Every so often a Companion Poll elicits comments from our Reader-Reporters which lead us to suspect that the average American woman thinks her husband is pretty wonderful—corny jokes to the contrary. This month the suspicion grows. Time and again a woman, while supplying information about how her husband helps out round the house, just can't resist tossing in a word of praise for him. And considering the facts which the poll uncovers, the men (bless 'em) certainly deserve their praise!
But let's get the story from Reader-Reporters themselves. "Long have I wanted to brag about my Jim," a Virginia wife writes enthusiastically. "I've held my tongue only out of consideration for others less fortunate. I do not have a hen-pecked husband, but I do have a very knowing and considerate helpmate. If medals were given for the perfect father, my husband would have them all over his chest. He's really one in a million, as you can see by looking at my answers to the questionnaire."
Now we'll have a good look at those answers and find out exactly what our Virginian does to inspire such whole-hearted appreciation. And then we'll find out whether, in view of other Reader-Reporters' replies, he actually is one in a million!
We asked each woman to tell us first whether her husband helps with twenty common household tasks, ranging from dish-washing to changing the baby—if there is a baby. Then we asked her to indicate about how often he helps—almost always, frequently, occasionally or rarely.
And what is the score for the gentleman from Virginia? He's a good one all right. He has at some time helped out with everything. He almost always washes the windows and hangs out the laundry. "We have an up-stairs apartment," says his wife, "with no automatic washer and no place to hang the wash, so he takes the clothes over to my sister-in-law's on his lunch hour and hangs them up for me. The four of us make a lot of washing but he never complains about using his spare time to hang it up."
Frequently our man helps with shopping for groceries, washing and wiping dishes, washing the clothes, dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing walls and floors and everything in connection with the care of his two children. Occasionally he helps out with the cooking and setting the table.
But now for the most important question: Is a man who helps this much around the house really one in a million? The answer is no.
There are lots of Reader-Reporters whose husbands help out just as much. There are even some who help out more! (We'll deal further with one of these paragons later.) All in all, good as our Virginia friend is, he's only slightly above average compared with the husbands or fathers of all our other Reader-Reporters.
Our poll shows that nearly all men - ninety-five percent - help out in some way in connection with meals. Almost all (ninety-two percent) of those with children under twelve help take care of them. Nearly three quarters help out with the household cleaning. And well over half — fifty-nine percent — lend a hand with caring for clothes and linens.
What task would you guess men help with oftenest? It's not washing the dishes, as the cartoonists seem to think. It's food shopping.
Perhaps you're one of the people who think that to send a man out for groceries is to kiss good-by to your food budget. Certainly the comments of a few Reader-Reporters give weight to this legend.
Says one, whose husband helps shop occasionally: "His buying is quite bizarre. 1 ask him to pick up some staple items for me and he comes in with a package loaded mostly with what I consider luxuries—"
But on the whole Reader-Reporters' experience along this line has been different. Most of the women seem to agree with one who says bluntly, "He not only likes to shop but he's better at it than I am."
Other jobs that frequently claim the attention of men are dishwashing — they dry oftener than they wash, though dishwashing is also near the top of the list; washing windows; cooking; washing walls and floors; and for the men with small children all the common tasks connected with their care—amusing the youngsters, acting as baby sitters, dressing them, feeding, bathing and of course changing them.
Are you a woman who doesn't believe there's any such animal as a male ironer in domestic captivity? Several Reader-Reporters are. An Ohio wife exclaims: "Your asking if they help with the ironing or bed-making slays me. No man ever did those things! If you locate one I'd certainly like to see him. Gosh!"
We located a lot more than one. Though the men in general help less with ironing than with any other common household duty, one out of every seven takes a turn at it at least occasionally. In fact, another Reader-Reporter from Ohio says, "When I was first married, my husband taught me how to iron!"
As for making beds, every third man helps with that, our Reader-Re-porters tell us. Some are evidently very good at it. One woman says: "My husband went to Annapolis and he doesn't think my bed-making is up to their standards." But the military life doesn't necessarily have such salutary effects on husbands. There's a Kentucky wife who comments on her husband's bed-making efforts:
"He loves to show me how they did it in the Marines, but I think he's forgotten something, because the sheets pull out when he makes our beds."
Actually the men make beds more frequently than they dust or polish furniture. However, all three of these jobs, as well as ironing and washing and hanging out clothes are engaged in by less than half of them.
But let's get back to the paragons — the men who will help out with every task. Is there actually one among them who stands out above all of his fellows because of his helpfulness? There is indeed. Though we have no way of proving that he's one in a million, we can say authoritatively that he's one in two thousand.
This prince among husbands lives in Ohio and he's the only man in the en-tire group who is reported to help with all twenty of our household tasks almost always!
"My family call him Saint —," says his wife proudly, "and everyone remarks that they've never known a man who helped as much around the house as he does. Besides that, he's an engineer and can make, fix and re-pair anything and everything!"
There are reasons, however, why this particular husband needs to help more than other men might need to — in fact five good reasons. As his wife says: "He maintains that when a woman has five children in five and one-half years, as I did, her husband certainly ought to do at least half the rest of the work!"
Nevertheless he's certainly not obligated to serve his wife breakfast in bed every morning. As a matter of fact he doesn't — just coffee.
It's only fair to say that, helpful as the average husband is, there are some obvious slackers. We have the man whose sole contribution is "making iced tea all summer long." And the one who does nothing except take out the refuse every evening and the one whose wife says: "I even buy his shorts and cigarettes. How-ever, he does get his own haircuts."
But before consigning this small minority to the nether regions it might be well to remember a comment from a Missouri Reader-Re-porter: "Two months ago I would have said he didn't help with any-thing except washing the windows. But since then I've been ill and I've discovered that in an emergency he can take over everything—and do a good job too!"