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Responsibility is remaining true to one's secrets

October 14, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. Following is an excerpt from his upcoming novel "Home Detention," which will be released Oct. 28.




The word "responsibility" has six syllables in it. It is a weighty, ponderous word. Once you start out with the "re" it keeps you engaged for another dozen letters and allows you no exit until you have spit out the final "ty." No other word is like that. Even "commitment," another word that guys hate, offers an out midway through because it is possible to bail on "commitment" by changing it, mid-word, to "commissioner of baseball."

Not so, responsibility. In fact, it may interest women to know that commitment isn't the word guys fear, it's commitment's partner in crime, responsibility. Commitment really isn't all that tough. Guys are "committed" to prime rib medium rare and blue cheese dressing. So?

Women have it wrong when they say, "He's afraid of commitment." What he is actually afraid of is having to show up on time. What he's afraid of is making sure there is always money in the bank. What he's afraid of is spending jack on food for the family instead of some really cool electronic gadget or a gas pedal in the shape of a human foot. What he's afraid of is keeping appointments that seemed like a good idea when they were made, but have morphed into an unbridled hassle when the appointed time arrives. What he is afraid of is having to conform to a dependable schedule. What he is afraid of is committing some chuckleheaded atrocity that will affect someone other than himself.

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Commitment? We can do commitment standing on our heads. I know plenty of guys who are committed to their girls, but if they take that commitment and parlay it into marriage, they know that gone will be the days when they could plausibly get out of any painful situation with three little words: "Car wouldn't start."

All those excuses that served us so well in bachelorhood are out the window the second the preacher snaps shut the Bible. Married couples do what they say they are going to do and show up when they say they are going to show up and that is to the credit, or discredit, or however you choose to look at it, of the wife.

"We told them we'd be there for dinner tonight."

"But the house is on fire."

"We can put it out when we get back."

Marriage is a wonderful thing and carries in its dinner bucket many positive treats. It is a comfort, like hot beef stew on a cold winter's night, to have a partner with whom to share the peaks and valleys and to know that partner will be there day after day. But there is the teeniest degree of glint that disappears from a man's eye when he weds. It's the glint that says, "Come on big fella, there's a sheet of ice on the pavement, let's cock the steering wheel all the way to the right and put it to the floor in the parking lot of the mall." It's the glint that sees a man on a TV commercial boiling a pot full of hot dogs and downing them one by one, and whispers, "Me too." His shoulders will droop ever so slightly as he tags behind his wife at the shoe outlet and feigns interest in the fact that squared-off toes are back in style.

It's the fact that you are now being counted upon that sends shivers down to the tip of, and beyond, the extremities. It's the thought that now there may be something more important than watching the entire fourth round of the NFL draft on ESPN2 that chills the bones.

Some will romanticize the orderly household. I recall the song from "Mary Poppins" that itemizes the details of a banker's life. He walks through the front door at precisely 6 p.m. each evening and "My slippers, sherry and pipe are due at six-oh-two" I don't know what planet this guy was living on - England, perhaps - but I quickly found out that married life for me didn't translate into a host of family members scurrying to meet my every need. In fact, if I may speak bluntly, it turned out to be something of the reverse. I was the one getting everybody else's slippers, sherry and pipe.

I blame the Ford Administration. When those little WIN buttons (Whip Inflation Now) didn't do the trick, the days of the single bread-winner were pretty much toast. Women were summoned into the work force to maintain the standards of living to which Americans had become accustomed in the "Leave it to Beaver" days. Even worse, they liked the idea of a "career" and started working even harder than the men did. Then along came the news magazines, all hailing the heroic "Supermom" who "did it all" by balancing a career, a family, charity work and a household on her nose like some drop-dead amazing seal at the stinkin' waterpark, and the concrete began to harden around the male foot.

In all this, I began to get a whiff of the foul stench of a plot. After all these centuries, the man's secret was out of the bag. Getting up and going to work each day was six metric tons easier than managing a family.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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