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When Men Go Mush
Photo: Marc Navarro
I think I have discovered a new developmental phase for men—Male Mid-life Pet Attachment Phase. During the Empty Nest period of parenting and marriage, this phase seems to be expressed as a time of bonding with family pets. A few years ago, I noticed it in a male relative as he insisted on taking his pets with him wherever he traveled. I wondered what was wrong with the guy. Another male relative had to forego a family function when the regular pet sitter was not available for his cat. Again, I was amazed at the inability to consider boarding the animal at a veterinarian’s office or other facility.

A few weeks ago, it happened to my husband. A friend invited us to her home for lunch and the afternoon and my husband asked if we could bring our dog. Usually when we are invited for social occasions, he is very concerned about leaving the dog alone for more than a few hours—“That’s not fair, he’s only two years old.” So this was the first time he seemed to relax for four or five hours away from home.

Mutual Admiration

Since we acquired our new dog several years ago, he has often commented that Teddy is the first dog we’ve owned with which he has felt an attachment. Perhaps it’s not about the dog, but the man’s time of life. Yet it seems to be a mutual admiration society with the dog joyfully anticipating his return home each evening, eager for their regular playtime. My husband sometimes even holds all 50-dog pounds on his lap—that’s a picture. All the dog has to do is lick his doggy lips and my husband wants to give him a treat or some peanut butter. On weekends, he usually plans a special dog outing or car ride for the three of us. The other day he found a puppy photo from several years ago and had to share it with me.

I am in awe observing these nurturing and attachment behaviors in my man. Wasn’t this the same guy who attempted to comfort me when we left our small children with comments such as: “They’ll be fine as soon as we leave,” or “He’ll have fun and forget all about us.” The same man who believed in letting babies cry to sleep, and small children tough out an illness and go to school. The man who wouldn’t dream of letting babies sleep in our bed allows the dog to lie on the bed and months ago tried sharing the night until that became too disruptive. Perhaps pets are the new transitional objects for mid-life men.

I recently reminded myself that we are 50-something people who have entered that blurring phase where men become more emotionally expressive and interested in relationships, while women can seem less emotional and nurturing. It is true that I don’t cry as much as I used to and I am not as willing to put up with poor behavior from others. (I’m actually looking forward to my 70s and 80s as times when I’ll feel free to grab teenagers by the ear and share a bit of my wisdom.) Last evening my husband spent 30 minutes on the phone with our daughter while his favorite baseball team was playing a history-making “no hitter” game. This seems to be bigger than pet attachment.
I hope we can again balance each other out as life partners for God’s purposes. That may be the beauty of being in a relationship with someone in a similar age category. I used to think it was a pity that we could be so different. However, different doesn’t have to be bad. Certainly, we need to respect that each of us is in a new place as persons and try to temper and encourage those traits for positive use.

Heaven only knows I have waited for a little “mush” and a good dog too.

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By Karen Spruill. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines. Scripture take from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. 

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