The Way of the Householder
This article is a companion piece to the LOST MAN STANDING podcast “Penis Envy.” Click here to listen.
It’s hard being a householder—a person who raises children, keeps a roof over their head, pays their bills, lives with and for a partner—a spouse, maintains a job and generally speaking sacrifices a hell of a lot to do all those things. The reason why it’s hard, especially if you’re a man, is because your penis gets envious.
You get penis envy.
I remember sitting in a circle of men doing some Work when we played an authenticity game called “Letting my Dick Speak.” Yeah, yeah, this seems like a set up for a Judd Apatow movie…its not…keep listening. At any rate, the idea behind this game was that we would personify this part of our body and let it have a voice. What would THAT particular part of our body say about us? It’s an interesting question—essentially if you’re being honest (the whole point of the game) it could give you a wildly different picture of yourself; Which is exactly what happened. Guys were going around sharing as if they were Mr. Johnson saying things like, “I don’t get along with others.” Or “I’m always in control.” Or “I can’t stand to be alone.” Or “I’m a coward.” Really, really good stuff (and freaking hilarious). Then a man says this—as his penis: “I’m envious.”
The honesty really hit me. Because I knew EXACTLY what he meant.
Back when I was going through my divorce, and in general allowing myself to do whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it, I can recall my then still married, and somewhat stodgier, buddies kind of rolling their eyes whenever I recounted my locker-room stories. They would shake their heads and grimace. But occasionally this moment of honesty would come when one or another would say something like, “You can’t just go around doing that…whatever you want…I mean…you’ve got responsibilities…”
Which is true—I did have responsibilities. I had a job. I had school. I had kids. But beyond that—I felt pretty entitled and enabled. I, for one, COULD do (mostly) what I wanted to do. It was actually THEM that were feeling the pinch. THEY had responsibilities. THEY couldn’t go around doing those things… And that was cause for envy. Because the truth is—they really wanted to.
What most people don’t get about men in North America who are primarily in their thirties and forties is that they aren’t living the life they want to be. They’re living the life they SHOULD be. This doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. This doesn’t mean they want out. It just means things took a turn at some point.
I hear it all the time.
“We got married too young…we didn’t know any better…”
“I took that job straight out of college...”
“The first kid we planned on…the second was a total surprises…”
“We moved out here to be close to HER family…”
“She didn’t let me keep the car…the music equipment…the golf clubs…the female best friend”
“When I lost the house in the bankruptcy we had to move somewhere else…”
On and on… this feeling of being jostled, pushed, prodded towards a finish line that seems not only farther and farther away, but also less and less desirable.
I recall hearing one of my close friends description of himself in his first marriage, “I was miserable…but I didn’t know it…I was taking on more and more responsibility to pay the bills, to make it…I was getting home late from work, missing my kids—and then getting up early to go—missing them again…” What finally woke him up was a family picture that they had recently taken, “I stood there, staring at the portrait…Who the hell is that guy in the picture? That haircut? That shirt? That smile? That’s not me…I don’t recognize that guy.”
Wake up call.
Many men in this stage of life will simply wake up one day realizing that they are working at a job they can’t stand, to pay bills they didn’t rack up, for kids they barely know, and living with a wife they’d rather not have.
But I’m not talking about being miserable. That’s its own trip.
What I’m talking about is ENVY. And this is my sharp right turn.
If you’re living the householder lifestyle and you don’t want to be—GET OUT.
If you are stuck in a marriage where you are constantly hitting a wall, finding that you are looking at more porn than looking at your partner, or leaning over the water cooler trying to flirt at the new secretary, or cute waitress; if you are pushing pencils at a job that you secretly are plotting to get away from; if you are silently counting the years until the kids can walk home from school by themselves, or go off to college and leave the house—GET THE HELL OUT.
It is better that you leave the spiritual path of householding than live in it half-ass.
That’s my message.
However, if you do you may just find out that there’s just more of the same grass on the other side of the fence… the grass being greener was just a fantasy. And then what? At some point you’re going to have to deal with reality. The reality that your path, whatever it is, doesn’t exist to make you happy, fulfilled, or leave you feeling breathless-spinning-dizzy from the ecstacy of it all, known, or beloved like Oprah. The spiritual path exists to challenge you, to reduce you, to shatter your rigid dualism and your self-serving ego. Whatever path you’re on—that’s the end goal…All the mystics agree…Nothingness is the finish line (and oddly the starting line of the REAL trip).
AT THIS POINT-I want to say that for those of you who get out: I bear no judgments. Honestly, you are walking a well worn and time honored road. Buddha, Augustine, and many others who have lived exemplary lives have simply left it all. They realized they weren't being true to their journey. They were not meant for the world of work and play and worry and owning a home. They were cut out for something else. And maybe that's you. My hope is that this IS you, that you ACT. Move on it...don't just keep making passive aggressive attempts while dragging out your ho-hum and dissatisfactory life back at the ranch. have the courage to act on your convictions.
Yesterday I was struck with this thought—I had better damn well invest in this journey of family and home and partnering as my spiritual journey if I’m going to be on it. It had better become the avatar for God—the mask that God wears so to speak. Otherwise, I’m just dealing with penis envy. Trying to get a better woman, a bigger house, a nicer car, kids who listen to me, a dog that listens to me, etc…
So—to my brothers in this world who are householders buckling under the pressure—this is my challenge:
PUT UP, OR SHUT UP. Give this your all, or get out.
Not that it will be easy. Not that you have to become a stay-at-home dad. Not that you should suddenly be flitting around nesting every chance you get—making random runs to IKEA or World Market. That’s crap.
Be YOU. But know that Householding is a spiritual discipline. It is a path that will bring you into union with God, self, and others, just as much as that super-cool conference on Digital Mysticism that promises near instant enlightenment after 16 hours of massage and flashy-thingies on the screen. Raising your kids with affection, and intentionality, is capable of producing just as much true Bliss as diving into a career, or calling, or relationship. These things are possible, if we choose them. Which is ironic. Because most of us who find ourselves here, as householders, already have chosen it…we simply blame it on others…
All the blame, the mommy-did-this-to-me-story, or my wife put this on me, or society has pushed me into this corner—they’re all an elaborate and in-elegant excuse to not live with creative intentionality. There will always be things out of our control. We will never be fully in charge of our own choices. We are certainly going to be experience life in reactions. That’s normal. It’s part of living.
What matters is that we live the life we have. Fully. Deeply. With Conviction. And honoring the apparent contradictions and paradoxes we find within ourselves. Then keeping on. This is true in any path. And it’s true on mine. The way of the householder.