Justin glanced out the window. A smile crept across his face as he recalled a round of golf from a few weeks ago.
“Justin? What are you smiling about?” his wife’s irritated tone snapped him back to reality.
“The last part, the whole thing really. You’re completely right Amy” He took a swing.
“The last part? Where I said I feel like you don’t want to work on our relationship? Or the part where you ignore me like I’m not worth your time?” Amy fired back. Justin’s head slumped in defeat, eyes stuck to the floor. “Do you want this to work? What about Marcus? Little Ashley?” His wife stared at Ms. James, defeated.
“Justin-” Ms. James began. “In these dozens of sessions I have yet to see you make any effort to listen to me or your wife, much less try to understand where we’re coming from. I’m going to write you a recommendation to one of my longtime mentors, Dr. Shane O’Neil. He’s an excellent Ivy League professor who teaches a husband’s group in the evenings. Until you show an honest effort and empathy like your wife has, these sessions will only serve to hurt your wallet.” She clipped her pen back to the clipboard.
‘Like your wife’ Justin repeated in his head, annoyed. At least he could finally get away from Ms. James. This Dr. Shane guy had his doctorate at least. Ms. James only had her bachelors, from a state school at that. Dr. O’Neil was an Ivy League professor, an intellectual.
“I-, If that’s what you think is best, I’ll give anything a shot.” Justin stammered, struggling to process his emotions. He would do anything to get out of this dreaded office. The women gave each other a reassuring look. Amy would later tell him Ms. James had called her about this idea before. Dr. O’Neil was well regarded among the local housewives, referred to in hushed voices as ‘the husband whisperer’.
A subtle knock at the door separated the doctor from his thoughts. He couldn’t help but smile as he recognized a familiar sun weathered face in the doorway.
“Well someone’s been hitting that candy aisle I see!” Said Jimmy with a chuckle and a friendly punch to the gut.
“The gym you mean?” Shane hadn’t laughed so hard in ages, the infamous Jimbo Jab.
“You finally come by for that hundred bucks you owe me?” Shane snapped back as he gave his old friend a hug. No matter how long it had been between visits, they never lost a step. Jim had borrowed twenty bucks from Shane five or so times over the years. Shane didn’t miss the money. Every time Jimmy was to settle his debts he offered to ‘reinvest’ and pay Doc back ‘with interest’ down the road. Shane always chose the investment option, never expecting much back if anything at all. If twenty bucks was all Jim needed, he was happy to help a friend.
“About that.” He chuckled, and with a childish grin pinned to his face, Jim thrust a bulging white envelope into Doc’s chest.
“What’s this?” Shane asked incredulously as he grasped at the thick white parcel.
“That’s that hundred bucks I owe ya.”
“Jimmy there’s gotta be-”
“Plus interest, Doc! I said I was gonna invest it for ya!” Jimmy grinned wider.
“How in th-? How much is this Jim?”
“Twenty big ones pal, twenty grand. Don’t worry about it, it’s all clean money.” He cackled. “My brother and I flipped a house. Those few twenties helped more than you know.” Jimmy was beaming. Shane had never seen him so proud.
“Jim, I don’t know what to say.” Doc was flushed. Never in his life did he think he would see those measly bills again, never this.
“Don’t say anything. Thanks for helping out an old friend all those times”
“Jim, thank you, thank you! I have a class in a few minutes but let’s catch up soon. Jim, thank you.” Shane stammered as he stuffed the wad of bills into his jacket pocket. The envelope barely fit.
“Don’t think anything of it my friend, stay in touch.” Jim said. With a slap on the arm and a turn of the heel he was on his way, strutting down the hallway whistling an old folk song.
‘Heart of gold that one.’ Shane thought, dumbfounded.
“Are you Dr. O’Neil?” Shouted a voice from down the hall. The Doctor, flustered, turned to address the man slowly walking towards him.
“Yup, that’s me, husband rehab?” He asked.
“That’s the one,” said the man with a sigh as he walked past the Doctor to take a seat. Dr. O’Neil grabbed an unopened little black book from his desk drawer and scribbled the date on the front, attempting to regain his composure. He was never one for the clipboard, which he thought to be a classless, antiquated implement. How could one command respect while rudely scratching away on a clipboard like some burly workyard supervisor? This class marked ten years of teaching this group.
“Welcome to rehab, husband’s rehab.” The doctor began to a groan from the class. “I’m Dr. O’Neil. Your wives may know me as the husband whisperer,” A snicker slipped out from the back. “But you can call me Doc. If you pay attention and apply yourself there’s a good chance your wife won’t resent you. You there,’’ He pointed to the man at his right. “let’s start with this gentleman and go around. What’s your name and why are you here?”
As each man shared his story the Doctor remained silent. Occasionally his eyes would light up and he would scribble briefly in his little black book. A trend emerged as each man, after briefly introducing himself, placed the brunt of his blame on his wife. Most men would be sympathetic and chime in with phrases we all know far too well. If Doc had a nickel for every time he heard phrases such as; ‘Women, can’t live with em, can’t live without em!’ or ‘Now that’s a woman for ya!’, in this group he could have retired years ago. How so many men reached adulthood (or more ironically, marriage!) without ever making an attempt to understand the opposite sex was beyond him. That level of ignorance was painful to the doctor when he thought about it for any substantial length of time. This group took a toll on him. The men had continued around the circle. As all attention fell on the next man in line Doc lifted his eyes from his notebook.
“Hi, my name is Mark-” He started nervously. Doc had singled him out from the beginning as the only man who resisted the urge to throw verbal jabs at another man’s wife. A shame this was all it took to differentiate Mark from the others, but as was the nature of this particular group.
“I’m here because I messed up.” Mark looked bashfully around the circle. “My wife has been telling me for years she needed help with the kids. Instead I did anything but help. I picked up extra projects so I could stay late at work. I planned networking conferences on the weekends, anything I could think of to not be home. My little girl is six now, for more than six years I’ve been avoiding my wife and daughters and lying about it. I’m lucky my wife has put up with me even this long. I’m here ’cause my family deserves better.” He finished. Clearly choking back tears by the last word, he glanced at Doc for approval. The brief silence in the room was interrupted.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself Mark. Wives just nag, that’s what women do. My wife complains about my golf outings every Saturday, but what am I gonna do? Not golf?” Said one man to a hearty chorus of laughter.
“She’s got you by the ear, you really believe that nonsense?” Asked another.
“My wife says I don’t walk the dog enough. I slave away at work all day and I’m supposed to take Buster out as soon as I get home? What’s the point of having a stay at home wife if I have to walk my own dog?” Interjected the next man as he defiantly crossed his arms.
“My wife says I don’t cook enough.” Said the man in the corner.
“My wife says I don’t listen to her anymore, she’s not the boss of me!” Said another. Mark sat silently as the conversation descended into a symphonic cacophony of misogyny. Doc smiled. There was always one. Doc rose to his feet, unnoticed by the now quite overly engaged men’s group. He waited, calmly sipping from his now tepid coffee mug. Mark looked up, still silent. Doc tapped his mug with his pen as the men quieted down.
“That will be all for today. Can anyone tell me what they have learned?” Doc asked with authority. This was his second favorite line to give them.
“But you didn’t even say anything. We barely introduced ourselves!” Objected one man.
“Aren’t you supposed to be teaching us?” Said a second.
“I knew this was a scam, are all our wives in on this too?” the tall man retorted, minds focused on their wallets now.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Doc began, building up momentum. “You all joined this group to improve your marriages, correct?” He gazed around the circle.
“Well yeah bu-”
“This is a yes or no question.” Doc interrupted.
“Thank you Mr. Davis.” Doc was quick to regain the room. “Now do we all agree on why we are here? Can anyone tell me why they thought this group would be more effective than the couples sessions?” Doc was on a roll now, but his questions fell on thoughtless eyes. “Nobody? Everybody had something to say when we were talking about Justin’s wife, or Mark’s wife, but nothing now?” Nothing but stubborn faces met his gaze as he peered around the circle. Nevertheless, he persisted. He could feel the room’s tension grow.
“At least it’s a men’s group.” Said Justin. Doc’s eyes flashed.
“Bingo, Mr. Watts! Hit it right on the head. Did you notice the common theme of all your introductions, with the exception of Mark here of course?” He asked, gesturing in Mark’s direction. Silence filled the room once again. “You collectively encouraged each other, over and over, to ignore or lie to your wives. Do only Mark and I see a problem with this?” Doc had given this speech many times, his rhythm well rehearsed.
“Like women don’t gossip? I swear-” A man snapped back before Doc continued, not missing a beat. His words sliced through their souls, cutting deeper than a fine Japanese blade through an unlucky opponent.
“How much strength does it take to blame your wives while they are home taking care of your children. Does it make you feel big and strong?” The doctor paused for effect, he took a sip from his mug once again. “For one second, imagine how these ladies must feel! How do they feel knowing you think this way of them? It’s clear for many of you it would be the first time you’ve ever tried to put yourself in any woman’s shoes and much less your wife’s. Most of us have daughters here, I know I wouldn’t let my daughters within ten yards of any of your sons. Class dismissed. Same time next week.” This was his favorite line.
He tossed on his jacket before walking out, smiling at his performance. As he felt Jim’s envelope bounce off his chest he smiled wide. His mind was already on those shiny new golf clubs he was about to buy. He’d tell Jules he found some cash on the ground and take her out to dinner. ‘What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.’ He thought. He’d take her to that new creole place she liked.