The death of our family fish hit my husband the hardest, and that surprised nobody more than me. One day the lone beta dubbed ‘Catfish’ simply stopped swimming, turned right on over, and floated belly up. It was a quick end. Thankfully the kids were asleep so hubby and I could converse on damage control. (When you have children, a parental pow-wow is necessary before any intense conversation begins. If your precious lovelies may be in therapy 15 years out, talking about how poorly said situation was handled, you’d best get on the same page beforehand.) I was calmly going over our options when the look on his face stopped me. Now he wasn’t keeled over sobbing or anything, but there was a somber sadness reserved for serious occasions lining his face. It was clear that this was going to be more complicated than I had thought.
My husband is not a very emotional man. He is kind and loving but not the type to cry at movies or get overly sentimental – that is more my speed. It is very rare that anything other than me or the children inspire in him extreme emotion. In this way we are personality yin and yang. So for him to feel a loss profoundly while I calmly dealt with logistics was puzzling. Perhaps the death of the fish evoked memories of the recent loss of his father? I know that particular absence has not been fully mourned or addressed, but it still seemed like a bit of a stretch. As I watched him and asked questions it seemed that that I was surely missing something. Finally at the risk of seeming insensitive I simply said: “I had no idea you were that attached to the fish.” He looked up at me and said: “I came home and talked to him every day after work. He never talked back or had a reaction; he always just listened.”
Anthropomorphism aside, here was the missing piece of the puzzle. Unloading about his day/worries/etc. to a disinterested third party was a release for him. Unfortunately men (still) aren’t always encouraged to discuss their feelings, and it’s not his habit to discuss worries with friends or coworkers. He discusses them with me, but I have my own feelings and thoughts that come into those conversations. (And Lord knows I don’t/won’t keep those to myself!) In the course of daily life it’s easy to get wrapped up in my own perspective. I am stretched so thin as a working mom that I sometimes get tunnel vision and focus on my own path, forgetting I’m not the only one with weight on their shoulders.
When I am feeling burdened, I often write, practice yoga or consult a friend. I have had years of cultivating methods of release for pent up feelings. I have learned what coping mechanisms are healthy and useful for me, and I try to lean on them in times of stress. But it seems that perhaps he needs an outlet more than I realized. I see now that in the goal of household equality I should look both ways. It is about more than my professional ambitions or him participating in child-rearing and housework (which he does.) It is also imperative that his emotions and experiences are shown value and have the same space for expression that I give to mine. Fair is fair. I gain ground; so should he.
We are fortunate in that we have a great relationship, but there is always room for growth. I don’t know the obvious solution here – I will never certainly be as neutral a listener as a mute fish! But it may be worth noting that there is power in feeling heard. Whether that means setting aside more time to ask him about his feelings or finding him another outlet/hobby/coping mechanism, the loss of Catfish taught me something about my husband. It just goes to show that sometimes the greatest lessons come from life’s smallest moments and smallest creatures.
Thanks, Catfish. Rest in peace, little buddy.