For a Happy Marriage, Treat Hubby like Fido; the Idea That Men Are Simple Creatures Who Need to Be 'Handled' Sends Both Sexes Hurtling Back to the '50S

Article excerpt

Byline: James Sherman (Sherman lives in Chicago.)

When I first noticed the title of the book "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands," on The New York Times best-seller list last spring, I assumed that it was the kind of humorous little throwaway that one would find in the checkout aisle alongside such titles as "101 Uses for a Dead Cat." Then, as I was browsing through the bookstore a few weeks ago, I saw that it is, in fact, a book by Laura Schlessinger that purports to help women find happiness in marriage by approaching a husband as one would a household pet.

In the introduction, Schlessinger states her essential premise: "Men are very simple creatures." She uses the word "simple" to describe men on pages 5, 10, 30, 44, 52, 64, 92 and 121. Apparently, all a woman has to do to achieve domestic bliss is keep her man content with a pat on the head, a hearty meal and an occasional roll in the hay. And, of course, a night out with the boys every once in a while.

Aside from the obvious uproar that would result if a man wrote "The Proper Care and Feeding of Wives" (a kiss on the cheek, a bouquet of flowers and a little extra allowance so she can buy that new handbag?), I am astonished to learn that there are those who believe that the future of marriage is to go hurtling into the past, that we should play our roles as husbands and wives as if we're living in the 1950s. Since men are such simple creatures, the thinking goes, it's OK to let the dears believe that "father knows best." But we all know who really rules the roost, don't we?

If I ever came home at the end of the day and saw my wife, Linnea, standing there wearing a dress and makeup and holding a martini and my pipe and slippers, I would say, "Please, Mr. Space Alien, give me back my wife and I won't ask any questions." Perhaps some men would like their wives to behave that way, but not me. I'm not that simple.

Linnea and I are partners. We recognize and celebrate our differences as a man and a woman ("Vive la difference!" as Tracy said to Hepburn), but we have moved beyond the traditional roles of wife and husband. Sure, I pride myself on being a good protector and provider for my family. So did my father. But unlike my father, I have the advantage of living in a time when I can be so much more than that.

My involvement in my children's lives and in the home does not come out of some sense of "doing my share." I'm grateful for every moment I have with them, and I don't consider it a chore. …