Last week, a much younger co-worker who had just gotten married showed up at the office the day after his honeymoon to congratulations all around from the older guys. As we were talking, I looked down at his hand.
"Dude," I said, "Where's the ring?" (I sometimes use the term "dude" with much younger co-workers in a futile effort to appear to be a much younger co-worker myself.)
He looked down at his left hand and shrugged.
"I guess I left it at home. It's so ... uncomfortable!" he whined.
The married men in the group all stiffened.
"Where did you leave it?" one asked urgently.
He shrugged again. "Uhhh, I'm not sure?"
There was an audible groan from the group. It was as if we were a group of battle-hardened soldiers and a fresh recruit had just hopped off a helicopter with his helmet on backward.
I realized then and there that young men entering into marriage these days don't have an instruction manual warning of the dangers and pitfalls. I decided to use this week's column to set that straight. I understand, of course, that very few (OK, no) young men read my column. But, Grandma, if you want to clip it out and save it for them, that would be great. Ready? Here we go ...
1. The ring. Don't take it off. Don't ever take it off. It might feel itchy or weird if you haven't worn one before, but tough it out. Taking off the ring, especially when you leave the house, sends a message: You either don't take the marriage seriously, or (and if this is the case, you're in bigger trouble than you realize) you don't want other women to know you're married. If you do take it off -- but don't, seriously -- make sure you know where it is. When asked why you don't have it on (something a new wife can tell from 150 yards away in the dark) there is no good answer. But if asked where you left it, the worst possible thing you can say is "Uhhh, I'm not sure?"
2. Anniversaries and birthdays. They'll tell you each anniversary year has a different symbol -- first year, paper; second year, cotton; etc. -- but throw that out the window. The simpler, safer strategy is jewelry, every year. Note of caution: It's not enough to remember these occasions. You have to start prepping days, if not weeks, in advance, or it means nothing. Absolutely nothing. When I asked a young bride for confirmation of this theory, she said, through gritted teeth: "It's the thought that counts. Same-day gifts show NO preparation." It gave me chills.
3. Mother's Day. When you have children, know this: Until they are old enough to accept this responsibility, it is YOUR job. Do not make the mistake I made decades ago when I forgot to acknowledge Mother's Day after our first son was born. It's like assassinating a president -- life without parole. Also, do not try to cover up, the way I did, by saying, in a somewhat casual tone, "Excuse me? You're not my mother!" (We were all newbies once.)
4. Household chores. Chores must be divided up equitably, if not evenly. If she cooks dinner, you do the dishes. If she drives the kids to school in the morning, you volunteer to yell at them when they talk back. (Important note: By focusing on manly jobs you will have a tremendous advantage. Household repair jobs, especially ones that require heavy tools, make it seem as if you're contributing and, better yet, too tired and busy to take on any additional chores. Anything that involves ladders, electricity, or plumbing gets extra points, especially if you occasionally curse or pretend to hurt yourself. Spending at least some time each week banging away with a hammer can offset tons of routine chores. Don't believe me? From 1999 through late 2011, I did not, even once, do a single load of laundry. Honest to God.)
5. Work is its own reward. Even if you love your job, even if it was doughnut day at the office, come home looking tired and discouraged. Having a tough day at work means getting to stretch out on the couch with a beer to unwind. My own father was a ninja at this skill. He so perfected this that when he walked through the door, his hair disheveled, his suit wrinkled, his tie at half-mast, he looked like he'd just been beaten by a gang of crack addicts armed with lead pipes. Nobody was allowed to talk to Pop for at least an hour after he got home, if even then.
6. Now go back to Rule 1. Don't take off the ring. Ever.
Peter McKay is a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist. He can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.