Sunday 16 October 2022

The Care and Feeding of Husbands

Don't let him eat this more than once a year.

First, I must declare that I am not a doctor (even of theology) and that random posts by church tea ladies should not be read in lieu of seeking proper medical advice. 

Second, I regret that this will not be a particularly intensive article. 

But, third, I also point out that all men--despite being the same in some respects--are unique, each carrying a wondrous galaxy within. Therefore, the SAHM (stay at home mother) and other wives in general (why do we not say SAHW?) will have to think about her own particular man whenever weighing up advice about the care and feeding of husbands. 

Incidentally, not too long ago it was common for a Scotswoman to refer to her husband as her "man," and Scotswomen--after getting past initial greetings and remarks about the weather--would say "How's your man?" Now they seem more likely to say "your partner," and I no doubt cause offence when I say, "My husband is very well, thank you."

1. Medical care

My husband is very well, thank you, and not six feet under because when we first married, I signed him up at the medical clinic charged with the care of our geographical area. I was surprised to discover that I could do this until I read that, in general, men in Scotland don't go to the doctor unless their wives (women, partners) send them. The male reluctance to go to the doctor is apparently one of the reasons why men-in-general die before women-in-general do.

Therefore, I recommend to the starry-eyed young bride to find her husband a family doctor (or sign him up at the neighbourhood clinic) as soon as the honeymoon is over. If he hasn't had a physical in some time, it might be a good idea for him to have one now, just as you're starting out. You might want to have one, too.  

Naturally, suffering may be involved. The overweight nurse who weighed me told me I weighed too much, and she told Benedict Ambrose that he drank too much. However, the sting wore off when I realised that 60% of women in Britain are overweight or obese, and 26% of men in Britain drink more than the recommended 14 units per week. More on this anon. 

2. Man flu, etc., should be taken seriously

My mother has never made a joke at my father's expense, and I was quite advanced in age when I came across the phenomenon of women mocking men for "man flu." The idea is that men lack fortitude and make the most of their minor illnesses so they can do even less housework/childminding/yardwork than ever, ha ha. But it turns out that men might actually, objectively, suffer more from minor illnesses because they have weaker immune systems.  

Having just come out of a rather achey bout of COVID (which I thought was flu and through which I breathed as freely as a zephyr through the woods), I cannot think of anything crueller than mocking someone suffering from an illness so badly that they take to bed. 

Meanwhile, my own husband is still alive because I took his aches (behind his eye, in his neck) seriously and said, "You should see the doctor" and "You should reschedule that cancelled eye appointment." Of course, it was not just me. Benedict Ambrose was also saved by the late food critic A.A. Gill, who wrote that the first sign of his terminal cancer was a pain in his neck. 

Therefore, I also recommend to the starry-eyed young bride that when her husband confesses to her that he has a strange shortness of breath/recurring angina/a pain in his neck/a pain behind his eye/recurring migraines/a lump or any other weird thing that she say "You should see the doctor" and then, if he does not make an appointment, to make an appointment for him and inform him where and when. If necessary, drive him. 

3. Meet your sick husband's primary caregiver: you

Should your husband end up in hospital, God forbid, visit him every day, get to know the people caring for him, and don't take COVID for an answer. (I don't myself know how to do that, mind you, and I often thank God B.A. recovered by 2019.) At any rate, try to be privy to all conversations about his medical care, and go with him to appointments if you are in the slightest doubt of his current mental capacity or ability to communicate clearly. 

I don't know (of course) how things are where you live, but the National Health Service in Scotland was very stretched, even before the COVID crisis, and it was obvious to me that whereas nurses and doctors had to divide their attention among dozens of people, I had the advantage of being able to concentrate on only one. 

Had we had children, by the way, I believe I would have sent them to family in Canada during this period--or imported my own SAHM to watch them.  

4.  Praise

As I have blogged many times over the past 16 years, my mother constantly praised my father to their children. This means that it feels easy and natural to praise my husband. Of course, my husband is also very praiseworthy individual, but presumably even the good-enough husband does praiseworthy things like wash the dishes, take out the rubbish, bottle the apple cider, call the plumber and all those other things you would have had to have done had he not done it. 

I have a theory that men need praise more or less in the same way they need food, so if you want to help keep your husband mentally and physically healthy, you should thank him every time he does some household task, tell him he is clever whenever he does something clever, and applaud him for anything he rather thinks he has done well. 

This also has a good effect on wives. I once had a very sad email or comment from a young reader who wrote that she couldn't stand to go to bed with her husband because she could no longer respect him. I do not at all know their circumstances, but it occurs to me that if she heard herself thanking him daily for such simple and mundane things like putting his dirty socks in the hamper or applauding his ability to throw an apple core into the trash bin from 12 feet away, she might not feel that way.

Fifty years of propaganda have led me to believe my dad is just a little less than the angels, and fourteen years on, I am pretty sure B.A. is reaching dad-like heights. Is all this rooted in reality or in brainwashing? Hmm. Either way, my dad and my husband are both still alive.* Yay! 

5. Example vs nagging

People are very much influenced by the people with whom they spend the most time. Therefore, if you are determined that your husband should have healthier habits, you should first adopt healthier habits yourself.  During the COVID lockdown, when my health club locked up, I bought an exercise bike. I kept it in the kitchen as a reminder to exercise.  I pedalled away and was absolutely delighted when my never-caught-dead-in-a-gym husband began to pedal away, too. 

Another healthy habit to consider is giving up alcohol on the same days you give up meat, should you be the sort of Christian who both drinks alcohol and periodically abstains from meat. If you announce that you are no longer going to drink alcohol on Wednesdays and Fridays, your husband may decide to join you in that. (To be honest, though, I think Benedict Ambrose and I came up with that idea together.) 

So much for alcohol and fatness, the twin devils of the NHS (see above). Other healthy habits you can take up include eating at least 5 vegetables (and fruit although vegetables are now said to be vastly superior) a day. If you are in charge of cooking, you have a lot of control over what your husband eats. If you yourself smoke, you should stop. If your husband smokes and refuses to stop despite everything doctors, scientists, his mother, his sisters, his teary-eyed children, and you have to say about it, you can at least set limits like "not in the house" and "not in front of the children."  

But I don't have very much experience with nicotine addiction because my smoking grandmother quit cold turkey after landing in the hospital with double pneumonia. To this day I associate cigarettes with nervous but affectionate old ladies with long crimson fingernails, and when men ask me if I mind if they smoke, I usually say, "Oh, not at all! It reminds me of my grandmother." This never fails to annoy them, which I don't mind. In fact, I hope it makes them so self-conscious they quit because--I haven't had an excuse to type this in years!--men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. 

*UPDATE: All joking aside, your husband is going to die, and unless you murder him, it won't be your fault. (See yesterday's post.) God will call him to Himself when He sees fit. However, I feel that there is some room for negotiation with the Most High on this matter. 


  1. It depends on the husband I suppose. If of course your husband runs to the Doctor for the slightest minor ailment, then your role as a spouse is to be more measured and try to persuade him to take a nap, or go for a walk, or try a home remedy.
    If your GP is more of a drug dealer for big pharma than your 1950 s village Doctor, then for his health, the fewer visits the better.

  2. Speaking of husbands, just saw this, and wondered what Auntie Seraphic would say!
    - Amused

    1. Oh my! Well, I have many thoughts. The first is to agree that it would better to marry before 30 and we must recreate a culture in which more men and women are fully-functioning, stable, mature, and marriageable by 26. But I also think that the (often interior) pressure to be engaged by graduation is pernicious, given that today's (and yesterday's) typical 22 year old is less mature than a 1940s teenager. (I'm glad the article admits the possibility of college sweethearts divorcing.) University isn't summer camp, as much as I might have treated it myself when I was 19 (weep weep): it's to develop adults who will take on the burdens of keeping society going: culture passed down, bridges built, diseases treated, economy served, souls saved. What we need are opportunities for those called to marriage to meet AFTER university: pilgrimages, dances, reading/lecture groups. Whatever they are, they should be equally attractive to young men and young women, and by young I mean under 40.

    2. "We must recreate a culture in which more men and women are fully-functioning, stable, mature, and marriageable by 26." Agreed! As a Catholic college grad, my own perspective is that many of us truly wanted to act like grownups, get married asap, etc. (and maybe tried too hard!). But wanting to be seen as / act like a grownup are not the same thing as actually being one.... I'm afraid too much emphasis on "doing the grownup / traditional / conservative / family-culture-building thing by getting married" -- instead of emphasis on *actually* growing up, by gaining a realistic view of human nature and a decent amount of self-knowledge -- can lead to people rushing into marriages they really aren't ready for (even at 28, 29, 30), or else pining away in bitter old-maidhood because their best efforts haven't secured a ring yet. But ideally we would be ready -- and able! And surely the slow cultivation of a better culture around dating and marriage will eventually lead to more people being ready and able in the future.
      For me, one of the most helpful things I ever came across as a young confused person pining for romance was the Seraphic Singles blog. So, three cheers for Auntie S.!

    3. Just wanted to say that I love your solution of providing more opportunities for those called to marriage to meet after university. Hear, hear!

      Two things that spring to my mind:

      1. Given that she looks fairly young and has three kids, I’m guessing she is probably someone who met her husband at college or university. It always seems irritating to me when young marrieds lecture single people about the need to want to get married. (And I say this as someone who met her husband at college, although we didn’t get married right after graduation.)

      2. It says that she graduated from UD and she seems to be talking specifically to Catholic students, which seems like preaching to the choir to me. I went to a college of similar Catholicity and I know people who went to UD (and pretty much all of the good US Catholic Colleges/Universities) and believe me, the people who feel that they are called to marriage but are not actively looking to meet someone in college are an almost non-existent minority. If anything, students at these colleges should be encouraged to not panic about not meeting someone and getting engaged by senior year. Divorce (and unhappy marriages) among graduates of these colleges is a much ignored reality (although I am glad she at least mentioned it. Many don’t.) that I think is often caused by panicking that one might not meet someone after college. I think this kind of article tends to contribute to that panic. If she really wants to encourage young Catholics to get married, it might be more helpful to write an article talking about different ways to meet solid Catholics after college.

  3. You said the caffeine line! That cheered me up. Did you find it difficult to figure out what was for dinner. You seem to both like Polish food but I always wonder how difficult it must be when two cultures collide at the dinner table. I know an Irish girl married to an African man and she cooks his style of food but it doesn't seem to be reciprocated. And yes ladies 100 per cent learn a trade, skill whatever. Illness, redundancy, the bottom falling out of an industry happens to the best of men. Then it's on you. Don't be a Mrs Bennett with her smelling salts when things go awry. Sinéad

    1. Ah, dinner is easy for us because we have the same ethnic/food background and Benedict Ambrose does most of the cooking. (He's a very good plain cook.) And that is a relief to me now that I work until 8 PM.

  4. All my advice about meeting and helping others to meet potential mates boils down to this: if you live in a house, apartment, or room (be it ever so small) of your own, give parties. Lots of parties. Even if you have to host 12 people (besides the ones for whom you have actual chairs) sitting down on your bed, the floor, and the window sill. (If you're poor but not quite destitute, serve lots of chips and dip.) In fact, conditions like that, which encourage laughter and intimacy, are among the most fertile for encouraging flirtation and discouraging shyness. Don't be embarrassed about it. I hear Tina Brown found, not a man, but a career, that way. And once she got the career, it wasn't too hard to find a man as well. (Of course, she wasn't a Catholic, but I don't see why a Catholic woman might not follow in her footsteps, with a different choice of guests.)

  5. Leila Lawler doesn’t say sahm but housewife- someone who takes care of the house. I like it.

    Yes to learning a trade or profession and life insurance! You can do these things even if already married- or at least the latter with some kind of plan for the former. But don’t forget life insurance on YOU. We have max on both of us.

    Any advice on how to set up two people in their late 30’s in a low-pressure way?? A friend who lives an hour and a half away knows an eligible guy from her TLM parish. My kids favorite babysitter is in her late 30’s and goes to the local TLM. Not sure how to connect them though… both are interested in meeting at least

  6. My hard and fast rule for low-pressure throwing people together is to have a party at your place (or convince your friend to have a party at her place) and include both the eligibles among the invitees.

  7. (By the way, that was me, Mrs McL)

    1. I just had a baby 10 days ago 😆 a party would have to wait. We can do it eventually but if you have other ideas let me know!! I don’t know the guy so it would be strange to invite him to the baptism party next weekend (which my parents are technically hosting but I send the invites)

  8. I've heard of seeking a husband in college as pursuing an MRS degree. Only two guys in my college days asked me out. I broke up with one and didn't feel a spark when I spent one on one time with the other. I graduated from a Catholic school on The Newman Guide and didn't meet any other prospects. I observed and spent time in social situations with classmates, including single men. They had issues like nose picking, looking into the priesthood while flirting with girls, or being rude and aggressive when evangelizing.

    Lots of devout Catholic college students look for potential spouses. Not many people who do need to get serious about marriage wouldn't likely read it. They see college as a time for fun by partying, clubbing, and excessively drinking. Some may not prioritize their studies either.

    I don't like how the writer looked down on people working on themselves prior to marrying. Not everybody has the maturity for their vocation in school or have serious personal issues to heal from. If they don't undergo such growth, their marriages will be more challenging than necessary. They might even divorce or remain in marriages which lead to resentment. I'd rather get a husband at 35 who completed therapy so he no longer fears he'll turn into his dysfunctional father. It's better than a 22 year old who doesn't realize that his upbringing negatively impacted how to resolve problems with others.

    Lillian Fallon made a good video for singles on Ascension Presents called Building a Life of Meaning (No Matter Your Vocation). One commenter defended her from people who accused her of not prioritizing marriage or cynically remarking that she'll end up alone. She pointed out that Leonie was 26 and Louis was 34 when they met. If they settled for other people sooner, we wouldn't have St. Therese or her holy siblings.

    I recommend Jackie Angel's videos Aching to Find a Spouse and How to Know if You've Found "The One" from Ascension Presents as well.

    Sarah Swafford, the author of Emotional Virtue, says the best dating advice she got was from a priest. Run to whatever God is calling you to do and then turn to see who's running with you.

    Some Catholic parishes have a young adult group for people 21-39. The graduate schools I'm looking at have FOCUS missionaries who host events. Even if I don't meet my husband at such places, I can make friends who know single men.

    1. Great points! You can stay married, and get to a place of love, if you have big issues you haven’t dealt with prior- but it brings a lot of suffering to your family in the mean time.

      If someone were to set you up with a friend, how would you like them to do it? 😊

    2. Sorry, I didn't see this till today. I want matchmakers to just casually mention a guy as a possibility to me without sounding pushy about it. Don't suggest him just because we're both single.

      I'd clarify my age, since I'm often mistaken to be significantly younger than I really am. (Somehow my classmates from high school and college share my inability to show physical aging.) I'd inquire if he's a Catholic who's faithful to The Church. I'd also ask what his interests are and how he spends his time. He's more appealing if we have something in common. That makes having first date conversations easier.