Im in the vanguard of gender-evolutionary change, and backing her all the way so why do I feel like a failure?
My wife and I are on conference call with our accountant, Ronnie. Ronnie works from a home office on 57th Street, looks a little like Larry David and has the kind of brusque New Yorker manners that border on the brutal.
Kate, he says, his voice tinny on speakerphone, it looks like youve had another great year. And those pensions are really starting to look good.
My wife smiles modestly.
So, Tom, Ronnie says with an ominous pause, I think the return is good, although were in a little danger of the government taking the position that what you do, essentially, is a hobby.
A hobby? I say, weakly.
Yeah, the Hobby Rule, its called. You got your stamp collectors, your comic book collectors, they go to conventions and then they sell some of their stuff. Its really just a hobby. I know yours is not a hobby youre a published author but theres nothing stopping them saying, Well, Tom basically is just writing because he enjoys it. If youre not making any money, they wont let you write off losses.
I see, I say, wrestling a mixture of hurt pride and indignation. But dont they understand the idea of the business thats just had a bad year?
You can have a bad year, Ronnie tells me. You cant have a consistency of bad years. If youre in the real estate business, yes, you can lose money, but you cant… You cant live on… If you were single, on your own. He is having problems spitting out the actual amount I earned. You cant live on that, he says finally.
My wife gives my hand a squeeze. Come on, you were writing two books and taking care of business with Juliet. Juliets our three-year-old. Do hobbyists write for the New Yorker?
Ive been freelance long enough not to dwell on this setback. Soon, I am joking about the conversation, taking an inverted pride in the story with each retelling a stamp collector! A bad year, yes, but a bad consistency of years! until Kate starts to frown. Its a familiar ritual for us: me joking my way out of how wounded I am, my wife keeping a watchful eye to see if the jokes are going to turn serious again.
Secretly, I wonder if we havent turned into one of those couples where the wife is always making excuses for her husband: Oh well, he was never a Master of the Universe type. Or: Hes good at maths. I know I have no cause for complaint. Who could ever complain about a wife who earns six times more than them (actually, last year it was more like 100 times more than I did, but well leave last year out of it, OK?). The company where she is vice-president pays for everyones American healthcare; the mortgage is in her name, because my credit rating is nonexistent, and she pays more of it than I do. Her hours are brutal: from 9am to 8pm, sometimes later, which means she doesnt have time to get our daughter to school and arrives home just in time for her bath.
That leaves me in charge of getting Juliet ready for nursery, picking her up mid-afternoon, then running the show park, play-dates, dinner, bath until Kate comes back from work. When she goes away on a business trip, I take over full time. We have a thoroughly modern marriage post-heroic, in the words of historian James MacGregor Burns. I thrill to my wifes victories at work as much as I used to thrill to my own, and offer good advice when it comes to negotiating her office politics. But as jazzy and loose-limbed and modern as my marriage sometimes makes me feel looking after our daughter while my wife goes to march against Trump on inauguration day! Pointing out which pink pussy hat is mommy on the TV! this only heightens the small pinch of shame I feel whenever a waiter returns Kates Amex card to me rather than her in a restaurant. Or when our accountant compares my livelihood to that of a hobbyist. What are these burps from my reptile brain?