Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Why Do I Need A Man?
by Erin McRae

Okay, so Japanese and Korean scientists have managed to make a baby rat from two female rats. Sheepishly, they try to put a spin on it, saying it just confirms that males are necessary in the, uh, natural order of things. Duh.

Meanwhile, certain women-without-men who want babies (you know who you are, and I used to be one of you) perk up their ears. And certain men become uneasy, wondering whether they’re even necessary, now that there seems to be no natural order of things anymore. After all, we have laboratories, we have sperm for the buying, and now for those who are offended that sperm may be involved in the process at all, we may not need it anyway. Besides, women have jobs. Some of us earn more than our husbands.

So what do we need a man for, anyway? This is the same question my husband asked me ten years ago, when we were dating. I was 34 and never married, overeducated by the local university, and owned a home that I was remodeling. He was 27, still in grad school, and the kindest, most gorgeous man who had ever wanted to date me.

“Are you kidding?” I said. And when it turned out that he wanted reassurance beyond his desirability as a sex object, I asked him, “Does this look easy?” Because to me, I was just doing what I was supposed to do in the absence of a partner, the same thing most single women do—fill all the roles as best we can. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t particularly fun. It was to my chagrin that my doing it well—or at least appearing to—might be intimidating to a potential mate. So I let him mow the lawn.

Actually, we had a deep conversation that night, in which I tried to explain this: that my self-reliant life was all an act borne of necessity, that what I most wanted in life was a soul mate to share it. That I was lonely. He was looking for more than that, it turned out, and this is something perhaps that only a man can fully understand. He wanted to feel needed in a way that mattered to him. That made me a little nervous, because I wasn’t quite sure what it meant. I was afraid it might mean giving up some indefinable part of myself, the part that had protected me all those years. And in a way, it did mean that.

The truth is, I was terrible at being single, and that’s okay. Because I don’t think we were meant to be alone. Some of us pull it off very well and some of us prefer it to the painful attempts at failed relationships. But I’ve come to realize that the beauty of relationships is their interdependence, and personal vulnerability is a necessary ingredient. The closer you are to someone, the more vulnerable that makes you. For some, friendship is enough to sustain them. For me, it doesn’t even come close.

On our ninth anniversary last January, I sat and wondered how I would ever live without my husband. This was an especially pertinent topic of thought, since two couples on our cul-de-sac had recently divorced and I had seen first-hand how these women were struggling. I thought about the two surgeries he’d nursed me through, one while we were still just dating. I thought about the two babies incubated and delivered and the one lost, the personal and work crises he’d patiently listened to without judgment, the wise advice and deep discussions, the meals prepared, floors vacuumed, children played with and made ready for school, and yes, lawns mowed and edged. All this and more from a man who never expected he would be the breadwinner for a family of four while his self-reliant wife chose to stay home with the kids.

I remembered a conversation I’d had with a married friend while I was single and suffering the clanging of my biological alarm clock. I could just hire a nanny and have a couple of kids on my own, I told her. How much harder could it be? Her eyes were horror-struck as she tried to tell me just how much harder it could be, even with a husband to help raise them. I shrugged her off at the time, but thank God I never got to experience doing it alone, because now I know she was right.

Well it turns out that my husband is the type who can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget he’s a man. That’s right, he dumps his clothes in piles on the floor, tracks mud through the house, and emits horrifying sounds and smells within close range. He’s never cleaned a toilet, sent a Christmas card, or willingly gone out dancing. But so what?

I know some of my friends are jealous that he can cook a great meal, that he drives our daughter to school at 7 a.m., that he helps put the kids to bed. And they should be. But the best part is that this man is committed to me and to these kids for life, and in light of all that, his faults are miniscule. I’m just glad he isn’t listing my faults right now, and the nice thing is, I know he won’t.

My husband and I sadly waved goodbye and blew kisses to each other today as he left for a week’s worth of meetings in California . I came back inside the house to our two children squabbling over some insignificant toy, and I snapped at them. Already we were dreading the week without his presence.

So when a team of scientists manages to make a baby without any sperm, does this really mean that men aren’t necessary anymore?  Perhaps in some highly limited technical sense this might be true, but not in the real world. And it’s definitely not true in mine.
Erin McRae holds an MA in creative writing from the University of Texas, where she studied under and edited a book for James Michener. Her essays, articles and music reviews have appeared in various publications. She's worked as a writing instructor, a dropout prevention counselor, a radio announcer, a band promoter and an investment banker. Of all her many lives, her favorite is the one she's living now with her husband and two kids in suburban Austin.