Author Alex Marsh’s book on his role as a househusband has just been published. Here, he tells Workingmums of his difficulties and triumphs on the domestic front.
Originally, Alex wanted to be a rock star, but the stellar music career didn’t quite happen. Instead, he worked in a big city as a typesetter, before going into advertising and becoming an internet expert. But he gave up his career, moved to rural Norfolk, and became a househusband. However, he isn’t a very good one – he struggles with the cooking, housework and isolation. He becomes addicted to daytime telly and computer solitaire, so he takes up bowls.
Alex, 39, lives with wife Rebecca and their four-year-old daughter Millie. They are expecting another baby in August.
Why did you become a househusband?
Essentially, I was getting more and more stressed at work, and thinking that it was probably time for a change. Then, one day, somebody did a presentation to us about a new strategic HR initiative that was being developed. This was introduced to the workforce as being very exciting – and looking round the room I saw that many people were, indeed, very excited. This struck me as horrifying, so it was time to move on.
My wife was once a student and I was the chief wage earner. Now she is an Internationally Recognised Somebody in her field, so when she moved to a new job it was logical that I should be the one to follow and that we should build our life around her professional career.
Did you think it would be easy?
To begin with, it was straightforward. I did the Hoovering and presented delicious meals of pork chop and a baked potato, and lamb chop and a baked potato, and chicken and a baked potato, etc. We didn’t have children then, and I’d taken an almost-complete break from work, so by my own limited criteria I was extremely successful.
You call yourself a ‘domestic disappointment’. What were you rubbish at?
Unfortunately, my own limited criteria were… limited. Frankly, there are only a certain amount of meals that you can produce with a potato before the culinary novelty starts to fade. And whilst I can be a fairly reasonable chef when I put my mind to it, I will stick my neck out and say that many males are great at making big spectacular efforts for special occasions but rubbish at producing the less interesting day to day stuff. This was me with the cleaning as well. And most other things. I am one of those males.
Is it true you had to get in a cleaner behind your wife’s back? (Alex was instructed by his wife to get a cleaner, but his male pride prevented him from acknowledging he was dreadful at housework, so he secretly hired a cleaner but didn’t tell his wife. He took all the glory for dust-free nooks and crannies, but was rumbled after the cleaner left her glasses in their bedroom.) What was her reaction when she found out?
Er yes. It is true. It wasn’t quite that I ‘had to’. There is quite a complex psychological explanation which takes up almost an entire chapter in the book. The short version is that it seemed at the time – erm, well I thought it was a good idea. She saw the funny side after she found out. About two years later.
What has been your steepest learning curve?
Without doubt when the baby was born. By that point I was doing a lot of freelance work, so I phased out all but a small amount of that and started again, so to speak. I found it very, very tough and that parenting did not come naturally. I think it’s unfashionable to admit that.
I am in immense awe of parents – single parents, in particular. What an achievement to bring up one or more well-adjusted kids on your own.
Your top tip on housework?
It constantly amazes me the number of people who do not work out the position and trajectory of the sun before hanging out the washing. That is as bad as a poorly-loaded dishwasher. Worse, as we’ve had thousands of years to work out the washing line thing.
Your top tip on childcare?
When you go out, remember whether you’ve taken it with you or not.
I am horribly hesitant to give tips, as I think that nagging doubts over whether you are a good parent or not are part and parcel of the job. Indeed, I’d suspect anybody who didn’t occasionally have those doubts. But one thing I always do is to talk to my little girl just as if she were an adult. I point things out, answer her questions, ask her advice on things, and don’t worry about using words she might not understand as she’ll ask me to explain. I am thinking that this is probably a good thing to do.
Do you consider yourself good at being a househusband now?
I am only a part-time househusband now. But a second baby is on the way, so I am starting again, again. I have cleaned the filter of the Dyson, and dusted off Nigel Slater’s ‘101 ways with a Baked Potato’.
Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll, by Alex Marsh, published by The Friday Project, £8.99.