Stuck in the Middle: Between Puberty & Menopause

My wife is in menopause, my daughter’s in puberty — and I’m having one wild ride.

By Phil Mountbatten

True, she is suddenly hot — so hot — and pulling her clothes off in the strangest of places, but it never has anything to do with me. Now she talks about physical passion as if it was a novel she had once read but has now pretty much forgotten. ("I can’t remember: Why were we making love in the driveway? Had we lost the keys to the apartment?")

But if she is disengaged from her husband and his quaint needs, she is vexed by our daughter’s roiling passions. And if I have any purpose in this triangle, it may not be to empathize — ‘cause, really, what the hell do I know? It is to calm my wife when our daughter pushes her buttons, then slip like a courtier into my daughter’s chambers to explain, gently, why Mom is acting like such a bitch. I am a go-between for two people of the same gender who sometimes find themselves staring at each other across a vast hormonal divide. It feels sometimes as if one of them is just entering the coliseum of emotions that comes with being a woman, while the other is bidding the whole bloody circus a not-so-fond farewell.

How Men Cope in Hormonal Hell

Does any male know what to do when caught in this no-man’s-land? A father’s role in the midst of these changes is less clear than that of mother or child. And society leaves us few options. We can join fraternal organizations or hit the gym during the week, hence avoiding treacherous paths that might lead to marital infidelity. We can take up golf or gardening on weekends, watch sports or teach ourselves the guitar. But nights we are left to our own devices, which often boil down to the usual echo chambers: talk radio, Internet chats or the History Channel (aka the Hitler Channel).

You don’t hear men talk about this much, for the same reason your husband doesn’t stop and ask for directions when driving: We would rather get lost on our own. Consequently, I have no idea how many men share this experience. Men don’t sport survival wear about it ("I survived my wife’s and daughter’s hormonal hell"). They don’t form recovery groups around it. They go to ground, clam up — and sometimes get a divorce (though that is still the nuclear option).

Men hope that if we just ignore this hormonal upheaval, our wives and daughters will return to us, like in a fairy tale, after the spell has been lifted from the family. Isolation is what we fear. If my wife is Switzerland and my daughter is Iraq, am I North Korea? Like Kim Jong-Il, staying up late with my toy soldiers, choreographing Busby Berkeley-style martial spectacles while casting starlets in romantic movies no one will see but me, even as the rest of my population starves. I’m becoming like one of those crazy old guys, the kind your mother warned you about. Come to think of it, that apartment in town sounds pretty good.

Originally published in MORE magazine, September 2006.

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