever doing in our house. I’d shrunk enough of Andrea’s pants to know I’d be killed if I went into the laundry room. Sewing repairs and gift wrapping were not my bailiwick.
She did the most amazing thing that day. She told me she had taken stock in what she had, not what she didn’t have. I – and I say this as what she told me, not my own ego – did more than she had ever imagined. I fed the kids. I took them to the park, taught them to ride bikes, spent the weekends I had at home at home, and was happy to be part of a team. I cooked, I helped to clean, I took care of the kids. That’s what it was, a team, a winning team, I hope.
“Most of these women were more concerned with being a martyr than being a Mom!” Andrea said, getting heated and angry. “I go to work every Saturday and it never crosses my mind to think you would have problems. I don’t think you believe that of me either,” she said. “I hope I never do,” I remember her saying with absolute clarity. I remember her kissing me again, a wonderful, beautiful kiss.
I never utter the phrase “it takes a village” to raise a kid. It does, true, but more than that, it takes belief. I don’t have her here to help me any more, but I know I can do it. What I learned was that it takes belief in yourself, in your partner/spouse/whatever from the beginning. I have never, ever looked at raising my kids as “work”. I do see it as hard work, but the instant it became “work”, it was a task, a horrible burden that you can’t wait to be free of until the next task. It wouldn’t be fun. I saw diapers, projectile vomiting (you have NO idea) and baby food in your hair as payment for pumpkin patches, bike rides and birthdays. You have to pay for it somehow, but you get so much more in return.
So which camp do you fall into? Do you trust your husband or wife? Or do you think there’s no way you can ever let them be in charge. Are you more interested in keeping control than partnering up? Are you the Mother (Father), or are you the Martyr?
More from Dave:
Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan and check him out on his Facebook page too.