Boys, unlike girls, don't grow up thinking about the perfect spouse and the perfect house and the perfect brood. Boys grow up thinking about good times, wild times, big adventures. You will never hear a 17-year-old boy say, "I can't wait until I get married." Domesticity is something we see in our youth as fate, as something inevitable, not something sought.
"The Family Man" is not a great movie, but it will make a man, particularly a man of my age, think about the choices he's made.
The movie goes on two tracks, one showing the life of a man who has decided to remain single and in the big city, pursuing a high-profile, big-money career, and one showing the life of the same man after deciding to get married, moving to the suburbs and raising kids while working in a tire store.
For men, there are tangible rewards to the single life, or to the married-but-living-like-single life that many married men lead. Those rewards include beer, women, going anywhere anytime, beer, no problems with kids, no one telling you to take out the trash when you just got your feet up, muscle cars instead of minivans, talking to buddies in driveways 'til all hours of the night, freedom in general and beer.
The married and trying to be a good guy lifestyle has more subtle rewards, like having the kid find your eyes first after a clutch hit, pinching the wife and having her act like she doesn't like it, overhearing the boy say to a friend you're not such a bad dad, really, and waking up at 4 a.m. and not having to ask if the person next to you is awake and ready to talk, just knowing.
I have an acquaintance/nemesis who a few years ago gave me a hard time more than once via e-mail about me not having any male friends. He was into that whole Promise Keepers male bonding thing that was all the rage in some circles at that time.
I never responded to him on that point, because I thought he was getting in my business where he wasn't asked. But the truth is he was nearly right. I only have a couple male friends I hang with locally, although I have male friends at work and in a lunch basketball group (which explains the sprained ankle mentioned earlier). That's plenty for me.
When I am off work I like to be home with the wife and kid, not shooting the bull with some sweaty guy talking about … the things guys talk about when women aren't around. I'm not judging those guys or those conversations. I enjoy them when I wander into them. I just don't go looking.
As I fill my gas tank Friday afternoon, I continue to weigh going back into the store for a beer, which would mean not going back to the office for the 50th of what would be another 60-hour work week.
"Screw it," I say and walk back toward the store after filling the tank.
"Screw it," I say as I reach the store entrance and turn around and walk back to my car.
Three hours later, after three more hours of work, I am having a nice family meal at a roadside restaurant.
The kid is having the flautas.
The wife is having the carne asada.
The dad is having the taco plate … and one, but only one, ice cold beer.
All in all, things are good.