In college I had my own apartment. I was what we refer to as a “poor college student.” I had a bed, a closet, a trunk, and a television with 3 channels. Actually, let me rephrase that: I could hear three channels but I could only get a picture on one channel. Even though I worked and took 20 hours every semester, there was a time when I didn’t have enough money to pay my home phone bill. So, of course, my phone got cut off. Keep in mind that this was before the age of cell phones.
One day, as I was sitting there watching Touched By An Angel (Don't judge me. I told you I had one channel), my phone rang. I probably looked like I saw a ghost. I immediately thought, How could my phone be ringing when it is cut of? Needless, to say, I answered the phone with a lot of hesitation. “Hello?” And then I heard my father’s voice. “Don’t ever let me call there again and not be able to get in touch with my daughter. If you need money, call me and I will send it to you. Don’t ever let this happen again. When you are thousands of miles away from me, I need to be able to reach you.” My father had called the phone company in Louisiana and paid the bill for me. My dad could have told my entire family. He could have publicly admonished me in front of my friends and family for having to pay my phone bill. But he never once mentioned that moment again and he never made me feel bad for asking for help. Through his interactions with me, he taught me the right way to respond to someone who needs financial help.
As a woman, I never thought about the difference between asking for help as a woman and asking for help as a man; however, Josh and Karen helped change my perspective on that.
Josh and his wife, Karen, are friends of the family. They each have a separate bank account, in addition to a joint bank account which they use to pay bills. Josh pays all of the bills. He ensures that their house note, car notes, insurance, utilities, school loans, and private school tuition are taken care of each month.
In the middle of our country’s economic crisis and housing bubble, Josh lost his job. Josh and Karen went from a two-income family, living in one of the best neighborhoods in DC, to a family where Karen was the only breadwinner. And then came the time when Josh was supposed to take the kids to the mall but didn’t. After years almost 40 years of having a lucrative salary, he didn’t have enough money to put gas in his tank. With a bit of prodding, Karen found out the true reason why he and the kids never made it to the mall. She asked her husband, “Why didn’t you just ask me for gas money.” Josh responded with, “Do you know what it is like to have to ask your wife for money?”
What Karen did next puts her on the top of my list of heroes and role-models. She went to the bank and redirected money from her paycheck into their joint account. Why? So that her husband would never again have to ask her for money. He could also continue to pay the bills, as he always did, and have money for anything else he needed.
In the end, it took Josh an entire year to find another job. Once he did, he had a held a surprise dinner for his wife, publicly thanking her for supporting him and allowing him to retain his manhood during one of the most difficult times in his life.
Recently, I received even more insight into the male psyche. A friend moved back into his mom’s house after going through a tumultuous and ultra expensive custody battle. He was not happy about it. “Kristen, I’ve been independent for twenty years. To have to move back in with my mother after being on my own for so long was a huge blow to me. As men, we are providers. When we can’t provide for ourselves, much less our families, it is painful." That conversation made me realize that a man’s identity, pride, and self-worth are directly tied to his job and the ability to provide for his family.
The day will come for all of us when our partner may not be able to provide for us in the way they used to; whether it is because of the loss of a job, having to pay an unexpected bill, putting kids through school, or having to chip in to help out an ailing parent. You have a choice. You can degrade your partner in front of their friends and family, talk about them behind their backs, make them feel awful for coming to you, and humiliate them because of their current financial situation. Or you can empower them, reassure them, and do everything you can to minimize the hit to their identity and pride. At the end of the day, our partners need to be able to come to us at their best and at their worst, without feeling judged either way. If we don’t make them feel supported and empowered at their worst, then we cannot expect them to be open and honest with us at their best.
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© Kristen Crockett