But What Does the Wife Think?

With the stem pointing proudly forward and the bottom boards in their proper place, my boat is finally taking a distinct boat-like shape. Suddenly, my family—which has left me to work in isolation for the past month–is taking notice of my work. Now that there’s something to look at, they actually seek me out and comment on my progress. Their response is a mixture genuine interest (the children) and vague alarm (that’s my wife).

Grounds for divorce?

Grounds for divorce?

Let’s focus on my wife. Hilary is the most wonderful, the dearest person on earth. When I announced on that fatal winter day that I was going to build a boat and sail from a yet undecided Point A to Point B, she didn’t flinch. She knew it was important to me, a long smoldering dream, and she told me I should do it. I could have kissed her, and I probably did.

But wifely concern for my happiness does not imply a personal endorsement of my work. She is the first to admit that sailing is my dream, not hers. She has no experience sailing, and doesn’t dream of physical escape, as I do—as many men do, I think. She thinks sailing is dangerous and, therefore, somewhat frightening. People go out and don’t come back. “It’s a guy thing,” she once theorized.

This puts a small hint of tension in our conversations about sailing. Knowing each other’s feelings, we tread lightly when approaching the subject, and often simply avoid it altogether. Discussions often happen indirectly, as they did a few nights ago when we were both reading in bed, as we often do.

I’m working my way through yet another sailing adventure (I can’t get enough of them), while Hilary is reading Getting Stoned With Cannibals—an odd choice for a woman who is wearing a sensible flannel nightgown and reading glasses. But it’s a very funny account of a young American family living in Fiji by the travel writer J. Maarten Troost. He’s not a sailor, but he meets a lot of sailors while living in the South Pacific (as you might expect). A surprising number are voyaging around the world as families. They arrive at Fiji’s port, drop anchor and discharge happy and self confident children who immediately befriend the local kids and play on the waterfront.

Looking longingly at their carefree, self contained lives he suggests to his wife that they buy a sailboat and embark on their own Pacific cruise.

But she cuts him short. “Not with this wife,” she announces.

Hilary reads this passage out loud, and laughs at the punch line. “Not with this wife,” she repeats.

I laugh, too. Then I pause and, against my better judgment, add, “What is it about the women?”

Hilary puts her book down and looks at me over the top of her reading glasses. “What is it about the men?” she amends.

Typical, I think, trying to deflect blame back on the innocent men. “But it’s always the women who don’t want to sail,” I reasonably observe.

“It’s always the men who do,” she counters.

“But what’s wrong with sailing?” I protest. “It’s exciting. It’s an adventure. It’s fun.”

She pauses and considers her words. We both know the conversation is moving beyond banter. “It sounds lonely.”

“But look,” I say. “It’s not lonely for the children in Fiji. They’re running around with all the other kids. They’re making lots of friends. I think it’s very social.”

“Do you think our children would start playing with other kids? They’re too shy.”

“Oh, I’m sure they would,” I say confidently.

“But that’s only for a few days. People get back on their boats and sail off.”

“Yes, but then they meet again at the next port. That’s what they do.” I’m using my confident-husband-voice here, but, frankly, I have no idea if this is true. I think it might be true. I read about sailors meeting up at different ports of call. At least I think I did. Somewhere. Once.

But then I give myself a mental slap. This conversation has gone from the silly to the ridiculous. I’m not going to sail to Fiji, certainly not in this boat, and I’m not seriously suggesting that we take the kids, who are only a handful of years away from college and independence. I’m not arguing for a round-the-world family adventure.

All I really want, I know, is for Hilary to like sailing and to join me on my small adventures. The whole conversation about “men” and “women” is really about us.

Hilary and I have a strong marriage. We are home, together, nearly twenty-four hours and day, and can’t imagine life any other way. Separation is never desired. Although I like to travel, I dread business trips because they take me away from the family. When they are absolutely necessary, I obsessively plan my itinerary so I can catch the earliest possible flight home. I don’t sleep well in hotel rooms and I worry about the family. She admits to similar unhappiness when I’m away.

So the thought of engaging in a project that might separate us, even briefly, goes against my nature. Lying in bed, I realize how much my happiness with this project—this fantasy of adventure and escape—depends on her. Indeed, my third greatest fear surrounding this whole project is that Hilary will not like to sail and balk at my various adventures. (My second greatest fear is that the boat will sink as soon as it is launched; my greatest fear is that it won’t sink until I’m in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay). We would both prefer to share in my project and, Hilary, bless her heart, is trying.

As the boat takes shape, I sense a small spark of interest. She said she would go sailing with me—she’d just take her Dramamine.

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One Response to But What Does the Wife Think?

  1. Pat Monahan says:

    The challenge you’ll face is that salt water and flannel don’t mix well. Hillary is going to have to get an ‘itty bitty string bikini’ as the song goes.

    Good luck on your quest to build and sail your boat. All us guys have a similar oddyssey that we are on. My happens to be running.

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