Our boys walk into the kitchen with empty hands. My wife shoots them a look and says, “Hey, I need you to put your dinner dishes in the dishwasher.”
“Get your dishes!,” I say, turning briefly from rummaging for beer in the fridge.
They whine, but relent, plodding back into the kitchen a minute later with dirty plates. Both head straight for the washer before my wife stops them again. “Scrape your plate into the trash,” she says.
“Scrape ‘em!” I say, cracking open a bottle.
The boys debate who will use the trash can first. My wife clasps their shoulders and says firmly, “You need to take turns. Now clean your plates and put them in the dishwasher.”
“Did you hear what she said?” I ask.
This is what I do. It’s not everything I do, but it’s part of what I do. I serve as my wife’s hype man. When she says something, I parrot it. When she asks for something, I demand it. Basically, I do crowd work. I’m Flavor Flav to her way more intimidating Chuck D. I’m Puff Daddy to her Notorious B.I.G. I encourage and I echo because I’ve realized that I’m ultimately a member of her crew. This isn’t what I had planned—I want the spotlight as much as the next guy-—but it’s the way things turned out and owning that role, learning to pursue it with gusto, has changed the way I think about my family life and my wife, who is the badest emcee I know.
Hype men are ridiculous, not powerful. Yeah, they get a mic and share a stage, but they wear ridiculous clothes in the music videos and they don’t get to boast or make threats. They don’t project strength. Playing that role is a weird look, especially when you’re looking hard in the mirror.
Four years ago, my wife became a stay at home mom. As the sole earner, I’d come home after to have dinner with my family. I’d wrestle with the boys and grumble about the office and drink. Then I’d eventually become impatient with the kids and let my wife put them to bed. I believed myself to be the alpha-dad. But a year in, I’d come home to find her exhausted and cranky. Then I’d be exhausted and cranky. The kids? They’d just be cranky. I knew there was a problem, but I struggled to locate it.
Then I did. My wife was in charge and I was also trying to be in charge and those competing images for the group were creating beef like Mobb Deep in 2012. I decided I needed to accept a new role. I stepped back and started hyping my wife. It was deeply uncomfortable at first, as I pondered my loss of authority. Maybe my kids would stop respecting me. Maybe they wouldn’t even think of me as a real parent. But I didn’t stop hyping. In fact, sometimes, I’d lean into it: “You better listen to yo momma!” And that started to feel good. I also noticed a change in my wife. We weren’t battling anymore. She started talking about how much she appreciated that I had her back. Like Lateef the Truthspeaker says, hype men let the emcee breath. They get the audience pumped without pulling focus.
I started a family with my wife because I didn’t want a solo career. I wanted to be part of a crew. And it was important for me to realize that decisions have to be made for the good of the audience. When I’m on stage, I can help by hyping my wife. When I’m not, I can be a producer or a collaborator. Sometimes I even have a guest verse. But, at the end of the day, what made my family life better was accepting that it wasn’t gonna be me. I wasn’t gonna be the big man. Was that disappointing? Sure, a little. But I’m not disappointed by the results. I’m happier and my kids are happier.
You’d probably be happier too if you just did what my wife says.
Do you know a great mom? The TODAY Parenting Team is soliciting essays about what makes a great mom, and they want to hear from dads, too. Word to the wise: A heartfelt personal essay makes a pretty brilliant last-minute Mother’s Day gift.