Neanderdad tried to convince himself that the writing had been on the wall, that the signs had been there for him. But in truth, he was taken completely unawares. Certainly he’d seen it happen to other fathers and husbands. He’s seen other proud men reduced to pitiful creatures as a consequence. But Neanderdad never suspected that this…THING…could actually happen to him. Yet there was his wife, daring to breathe that abominable word during this hallowed time.
“We need to talk,” she had said. Then, when they found a moment away from the kids, she actually spoke the unspeakable.
Neanderdad simply blinked at first. There was a tightening of the throat. Had she really said that word? He sputtered and stammered, unable to properly respond to the implications of what she was suggesting. Surely, it was a joke, a jest. But when Neanderdad probed, he found her utterly resolute in her course of action. She had clearly made up her mind well before and had reconciled herself to this new course of action. Nothing was going to change it. So like any man who found himself in a similar situation, Neanderdad simply refused to hear it.
“Ridiculous!” he rebuffed, it was simply not going to happen. As if he had that power.
Then Neanderdad moved to an extended period of intense denial, throwing out a repulsing palm to any entreaty by his spouse to discuss the undiscussible further. She would eventually stop with the lunacy, he was convinced (she wouldn’t). And Neanderdad found that he had a natural shield in the children (she was anxious not to excite them with loose talk about big changes). Neanderdad also comforted himself with the knowledge that something like this simply would not happen to him (it could). He was too strong, too resolute, too commanding for such a fate (untrue). He was better than the poor souls that he saw puttering around, trying to rebuild their public image after it happened to them (he wasn’t). Alas, Neanderdad’s fate awaited him, ignored or not.
“We need to set a timetable,” Neanderdad’s wife insisted, after calmly tolerating his game for a while. “I simply cannot live this way any more.”
She couldn’t live this way?! Pshhh. Neanderdad’s thick, shaggy skull throbbed with anger at such talk. Think how he would live if she proceeded with her destructive course. Why was this happening to him, Neanderdad wondered? Had he not been a loyal husband? A dedicated father? Had he not sacrificed enough? This was how he was repaid? Why must he suffer this undeserved humiliation? He raged and raved. And so began a period wherein Neanderdad was grumpy, combative, and (he was shamed to admit) prone to vexations. Like an injured crocodile he snapped and snorted and snarled for well nigh two weeks. But his wife was, though forbearing of his tantrums, unrelenting in her dastardly objective.
“I’m sorry it upsets you so much, but I simply must make this change,” she said firmly.
And then she gave him a pitying smile that Neanderdad’s children had seen many times. That is when Neanderdad became truly desperate. He grasped at alternatives, offering a flurry of compromises and creative substitutes that might meet her needs. But she dismissed each suggestion with a cool, unwavering, unassailable logic that Neanderdad found unnerving. When he argued it would be worse for the kids, she rebuffed him with a line of argument that suggested they would, in the long run, be far better off—freer, safer. He tried to stall for more time. But he had no leverage.
“My mind is made up.” she said conclusively, utterly crushing Neanderdad’s soul.
Then came despair. Long hours of despair. Neanderdad’s appetite waned. He was listless and desolate. The family dog, obviously concerned about his chief food provider, circled around him constantly, licking at his face in a series of failed attempts to break his despondency. The children beckoned him to wrestle, or play monsters, or play chase. But he was a dismal play partner, shuffling through the motions. His mind was filled with the reality of what faced him, how he would be forced to live, what people would say about him.
“Wake up, Dad!” the boy said eventually, trying to hoist his father’s lethargic head off the playroom carpet by the hair.
“Yeah, dad, wake up,” the girl said, slapping at his cheeks, equally sick of his melancholy.
And for his children’s benefit, or rather, not to seem feeble in their eyes, finally, Neanderdad made peace with his new reality. It was going to happen. He couldn’t stop it. He realized that now. He had only
to accept it. He would learn to live life as a lesser person. He would learn to shrug off the public shame and live with a lowered self image. And so Neanderdad dragged himself up off the floor and accepted his fate, forcing himself to conjure up positives for his new reality. Obviously, he’d be more mobile. There was that. And he’d have more space. There was that too. Yes, Neanderdad finally concluded, everything was going to be okay. And with that, Neanderdad went to his mate and told her he was now ready to proceed.
“Great,” she said, hugging him enthusiastically. “What color Minivan should we get?”