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(35) My Husband Speaks! with Matt

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My normally private husband transforms into an open book as he talks about fatherhood, marriage, surviving childhood trauma, and what it’s like to have a wife who openly talks about (and writes a book about) gender inequality in parenting, dad privilege, and marriage after kids. Join us at our kitchen table for an intimate conversation with laughs, real talk, and surprises – along with the telling of one of his most humiliating moments while wearing our son in a Baby Bjorn.

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Brandy:            Hello Adult Conversation Podcast listeners. I have a lot of feelings about today’s episode in which I interview my very own husband, Matt. I wanted to give him a platform to share his point of view, even if it was different from mine. Where our conversation ends up going surprised me, but also didn’t. My normally private husband transforms into an open book before my very eyes as he shares what it’s like to survive childhood trauma and how it’s affected every part of his life going forward from his relationship with me to fatherhood. We have numerous “ah ha” moments together about things like our differing personalities and parenting strategies and what is at the root of our specific parenting tensions. We actually learned a lot about each other by doing this. Matt also speaks to how he feels about being married to someone who openly talks about and writes a book about gender inequality and parenting, Dad privilege, marriage after kids, and where his sensitivities about that are and are not. He also has some words of wisdom for other dads and gives us his firsthand take on some of the inner workings and pitfalls of fatherhood. He gives us intel!

Brandy:            This episode makes me feel the most vulnerable out of any episode because this is a really intimate look at how Matt and I communicate and how we talk about tricky subjects. But it’s real, it’s us, and we cover a lot of important things that we think couples should be talking about. I also want to mention that we mostly focus on heterosexual marriage and relationships here, since that’s what we’re in, but that’s obviously not the only kind out there. So have a peek into our windows and our marriage – and one of Matt’s most humiliating moments while wearing our son in a Baby Bjorn in today’s very special episode.

Brandy:            But before you do, my book is out – Adult Conversation; A Novel! I’m loving hearing your feedback, reading the awesome reviews, and, basically just knowing that this thing I started writing years ago was finally birthed into the world. Side note, if you read it and liked it, an easy way to help me is to leave an Amazon review. Bezos has us authors by the balls. Onto the show —

Brandy:            Today we have a very special episode because my husband, Matt, is joining me on the podcast. It’s Mother’s Day and, basically the only thing that I asked for was this. We put on a movie for the kids upstairs, which is where they are so that we can have this conversation. So, welcome to the podcast finally, Matt.

Matt:          Thanks so much for having me, Brandy. {laughter}

Brandy:            So, we’re just basically gonna try not to be super awkward as I ask questions that I likely know the answer to. (laughter) But there are some things that I don’t, and I also feel like some of this could benefit some of you listeners. Today, I want to talk about a variety of things with you: your fatherhood experience, marriage, {laughter} your other marriage…

Matt:               {hmm} All of my marriages.

Brandy:            What it’s like to have a wife write a book about motherhood, and also maybe Iron Maiden. And if those first three scared you, then maybe you’ll just stay around for the last topic, which will probably be like a two-hour minimum session.

Matt:               Right. Yeah, we need a lot of time to unpack that.

Brandy:            But anyway, what is something that listeners need to know about you?

Matt:               I think it’s probably that I have a dad with a severe mental illness that I grew up with. I feel like that experience shaped so much of my past and present, and so many of the things that I’m interested in or have done with my life, choices I’ve made — so much has been informed by that trauma, that experience, and all of that stuff. So, I think that’s probably it.

Brandy:            Yeah. I want to talk to you more about it later as we talk about fatherhood, but I find it really interesting and pretty remarkable that, in your situation that you grew up, it wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t like your dad was a great guy to you. There are a couple of different ways people can handle that, being the child of that. You’ve chosen the path of seeing him with compassion and wanting to help other people in his situation, rather than being just fully angry about it and feeling like you got robbed, which is also part of it, but I just think it’s a really beautiful thing to take that and be like, “I want other people to have an opportunity to have support that my dad didn’t have.” That’s pretty remarkable, and I know you’re going to try to talk it away and pretend that it’s not, but just take it. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah. Okay. {laughter} I would say that it’s a very full experience in going through something like that. My own way of processing it has come in different phases. I don’t want to suggest that I’m not angry or not other things that are, maybe, ugly feelings or thoughts about this. I definitely have those things. It’s not just altruism that has grown out of this experience. There’s a lot of negative things as well, but in different phases of my life, I’ve dealt with those in different ways. I think ‘Adult Matt’ or, ‘Middle-Aged Matt,’ if that’s where we are, which is insane that we are that.

Brandy:            Yeah, ugh.

Matt:               This is my emotional state right now. It’s in part because I have the meaningful work that I get to do. I’m so grateful I get to do.

Brandy:            And just so people know what your work is, you work in advocacy for criminal justice reform.

Matt:               Yeah. I work for a magazine that does criminal justice journalism, and it’s part of a larger criminal justice group. But it’s expanded since this pandemic has started. We quantify it now as a magazine about issues that are in orbit around vulnerable populations. Of course, incarcerated people, people who have been touched by the criminal justice system, are very vulnerable. They’re being harmed by our government all the time, and they come from trauma. Sometimes they’re living out traumas that have touched them. We write about them, we cover their lives, and we try to humanize that experience. But there’s a lot of other people that are vulnerable, especially in this moment, and we do a lot of storytelling and work around those populations too — so, like the unhoused, the unbanked, you know, immigrant communities.

Brandy:            Right. Something else that I would add to what people might need to know about you is that you’re not an open book like I am. {laughter}

Matt:               True.

Brandy:            That’s not to say, of course, that you don’t share things with those that are close to you, but I just want to acknowledge how awesome it is that you’re doing this because I know you’re stepping out of your comfort zone. Even though I’m really comfortable in the open book place, it doesn’t mean you are.

Matt:               Of course.

Brandy:            Of course.

Matt:               Because I love you.

Brandy:            {laughter} Aww.

Matt:               I feel like it’s worth saying, too, because of the work that I do, I feel like I didn’t give enough of a description about my dad that is helpful.

Brandy:            Yeah. So, go ahead and tell us a little bit about what your experience with your dad was.

Matt:               Like I said, he had severe mental illness and I just want to be, you know, cautious about language around this stuff because it’s complex stuff. Mental illness is very difficult, and he was never diagnosed. He never went to a doctor. He never got the help that he desperately needed. So, I just want to be mindful. There’s so much stigma around mental illness already. I don’t really even want to guess as to what exactly he had, but he was very unstable and could be violent at times to my mom and I both. He could be a very frightening person. He also was a loving person. There were times where he was loving and kind, but most of the time, he was quite terrifying. That feeling kind of captures a lot of what my childhood was. It was sort of like feeling terror — ambient terror. And either processing that later or processing it in the moment and not knowing what to do with those feelings and not knowing how to even really understand, as a young boy, that my first memories of my dad are that of him being very unusual and very scary. That’s, maybe, five years old. I mean, I have a hard time and I don’t know exactly my age, but it’s like when I first came online, the first things I can remember about him are really dark things. The way he would smell, the way he would speak, things he would do to my mom in front of me — violent things or violent things to me. I have a lot of those memories and a lot of those feelings and that captures so much of that period. And then there are betrayals and other things that go along with that, but the bullseye feeling is that of lack of security or violence or the orbit of feelings that are associated with living in the eye of a storm like that. Those are very formative feelings, and to start my life or develop a worldview from that place is so different. It opened up new pathways for me. It also, I think, laid waste to other ones, you know, but that’s why I feel like it’s so formative.

Brandy:            Yeah. And when we met – we met in college and we’ve been together for over twenty    years – I remember us talking about your dad, and it was almost, like, a joke.

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            It was like, “Oh, my dad’s crazy.”

Matt:               Yeah. Totally.

Brandy:            It was kind of funny, and we would laugh about some of the stuff that he did, or that was sort of the idea that I remember thinking, before I knew that you can’t have that and not have baggage.

Matt:               Yeah. Of course.

Brandy:            But there was such a long time that I remember thinking like, “Wow, it’s amazing that Matt had this dad, and yet he has like no trauma from it.” Right?

Matt:               No, of course.

Brandy:            I feel like we were both sort of in that mentality of it, but what you’re saying is there has been this knowing that you had that’s like, “No, there’s something deeper here.”

Matt:          Yeah, and humor has been a big part of my processing of this experience.

Brandy:      Right, which is why I married you. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah, and I still have that. I think in college it was a big part of how I worked through these weird feelings and finding my own identity, finding myself, and finding what I even think about this experience. I never went to therapy myself until more recently, and I did not have the vocabulary necessarily, to understand what it was that had happened to me or even the understanding of what was happening to me in the wake of it and what a sort of genesis within something so chaotic does to a person. I didn’t really understand. I always had a lot of interest in it, and I’ve read a lot myself, of course, and studied a lot of this stuff — just sort of as an armchair interest, but I did not have a professional guiding me or helping me. For me, a lot of it was just dealing with tough feelings and a lot of anger. I mean, I had a lot of anger about the whole situation for a long, long time.

Brandy:            Which is kind of wild because you’re like the nicest, just optimistic person I’ve ever met.

Matt:               Totally. Totally. In fact, it fuels so much of that. My optimism, particularly, my sunny outlook, so much of it is rooted in this darkness. It’s just so weird to say, but it’s because I’m a survivor. I have survived such gnarly stuff that it’s very difficult to get me down. It’s very difficult to make me feel challenged in a situation to the point where I feel my emotional state being pulled way, way down into places — that are totally normal — I don’t mean to stigmatize that.

Brandy:            Your setpoint is just so much higher than other people’s. Or lower?

Matt:               Yeah, because some of that is numbness and just being desensitized by big feelings for so long. I lived in a stressed-out state for so many years of my life, but my family, outside of that experience of my dad, is a very loving and upbeat and kind of sunny, optimistic family. My grandma and my mom, in some ways, it was very well-balanced by their worldviews.

Brandy:            This makes so much sense. I mean, I knew it before, but just hearing you say this again is like, “And this is why you love heavy metal so much.”

Matt:               Yes! Or just dark music and art.

Brandy:            The darkest.

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            The stuff that our kids are like, “Daddy, will you turn that off? Because it sounds like death.”

Matt:               Yeah. {laughter} I was talking to our son – you know him – about this. You guys had met earlier. {laughter}

Brandy:            Yeah, I think I know him.

Matt:               I was telling him how much I love darkness. It’s a big part of my life, and some of that, I think, is me processing real life things that happened to me that were quite dark. I love noisy, ugly art and things in life. When I say it that way or when I think about it that way, it makes a lot of sense for me in my current work, too, because the ugliness of humanity is, to me, lovable in a way. I mean, it’s that messiness that we all have in our lives. It’s not something that is repulsive to me. It’s like, “Hey, brother and sister.”

Brandy:            Yeah, totally. So then, how does this play into — I know some of the answers to this, but not everything. I’m learning new things here too. But, how did this play into you becoming a father? You had your own obvious baggage around fatherhood, so how did that baggage either hinder you or actually help you?

Matt:               That’s such a good question. I think about this all the time. I don’t know if I have a great answer for it. The way I think about it in my head is in some ways, I’m so glad I did not have a really strong understanding of what had happened to me because I wonder if it would have changed my motivation or if I would have wanted to have children. One of the fears or things about this that is always a part of my conscious life (and I’m sure subconscious as well), is what if I have what my dad had or has? And what if it’s just a combination of factors that I haven’t quite hit yet, and I could go off the rails? I would joke about this even as growing up. I would have a series of one-liners about this kind of thing in my life where I would tell people, “Just in case I snap…” just as a teasing kind of thing.

Brandy:            Yeah, I may have heard that before. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah, but it’s a real thing though. I would joke about it, but it’s a real thing that I truly am concerned about. I really was deeply concerned about when we first had our son. I was like, “God, I’m continuing my genetic line. Did it skip a generation, and is it gonna come back?” All these things that I just don’t know enough about — I know just enough about it to make me afraid of it. That is part of the answer. I didn’t totally understand my own feelings about some of this stuff. I’m glad because, of course, being a father has been the best experience of my life. I’m so glad that I wasn’t scared of it.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Matt:               And I don’t know if I would have been, but I feel like I could have been or had a more conscious, protective theory about you and I when we decided we wanted to have children — like, “Maybe, I shouldn’t be a part of that experience.” {laughter}

Brandy:            So… {laughter}

Matt:               I don’t know what that would have looked like. I just worry about my DNA. I worry about my genetic material.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Matt:               That’s part of the answer. Obviously, I’m so happy we did it because being a father has been such a wonderful experience for me personally. It’s just so animating and so energizing and formative, but one of the things that is peculiar or specific about this experience is that I’ve never fully understood what an adult male looks like, especially, a father. The last experience I had with my dad — we stopped living with my dad when I was like eight or nine. I, of course, had adult men in my life, so it’s not that I had no models. There were adult men who were positive in my life that I love, and I still love to this day — wonderful friends and adult men who were kind and fun and funny and generous and loving in ways that aren’t a father’s love but are something. I don’t want to say, “I’m in such a vacuum that I had no experience,” but my own dad exited my life or I exited life from him out of a sense of survival with my mom because things were so violent and scary that I didn’t know what that looked like. I didn’t know what the adult Ferner male looked like in terms of a father or that kind of thing at all. In some ways, the answer is that I don’t even know if I totally know how much it’s affected me or what it has meant to me to be a dad. In some ways, it’s been this really wonderful thing because it has provided closure for me. I can think of my dad at ages. I can think back that he must have been this age while I’m doing things with our kids. It’s like, “Whoa, how crazy! You never got to experience this.” It’s crazy what I did experience with him and how fragile and how sick he was in those moments. Because I’m not mentally ill, it’s a weird kind of story in my head that I’m always reflecting on it. It’s also a kind of freeing feeling that I’ve long felt, and I don’t know exactly how to describe it. It’s like I have a blank canvas.

Brandy:      Like you’re drawing the map.

Matt:          Yeah! I’m figuring out as I go. And, I mean, I’m fucking up.

Brandy:      Not so bad, really.

Matt:               Yeah, but, I mean, I’m not perfect. I don’t know all the answers. I definitely don’t know the realm of adult male identity or father identity, at least, when it comes to my genetics. In some ways, it’s really freeing. I don’t have any narrative. A narrative can be a wonderful thing, but it can be a prison too. I have this unlit path ahead. I’ve just tried to make it my own and make decisions that I really don’t know if I’m making the right choices, but at the same time, I hear other dads (other friends of mine who are dads) and they had fathers who they knew their whole lives – some of them are still alive – and they also don’t know the answer either. Some of this is me not knowing. I just don’t know what I don’t know.

Brandy:            Right. If you had a dad-figure for this whole time, you would pick up on some of the good traits and some of the things that would be helpful, but then you would also pick up on the stuff that wasn’t, or that was toxic.

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:            You don’t have either of those. You can look at it both ways. On one hand, you’re not pushing forward a toxic male narrative, which I think is such a huge part of who you are.

Matt:               Yes, I think that’s right.

Brandy:            But then, you also don’t have some of the other “mappage” for adult males. I personally don’t see that as a problem or a downside, but I can imagine, experiencing it from the inside for you, it has to be like, “Well, what do I do? I never saw my dad be a forty-year-old male.”

Matt:          Yes, yes, exactly.

Brandy:            “What does that look like, and how does an adult male treat his wife in a loving way?” Luckily, you come with all of that already. That stuff, like your loving nature, is already there. It’s amazing that it is, and that stuff almost seems like it’s just second nature to you. You know how to be a loving, respectful husband, which is pretty amazing and wild based on what you saw.

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            But also, there’s not a bunch of toxic stuff that you saw growing up that you do the same thing. I, personally, love that you got to write this, and some of this we got to write together because I feel like we both ask each other for what we need.

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:            We try to work it out together, which I think is kind of cool.

Matt:               I think that’s exactly right. I mean, that’s sort of the other piece of this answer is that you, being in my life, have been such a rock for me and such a definitive piece of my adult life. When our life began, when we started dating…

Brandy:            You mean at the toga party that we hooked up at?

Matt:               Yes. {laughter}

Brandy:            At Sigma Nu in 1996 on April 18. {laughter}

Matt:               Yes. Yes. Yes. I do. That’s exactly what I mean. Our friendship, even before that, was so — your presence in my life was such an important factor in all of this that it’s hard for me to sort of disaggregate that from this answer as well. And then our own kids, I can’t separate that influence either. All of those experiences are informing what I am as a man, as a father, and yes, there’s this sort of raw material that I come from. A lot of that has to do with my mom and my grandma. Being raised by two women, I think enormously shaped my worldview, but having a strong partner, like you, and someone who grew and changed and we grew and changed in similar directions and challenged one another and supported one another and somehow kind of stayed on the same page is kind of extraordinary.

Brandy:            Yeah, somehow.

Matt:               That is a huge, huge part. The stability and the love and support that we’ve had together that you’ve shown for me is a huge part of that answer. And then the experience with our kids, feeling their love, experiencing this new life, and being influential to them – the weight of being an iconic person in someone’s life is crazy.

Brandy:            Yeah, right?

Matt:               It’s crazy, and I felt that the moment you became pregnant with our son and then of course, with our daughter too. Our first go at this, I think, was earth shattering like it is for so many people but for me, with some little extra layers on it for sure.

Brandy:            What do you feel like was or is your biggest challenge in fatherhood? Or do you even have any because it seems like it comes so natural to you?

Matt:               I mean, I don’t know. I think it’s hard like anybody else.

Brandy:      Specifically, for your personality.

Matt:          What do I struggle with the most with fatherhood?

Brandy:      {laughter} I feel like the fact that you have to even think about this…

Matt:               I just feel so lucky to be a father. {laughter} Whatever the struggles are – it’s like that’s that initial trauma thing. The problems that they bring to us and the challenges that we face together as a family feel so small compared to the challenges I faced in my life. I’d say the hardest part, though, in some ways, is seeing them hurt or sick in a way that feels like potentially debilitating. I think of our daughter’s heart issue that came up when she was very young.

Brandy:            I don’t think I’ve ever talked about that on here because it was kind of so fleeting.

Matt:               Yeah, so fleeting. Right.

Brandy:            But, yes.

Matt:               In retrospect, it was not a big deal because it didn’t turn into a big deal.

Brandy:            Even though, I think about it all the time when she’s laying on me, and I hear her heartbeat.

Matt:               I know. I think about it every time I feel her heartbeat.

Brandy:            Uh. Wow. We’re both carrying this trauma around. {laughter} Great.

Matt:               It was so scary.

Brandy:            Basically, what happened is we went to a doctor’s appointment that was totally routine, and the doctor was like, “I think she has a heart murmur. You should go see a cardiologist to make sure it’s not something worse.”

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:            And that was right when we had moved, there was so much going on, and so we had to take her to the cardiologist. She was one, she wouldn’t sit still, and you had to pin her down. I couldn’t even watch. It was a big deal.

Matt:               Yeah. It was a big deal.

Brandy:            I mean, many listeners out there have been through this and even more, but it’s that moment where, “Am I about to get news that’s going to change my life?”

Matt:               And change the trajectory of our lives?

Brandy:            But luckily, it was a heart murmur and she’ll grow out of it.

Matt:               Yeah, it was not a big deal.

Brandy:            But yet, we always think of it.

Matt:               Yeah. That piece was hard for me to let myself fully feel the weight of what that could be. Also, you being in the hospital with our daughter before she was born was a very difficult time too. I think it was just the emotional weight of there being a possibility, while the percentages were low, you both or one of you could have not made it out of that pregnancy. That feeling, and you being in isolation for as long as you were and me and our son on our own, those were hard times, but I’m not sure I’m answering your question.

Brandy:            It sounds like the day-to-day stuff doesn’t bog you down.

Matt:               Yeah, day-to-day stuff doesn’t bother me.

Brandy:            But the bigger stuff, the heavy stuff does.

Matt:               The bigger stuff, yeah. Right. Those are the challenges.

Brandy:            That’s totally an okay answer. I mean, that makes sense, and that’s kind of some of the other stuff I want to talk to you about. The difference, and maybe it’s just for us, between motherhood and fatherhood is some of the day-to-day stuff that a lot of moms talk about being so hard is, maybe, because of the setup that we have that I’m the main caretaker for most of the time.

Matt:               Yeah, that’s right.

Brandy:            But, not to say that those bigger things aren’t super hard because they absolutely are.

Matt:               Some of the things that I know can be struggles for any parent, and understandably so, bring me a ton of joy. I know that can be a source of annoyance, but it’s because I’m so grateful for the opportunity to get to do some of this stuff even when it’s obnoxious and kids being kids. It’s like a chance to experience them, and maybe it’s me experiencing childhood again or something? I don’t know. It’s a really interesting interplay that I don’t know if I totally understand, but I get so much joy out of them, even when they’re just asking for snacks or wanting me to talk their toys to them.

Brandy:            I’m gonna remind you of this next time you’re losing your mind.

Matt:               Oh, yeah. I get just as frustrated, and I’m impatient.

Brandy:            It’s just not as frequent as me.

Matt:               It’s just not as frequent, yeah.

Brandy:            I feel like the listeners are getting a good look inside of — I’ve talked about it on here before, but when you’re co-parenting with somebody who loves 99% of it, for me, it’s like how do I not feel like I’m the broken one?

Matt:               Right. Totally.

Brandy:            And I’ve told you this before. Parenting with you is amazing because you’re so good at it, and you like it. But then, also, I’m always the one that’s annoyed and you’re always like, “This is fun.” I mean, we all have our dynamics, but that’s definitely a dynamic with us, and sometimes I’m annoyed.

Matt:               No, it’s so annoying. I so understand. It’s so annoying.

Brandy:            But it’s beautiful. I mean, what? I would rather you be dark and twisty like me, and then we’re both sort of like, “Ehh?” I’m so grateful when I hear you downstairs playing with the kids when I’m like, “I can’t handle this.” I do say to myself, “I’m so grateful that he can go do that because I can’t,” and I think you and I have always been a good balance for each other.

Matt:               I was gonna say, too, that the balance is well mixed.

Brandy:            And we switch off. There are times when you’re at the end of your rope, and somehow, I’m not. The few moments where you break down with the kids, I’m secretly in the background like, “This is everything. Yes!” Then sometimes, I have all this energy and patience, and I’m like, “Oh, this is what it must feel like for him most of the time.” {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah. Right, totally. {laughter} It’s hard. In so many weird ways as an adult, I’m so grateful for the experience that I had as a kid. It was super scary, and I would not wish it upon anyone, but the adversity of it has driven me into some really interesting places as an adult. I have a strong feeling that I’m very fortunate to be alive, and that survivor mentality shapes so much of the way I feel every day. When things are really hard, I’m always drawing from that other perspective that is, like I’m not sure I ever pictured myself actually being this old, ever. That’s part of that adult male and the lack of a clear picture of that, for me, is not just not having a dad, but I didn’t even know I would live this long.

Brandy:            Yeah, wow.

Matt:               There were little things about life that I guess bring me more joy, ultimately, sometimes, even if they’re annoying, because I feel like, “Wow, I’m so glad I get to experience this at all.”

Brandy:            Maybe, even though those things are annoying, they’re nowhere near what you had when you were growing up and the things you were dealing with. For me, for example, I had some moments in my childhood that were not ideal.

Matt:               Of course, we all do.

Brandy:            But I will say, I think part of my problem and why motherhood feels so overwhelming — I mean, aside from the systemic stuff that I talk about that’s real…

Matt:               Sure. It’s real. Yeah. And it’s also real with us. I don’t get a pass on that. All of that is still true here too.

Brandy:            Of course. But I do feel like my life was so easy-ish up until having kids that, for me, I’m almost like the opposite of a survivor, which is like, “No, shit’s supposed to be easy, and people are supposed to do what you say,” because I didn’t really have huge obstacles. I mean, I had a couple things.

Matt:               I would argue that it’s relative, Brandy. People’s pain and the challenges of their lives are relative to the experiences they have. There’s no sense in comparing what you went through versus what I went through.

Brandy:            You have this survivor mentality of like, “I’m just lucky to be here,” and I’m like, “Why isn’t this easier?” {laughter}

Matt:               But, I’m not sure. It’s so extreme. In moments of crisis, there’s benefit, but life shouldn’t always be a crisis, right?

Brandy:            But then, what I’m learning is it shouldn’t always be easy either because when you grow up and everything feels easy-ish and you don’t really have any struggles in big ways, then when you grow up and things do get a little bit hard, it’s like, “Oh, this feels way harder.” I feel like maybe I feel it more, and maybe not, because I mean I did have some things growing up. But it’s partially, two things. I think this is where with you and I with parenting where we differ because I think we’re on the same page for so much of it, but I think you come from a place – because of your background – you want to make sure that our kids never feel any of what you felt, which is, of course, right and beautiful and, of course, that makes sense. And then I almost feel, because of where I came from, I want our kids to feel some of that, so they don’t grow up just thinking life is easy. I kind of feel like we parent, even though like I said, we’re on the same page, there are certain ways that we do things differently, which maybe, in the end, it will even itself out because they will have both experiences. I’m trying to give them — not trauma, but I’m trying to give them obstacles and things to work against because I don’t know that I had those, but you’re trying to pull all of those away.

Matt:               {laughter} So true.

Brandy:            I feel, in a sense, maybe, it’s a good tension. Maybe, there’s a healthy tension. I don’t know. But I think it is frustrating for each of us because there are some times when I’m like, “You cannot make this easy for them. They have to learn perseverance.

Matt:               You’re right, because in my mind, when you say that, I’m like, “Yeah, we should totally make it easy. There’s just so much pain, let’s let them not feel it because there’s so much darkness.”

Brandy:            Right. I’m always like, “Let’s let them feel it and talk to them through it so that when they’re older they’ll be…”

Matt:                   That’s so true.

Brandy:      {laughter} I feel like we just cracked are parenting in a nutshell.

Matt:          We totally did.

Brandy:            Something little is when we’re doing homework with them, and you will give them the answer a thousand times faster than I will. I will make them work for it.

Matt:          Right.

Brandy:            Even just in those little moments, and then in the bigger moments, but like I said, I really feel at the end of it, there is some balancing that happens, hopefully. I mean, who knows? Or like, they’re in therapy? {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah, I mean, this might have been the worst possible path we carved out for them. {laughter}

Brandy:            We don’t know.

Matt:          We don’t know. We will see.

Brandy:      We’ll find out, and then it’ll be your fault.

Matt:          It’ll be my fault, for sure.

Brandy:            Because I will say that they aren’t strong enough to deal with it themselves because everything’s been so easy. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah, I think that’s fair. I think that’s exactly right. As you’re describing this, it’s funny, we’ve never talked about this before. We never identified it before, but I think this is exactly where sometimes when we are at loggerheads about a particular thing around parenting, this is the source of the tension.

Brandy:            Right.

Matt:               Because I am like, “Let’s…

Brandy:            “Let’s lay with them to go to sleep until they’re teenagers…”

Matt:               “Because we could die tonight.”

Brandy:            Exactly.

Matt:               That’s it.

 Brandy:     And then I’m like, “I’m gonna drive my van into the ocean.”

Matt:               In fact, that’s a perfect example — bedtime routine. I so cherish it, as you know. Whatever they want to do, I’m there for, and I know it makes you insane.

Brandy:      Yeah, I’m just shaking my head over here.

Matt:          I totally understand that perspective and have so much sympathy for it, but…

Brandy:      But! {laughter}

Matt:               I’ll just lay there forever because what if I am not alive? It’s crazy. That’s what I meant earlier when I was saying like, “Life isn’t always a crisis,” and little things like this are not a crisis. I think that’s why I understand your perspective. I think you’re such a great balancing force for me, in particular, and why I’m glad you reel me back from some of these things because going to bed by yourself is not a crisis.

Brandy:            Well, it is for our kids. {laughter}

Matt:               It is for our kids now because we made it that.

Brandy:            Actually, we’re doing pretty well.

Matt:               Well, you know what I mean. Life isn’t all crisis, and there are challenges and obstacles along the way that are good for us and normal. I think my desire to flatten the road along the way comes from a place of crisis because that’s how my childhood was, so I am trying — which I don’t think is ultimately always a very healthy thing.

Brandy:            Right, because then you have kids who can’t fend for themselves.

Matt:          Right, so that’s why I’m glad for your perspective.

Brandy:            But then, they also feel your love and, especially, from a dad — toxic masculinity and all that kind of stuff, to have a dad who can really love you and not just be a ballbuster on you, is also important.

Matt:               Yeah, hopefully, that’s the upside. When they’re in lifetimes of therapy, that’ll be the one thing that’s good.

Brandy:            Exactly. {laughter} Although, remember maybe, three to six months ago that I finally was like, “We are not laying with them until they fall asleep because we can’t do this anymore.”

Matt:          Yeah.

Brandy:            And then you were reluctant, but you were like, “Okay, fine.” And then remember, I think it was, like, the first or second night that we came down, and we had a whole night to ourselves.

Matt:          Yeah. Oh, my God, it was incredible, and now I really want it.

Brandy:            And then you said to me, “Oh my God, this is so great. I wish we had done this sooner,” and I almost throat-punched you because I’d been begging for this for five years.

Matt:          Yeah. For, like, our whole life.

Brandy:            But I never wanted to give it up, and I never wanted to just give it to you even though you’re like, “I’ll just lay with them.” I’m like, “They cannot grow up with the story that Dad was so loving. He laid with us every night, but Mom didn’t want to.” I was like, “I will lay there in rage to not have that be the story,” but then, come to find out that it was great.

Matt:          Yeah, it was great. I’m grateful for it.

Brandy:      Good. I’m glad. {laughter} Well, shit.

Matt:          {laughter} I wish we would’ve done that earlier? It was a good idea.

Brandy:      Yeah, why didn’t we?  I don’t know. {laughter}

Matt:          We should’ve.

Brandy:            Okay, what surprised you most about our marriage after kids? Or what shifted for you the most?

Matt:               I mean, obviously, our time to ourselves is the easiest, most obvious answer. where we can just do whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it, which I miss, enormously, all the time because those were such fun times.

Brandy:      Totally.

Matt:               And then sleep and everything else that goes along with that. The sense of exhaustion that we feel now is so palpable, but it’s funny because our lives are so much more meaningful now with kids. I guess part of my answer is to a different question, because when I first met you, when we became a unit…

Brandy:            Lovers. {laughter}

Matt:               {laughter} Yeah, lovers. When we became best friends, that was a very important moment for me in my personality development. Your position, in my life, made me who I am…

Brandy:            Woah.

Matt:               …and made me feel like a human being and that I had a direction, there were solid things about who I was — not all, like, a web of lies. It was, absolutely, the beginning of life changing in meeting you and us forming a partnership for sure. But then, having kids together, it exploded all of that and then sent me flying out into space in a different way. So different of a way that it’s almost impossible for me to relate to the person, even though those years together were so wonderful. I don’t mean to diminish how great they were, but it’s so different now and so much more meaningful and rich, even when It’s hard. There are so many more points of light. I don’t know if that’s the answer your question, but that’s how the phases of our life feel to me. I feel so much more attached to the period that we’re currently in, and I’m so glad we made it here because I was so afraid along the way in so many moments. I was gonna say this a second ago when it came to the bedtime ritual, this is something that I’ve told you before, but you’re always right.

Brandy:            {laughter} I’m choking on my water.

Matt:               No, I mean, I don’t mean that. You have a sense of things. You’re able to see things and sort of track them, theoretically, in your mind. You’re able to visualize us in the future. Whether that was like, “Oh, let’s buy a house or let’s have kids or let’s get married,” much of that came from you, and I don’t know if…

Brandy:            You were like, “But I’m gonna die tomorrow, so why are we doing this?”

Matt:               Yeah, right. I so rely on you to have a sense of where we’re heading, and I still rely on that. That’s why the bedtime thing makes so much sense to me in retrospect, because of course, you’re right. You have a better sense of this than I do, and it’s been true over and over and over again in our lives.

Brandy:      Yeah, I don’t even know how to respond to that, really.

Matt:               And it’s not that we don’t — there are things that I think you’re wrong about, of course, {laughter} and we talk about those things.  Those are, like, philosophical things. My life changed so much when we became a partnership. I felt more solid and stable, and then having kids together was just the ultimate. I love it.

Brandy:            Well, now that you’ve said a whole bunch of very nice things about me, which is not the point of this interview, but I know listeners are probably really interested to know how you feel about having a wife who speaks out against the patriarchy and Dad privilege and gender inequality in parenting. I would imagine most people think that you’re probably pissed or think this is about you. How could we have a good time marriage, and yet, I’m talking about these things? This is not my husband that I’m railing against on a public podcast. I would tell you and do tell you, personally. I wouldn’t start a podcast and a page to be passive aggressive. {laughter}

Matt:               {laughter} So amazing though.

Brandy:            That would be so amazing.

Matt:               I so wish that was the case.

Brandy:            I mean, that’s so not me.

Matt:               I wish I didn’t know that’s what this was. I wish I never – like, “What are you talking about? Your Facebook page?”

Brandy:            I’m curious, and I know listeners are curious. How is having me do this work? And how do you handle being in a group of people that I’m sometimes coming after for what I would say are valid reasons, but that you’re a part of it, and maybe, people misunderstanding that you’re a part of that when you’re not, and it’s not a personal thing? What are your thoughts on any of that?

Matt:               Oh, man. I mean, I appreciate you even asking me this. I feel like it’s really nice to be able to share this perspective with you, but I feel like my perspective is so second to your perspective.

Brandy:            That’s why I’m the host. {laughing}

Matt:               I’m just I’m happy to share my thoughts.

Brandy:      Yes. We want to hear them.

Matt:               I love it. I mean, I love it! It’s incredible seeing you find yourself and your voice in this work because it’s always been who you have been. You’ve always had this energy. Maybe you didn’t quite have all the vocabulary together yet, or the theory totally developed, but you were exploring theories around this stuff our whole life together.

Brandy:            Are you talking about, specifically, saying the thing that people don’t say? Or are you saying it’s about parenting, specifically?

Matt:               All of the above. Maybe it presented itself as you being dead honest and being willing to be honest and courageous in spaces where people aren’t and don’t have that courage. Or willing to use your privilege or use your agency to help talk about or raise an issue. You’ve always been that person.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Matt:               Raising an issue that is something that more people should be thinking about, but aren’t thinking about. Some of this is just very much who you are and always have been, but it’s like little spikes along the way. And then this work, I feel like, unifies so much. It’s a universal theory of all the things you’ve been doing in the past. It’s so exciting to see you do all this stuff. I love it, and I love you railing against the patriarchy and Dad privilege and all of the issues in orbit around us because we need so much help in this space.

Brandy:            I’ve always appreciated that you – and you’ve said this to me before — you’re not going to take this stuff personally…

Matt:          Yes. Oh, God no.

Brandy:            … and stop the bigger help that’s gonna happen for people because you’re getting feelings hurt because you know directly that I would tell you if there was something with us.

Matt:               Yes.

Brandy:            Throughout all of this process of me writing this book and this work, you and I have always been good.

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            And we have moments just like other couples of not being good or of me having to say something to you or you even be annoyed at something that I am saying or whatever, but it’s like — gosh, I feel like maybe I’ve wanted to say this, and I haven’t said this — all of these experiences and my book and everything, it doesn’t come from a place of brokenness and hurt. It actually comes from a place of us working really well together, but having to grow into that.

Matt:          Yeah, of strength.

Brandy:            I feel like the character in the book that I resemble is a version of me five years ago that I’m different from now. I mentioned this on a couple of Facebook posts about the husband character, the Aaron character, which I took parts of you for because it was easier to write that way. But it was parts that I found the most interesting, like the fact that you love Noam Chomsky but also love The Bachelor, and even some of the stuff about how the Aaron character is raised by his mom and grandma. There are direct lines, but there’s so much of the other stuff that never happened between us.

Matt:          Right.

Brandy:            That’s a collective from all the moms I’ve ever known, and the clients and birth work I’ve seen and all the friends I’ve talked to. It’s like this collective of every husband experience. I just want to say that I appreciate that you are egoless enough or nuanced or smart enough to get that and not just be like, “Dude, why are you writing a book that’s about dads? I’m a dad, but you’re saying dads aren’t good.” That you’re not a Neanderthal, even though, I’m like 90% Neanderthal…

Matt:               Yeah, you are the Neanderthal.

Brandy:            I, legitimately am. There’s no one else who is more Neanderthal. {laughter}

Matt:               It’s time to out this. It’s time to make this public.

Brandy:            But I appreciate that you’re sensitive to it and step out of the way enough to allow this to happen.

Matt:               This is a fight that we’re both in together. You trying to raise awareness around the plight of women and of moms everywhere is good for all of us.

Brandy:            That’s what I’m saying, everyone!

Matt:               It’s good for dads. It’s good for moms. This isn’t a women’s fight that is about men, and men can’t be a part of it, or just are a part of it only in that we’re targeted by it. Of course, we are, and of course, patriarchy is us. I’m part of that. I benefit from it, but your work is freeing all of us because patriarchy is a thing that should be shattered. It does harm to every single one of us, not just men and women. It keeps men in a prison and it also keeps women in a prison. It’s an ideology that is toxic and deserves to be crushed. Your work doing that is righteous. I support all work that is seeking to reduce harm in this world. That’s a big part of my work that earns us a living. It’s a big part of my ideology as I look at the world. Reducing harm and oppression is the most righteous work, so I could not be more proud and more excited and more thrilled that you have found yourself in this fight because it’s such an important fight.

Matt:               Am I sensitive? I don’t want to come off like I’m some sort of saint either. I’ve gotten sensitive about posts you make on Facebook where I’m directly referenced. Even when you’re not even using me as a bad example — because I’m not as public as you are about this sort of stuff, it makes me uncomfortable, and you’ve been very generous about that to work around those things with me and be helpful and hear me on those things.

Brandy:            I learned because there were a couple times that I posted something that hurt your feelings.

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            I really had to think like, “Okay, I feel like I should be able to share my story.” And I think moms, especially, we don’t share our story because we don’t want to hurt our kids and we don’t want to embarrass our husband and we don’t want to seem like we’re not good moms.

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:      There’s all these reasons to not speak.

Matt:               That’s why I was so sensitive about even bringing it up. When we had that conversation, I was like, “I don’t want to take your voice away from you.”

Brandy.            Right, but there is a fine line, and that’s what I’ve had to learn is where that fine line is. At the end of the day, I’m in this fight, but I’m also in this marriage. It’s trying to juggle those two jobs. I feel like I’ve done a better job of it lately, but it’s definitely something that I had to learn. I’m still gonna be learning. I mean, even with publishing this book, even though it’s a novel and so much of it is fictionalized, there’s still a certain amount of how much intimacy do I share because I know people are gonna think that some things are real and some aren’t and some are.

Matt:               That piece, the fictional piece, I’ve never struggled with. Whatever source material that is real that you’re basing your fiction off of — I think I’m so comfortable with that because I’ve been an artist, too, and I understand you draw from your own experiences to color work and make it more real and make that more evocative and have real emotion. So, that has never, ever bothered me. The only time I’ve ever felt sensitive is when you’re being real on your Facebook page and you’re talking about very real, important things and I’m folded into it. Sometimes it’s great. Other times, it just made me sensitive, and then we’ve had to talk about that.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Matt:               But you’ve been very open and understanding about those feelings. I feel like I have tried to also understand what you’re doing more. Because the thing about you that has always been true in our marriage and in our friendship is, like you said earlier, you’re always gonna always speak your truth. You’re not gonna hold back. Our communication in our marriage has always been very, very open, and I think is the foundation of why our marriage works and has worked so long.  We’re both very, very open with each other and honest. You’re going to be honest with me, even if I don’t like it, or I disagree. You’re going to bring it to me. It’s never going to be a passive aggressive thing.

Brandy:            Right. You’re never gonna find out on Facebook that something is wrong – yeah.  

Matt:               But even then, I’ve realized that some stuff I’m still uncomfortable with is just making it public. I don’t know if that’s fair. I’m not, necessarily, suggesting I’m right. I just mean that sometimes that makes me uncomfortable.

Brandy:            You just said I was right about everything.

Matt:               Yeah, so therefore I’m wrong.

Brandy:            {laughter} No, but that’s the thing, is trying to figure out different personalities and the balance.

Matt:               I can’t even give you an example of one of those anymore.


Brandy:            Lollipop.

Matt:               I still don’t even remember.

Brandy:            Lollipop. You don’t even remember? You had bought the kids, at Disneyland, a giant lollipop that then they were gonna beg me for (especially our young daughter who loves treats). They were gonna spend every minute of every day begging me for while you were at work.

Matt:               Yeah, I just don’t even remember why that bothered me because that seems like a very reasonable thing for you to complain about.

Brandy:            {laughter} I thought it was reasonable, but I think that was one of those moments where it was just figuring out the push and pull. And that’s the other thing, too, is I think it depends on what we were going through in life. We all, in marriage, have these times where everything feels like, “This is amazing. This is always going to be amazing.” And then we have other times where we’re like, “Shit. We’re in a rough patch.”

Matt:               Yeah, maybe, we were in a rough patch.

Brandy:            If we’re in a rough patch and a post like that happens, then that feels different.

Matt:               It, like, exacerbates something.

Brandy:            We’re high in the sky doing so great, and then things can be so fragile, especially, in marriage and, especially, with juggling kids.

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:            I actually think right now with this pandemic, it’s the same thing. I feel like things feel more fragile. I don’t necessarily think between you and I — I think we have had an okay time at this, for the most part, but I think there are just certain times when other foundations are shaky and something so minor can set somebody off or feel more pointed, really.

Matt:               Yeah. I think that’s right. I think that’s what it is because it’s not like it’s a surprise. Yeah, it feels like a betrayal or like a more pointed thing. It’s funny because, like you explained that to me now, it feels like that’s fine. I don’t know why that bothered me, at the moment, but I bet it was something that was going on in our lives.

Brandy:            But it’s valid. It’s valid that you felt that way. We just have to try to figure it out when it happens.

Matt:               I appreciate that we can talk about it because I really do think it’s so important that you are able to have the freedom to discuss anything that you need to discuss. I think that’s the value of what you do is that you have this real talk. I feel gross about it sometimes because it feels like, “Oh, that’s such a representation of the patriarchy.” Then I’m like, “Oh my God, I need to work on this.” It’s a weird feeling.

Brandy:            That’s the rub of it which is thinking that I’m gonna show him this and ask him if I can post this first.

Matt:               Yes.

Brandy:            It feels like it has to pass through him, but then, it’s like, “Okay, but this is my best friend and husband. This is a human being.” That matters to me. That’s why most of the time with stuff I ask you first, if it even includes you.

Matt:               Yeah, if I’m included.

Brandy:            But I mean, the writing of that book really helped me work some things out, and not only that, it taught me how to ask for what I need. I don’t find myself –especially, with our kids being older now, I don’t find myself in a place where I’m feeling resentful or that there’s something that I haven’t said. Writing that helped me figure out what was at the heart of some of the stuff. I feel like we’ve grown hugely from that experience.

Matt:               Oh my God, I agree. Well, that’s what I was gonna say about this work you do. That’s the other thing is, like, I feel like I’ve benefited from it enormously. I feel like it’s grown our sense of ourselves and our marriage and what’s possible in our marriage. We’ve always tried to do things differently and not conform to normal gender roles and all those sorts of things. Some of that is just, historically, a part of our marriage, but this work and you being this loud voice for equality and for freedom, that you are, has totally impacted our marriage and our friendship and how we deal with things in the house. Or it’s at least made me more conscious of certain things that, maybe, I wasn’t as conscious of that I was taking for granted – maybe, you and I both were taken for granted. I think there’s so much that I I’ve learned from you from this work, and that has directly made our marriage stronger. Just having some conscious thinking and conversation about these things. These gender roles are so difficult to escape. Here we are, two people who really, deeply care about this and want to do good for each other and love each other deeply. We don’t want to be shitty to each other and have these gross expectations based around the fact that you happen to be a woman and I happen to be a man. There are certain things that our culture and our society tells us we do, and we can rest on those real easy. Sometimes you aren’t even conscious that a choice is being made or that there is a choice.

Brandy:            Right, but even us who are thinking about this still misstep.

Matt:               Yes. Always.

Brandy:            That’s why, sometimes, when I think about or I hear about men who are like, “Oh, this is just bagging on dads or whatever.” It’s like, “No, no, no, no, this benefits you. If you don’t want your wife to be truly happy and real with you, then that’s fucked up.”

Matt:               Right. Let’s say we’re talking about my male friends. I wouldn’t want them to feel resentment for me for relying on them to do certain things for me or treating them like some sort of subhuman or a subclass. That’s what a lot of this stuff forces us to do as husband and wife. The gender roles are so pervasive, and you’re so tired.

Brandy:            You’re so tired that you just go into it as a default.

Matt:               Yeah, and that’s scary how seemingly wired we are for some of that stuff. We’re being taught this. It’s being screamed at us by our culture and our politics for our whole lives, so we have to have some softness for each other.

Brandy:            Totally. That’s why it’s almost nobody’s fault. If we’re conditioned one way, you guys are conditioned another way. That’s what happens, so then, it’s like we have to deprogram each other, in a way.

Matt:               Yes. Well, this is the other thing that I really love about this work, Brandy, and that I love seeing you do it and I feel like it has been resonant for me. Your work allows for me, and I think for other dads, an opportunity to think about maleness and masculinity in different ways. There can be an expression of it – maybe, even a little scary, or maybe even a little challenging, or maybe “scary” isn’t the right word, but something that makes you even feel a little angry or feel a little bit like, “Oh, but what Brandy is saying is an attack on me.”

Brandy:            Like, defensiveness?

Matt;               A defensiveness maybe. If men gave it a second and tried to think it through and the theory that you’re proposing, maybe they’d come out the other side realizing that, “Oh, yeah, you know, this person is supposed to be my best friend. This is supposed to be my partner through everything. And maybe I am doing things that are negatively impacting her,” at least in a straight relationship.

Brandy:            Right.

Matt:               I think there’s so much that can be learned from the work that you’re doing, from a husband’s perspective, that is so freeing. It’s so liberating, and that part is really fun, while challenging, and also embarrassing. There are things that you and I have discovered in our marriage that I’ve realized I’m doing or roles/stereotypes that we are falling into. It’s embarrassing. It feels gross, at least for me anyway. I am proud of who I am and the way I think about masculinity and being a male, and the way I try to behave in the world, but it’s hard. Even when you are proud, even when you’re sort of rewarded when you have a partner like you, who expects more out of a person, but also champions it and you can feel really positive about it, it’s still really embarrassing when you realize like, “Oh my God, I’m just like a stereotype,” or, “I’m doing things that are hurtful to a person that I love, and I don’t want to hurt them. What am I doing?” Where there’s heartache to the extent that men hear these things from you or read your posts and feel challenged by them — I think so much of that stems from embarrassment. Some of it is just like they get it. They know. They see what you’re saying, and it makes sense. And it’s like, “Ah man, I’m doing some of that too.” It sucks to have to admit that, and then you want to make a set of different choices. I bet many of them do, or at least it plants a seed to let them think through their behaviors and try to change.

Brandy:            If they’re even that soft, though — I do feel like there’s a defense mechanism and if that’s a certain coping mechanism that people have, then how do they really let that go further than just thinking, “I’m better than most guys,” or, “I know which sippy cup is right,” or whatever?

Matt:               I think that men are more sensitive than they let on. I actually think men are capable of a larger spectrum of emotion and are aware of a lot more than, culturally, we’re kind of caged by. Maybe that’s just the optimist in me, but I do want to believe that there is capacity for understanding of this and even capacity for change. I just think men in the world, men in America in particular, I think there’s a very narrow spectrum of our identity and a very narrow spectrum of our emotion that’s acceptable.

Brandy:            Right, and I want freedom for everybody. I don’t want just freedom for moms. I want dads to be able to tap into what they want and not have to be in their breadwinner box. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes either. I wouldn’t want to be the person with the idea that you have to bring home all the money. Somewhere in the middle, we’re all people. Both people get to say, “Here’s what I really would like to do because I know you probably wouldn’t want to.”

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            I know, for sure, you wouldn’t want to be working as much as you’re working.

Matt:               Oh, yeah.

Brandy:            But our systems aren’t set up for that, so if we can’t even have the conversation, we’re so far away from getting that set up. But when we can start to have the conversation and get out of our egos and really think about what would make each of us have happy and let’s try to build that, maybe that moves us closer to getting some changes that can support that. That’s kind of far off, and I don’t know if that’ll happen in our lifetime, but we have to start somewhere.

Matt:               But yeah, I mean, we have to start somewhere. Structurally, we aren’t set up in this country — it’s a false set of choices that we’re presented with. Either you’re a stay at home parent or you’re the parent that is in the workforce. Frequently, the kind of polar sets of poles that were offered — when you first met your partner, when you first fell in love with your partner, when you first decided to build a life together, you didn’t know that was the thing, I don’t think. I certainly didn’t.

Brandy:            Exactly. Well, I think that’s what took us by surprise, and I remember having a conversation with you. We were sitting in a California Pizza Kitchen in Santa Monica. I don’t think I was pregnant yet. I remember saying to you, “I think I would be a stay at home mom. I think I’d really like it. It sounds really fun.”

Matt:               Yeah. I remember this.

Brandy:            And I think you were like, “Yeah, that sounds good.” I just look back on that moment, and I think, “She didn’t have any idea!”

Matt:               You didn’t know. It’s not fair.

Brandy:            But then, what’s crazy is we chose that, and then that’s just been the trajectory and, like how to course correct that — I mean, obviously, there are probably people out there who are like, “Well, you could have just gotten a job and a babysitter. It’s not that hard.” There’s so much behind why that didn’t happen and the cost of it and all those different things, but how is it that we’re not having more educated conversations before we have kids? I’m hoping my book will do this for people who haven’t had kids yet so that with their partner or spouse that they have the conversation, it’s like, “What do you want to do? And what do you want to do? And what have you heard?” I think the more groundbreaking thing is, “How will we know if it’s not working for somebody? And when should we reassess it if somebody is not happy?”

Matt:               Yes.

Brandy:            And maybe, that’s the person who’s working all the time who’s like, “Listen, I want to be home with the kids some of the time too.”

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            But again, the way healthcare works in our in our world is that…

Matt:               It’s tied to the person with the full-time job or whatever. Well, that’s what I was gonna say. It feels like that’s the false set of choices that are given to us. I mean, they’re very much a practical, very real set of choices for people. I don’t mean to suggest that they aren’t, but it is so false in the spectrum of actual possibility. Why do we not have a society that supports both partners working sometimes so they can be at home with their kids and service the home and all the work that goes into that equally?

Brandy:            I’ve read articles about people who have decided to do this thing where they each do part time and they said, “But the thing that we know is that we’ll never have huge financial security.” That’s what you give up, but then you gain another thing. But it’s like, “Why do we have a society where we’ve got all these overwhelmed mothers, and we’ve got all these overworked dads?”

Matt:               Right. And then the only meeting in the middle is to throw away all of the security for your children and family, and deal with it.

Brandy:            Exactly, so we’ve got two sides that want what the other has. We’re creative enough that we could make this work, but I think part of it is just life is so fast paced and you barely have time to even breathe. That’s kind of where I feel like the moms like me, who maybe want something different, are like, “We’re so exhausted.”

Matt:               Oh, yeah.

Brandy:            So, to even find people to rally around or to get change is nearly impossible. The whole thing is too much to take on. And then there’s also the like, “I shouldn’t be having to fight for this while I’m also fighting for all these other basic rights and sleep and all of these sorts of things.” It’s a lot.

Matt:               Some of this conversation, I feel like, is a result of the enormous privilege that we do have. We are in a class and a race that allows us to have some space in order to talk about some of this stuff in a serious way. Imagine if you’re a single mother or father and you’re working three or four jobs or imagine you’re in a relationship where your partner is abusive or has some substance use disorder or has mental illness. There is so much complexity. We are lucky and privileged to be able to have these conversations and think about this stuff, and that’s the value of your work because you can use this privilege and talk about this stuff. There are so many families and so many couples where the idea of even entering into these kinds of concepts, theoretically, it just doesn’t make sense because of the practical difficulties of their lives. That’s also a big part of this is. We live in a country that does not care about vulnerable people and doesn’t care about structural inequities that are a part of our systems and the poverty that exists here. We accept it as normal when it should not be accepted as normal. That’s an enormous segment of the country that have to worry about surviving to the next day, whether that’s paying rent or not being thrown out of their home (if they are lucky enough to have a home)

Brandy:            Which is a lot of people right now, especially, who are thrown in that.

Matt:               This conversation is so difficult to have because there are so many vulnerable families who are scared. Even families that are fortunate to have some means and have a solid and stable income is scary to think about abandoning that because we all value security. Naturally, as humans, we want security. We want that feeling of safety and dignity that comes with work and with a big salary and, maybe, a high value title. Those are normal things. It’s understandable why people don’t want to give those up, and yet, we have to think about these things from this perspective in order to make progress. But we’re all backed into corners, fighting for survival from different perspectives.

Brandy:            Exactly, and sometimes when you finally get the energy – like, once you’ve moved past a stage, like the early kid stage, you forget how intense that was. That was one of the points of my book. I felt like it was important to me to write that while I was still in that because I knew had I waited, I would have just eased up on some of it and felt like, “Oh, that’s not as big of a deal.” I think that’s the other thing is, maybe we come out of this, and then we want to change. But we’re on to the next thing. It’s like that was hard, but we made it through. It’s like you forget when you’re in it just how hard it is.

Matt:               How hard it is and how tired you are, yeah. I think that’s right.

Brandy:            I never wanted to forget that. I mean, I remember writing in a journal, “I never want to forget how hard this feels because when our kids have kids, I want to show up for them in the most ways that I can.” I just want to remember this because I know I’m gonna forget it. I even find myself, now, where I’m at places and there are loud kids at the restaurant — I mean, my first thought is annoyance, but then I immediately am remembering what that felt like. Then I go to the soft place, and I think, “How can I help this mother? Well, the first way I can help her is by not giving her dirty looks knowing that her kids are loud.”

Matt:               Right.

Brandy:            But then, you know me, I go into like, “Well, do I have something in my purse that I could offer her kid that’s crying? Could I go over and tell her she’s doing a great job?” I’m immediately caretaking, but I do notice that my first reaction is the reaction of all those other moms (when I was a new mom) who were older, who were done with it, who were just kind of annoyed by it — I never wanted to forget what it felt like to be in that because you do feel like you’re a little bit abandoned by anybody who’s not going through it.

Matt:               I totally agree with that. I also think there are deep wounds from these periods. We’re talking about these very early parts of childhood and parenthood, when you’re just operating on fumes (if you even have that) and choices are being made, you’re tired, you’re resentful, and you don’t know up from down sometimes. It can be so hard for partners to figure out their role in those moments because there are things that are done during those early moments that I feel can create deep wounds between couples. I know we have worked through a lot of things, but I think getting past those things is also a very hard thing. Dads, I think, feel (even if they weren’t participating as much as they should) like they want to have ownership of that stuff, too, and that they did something and they contributed.

Brandy:            Right.

Matt:               I think moms are so often doing the bulk of that work. That’s a hard thing, over time, to reanalyze and open back up and think about, especially, if a mother has been brought to her knees. If that partner is like, “I have so much resentment for this person that’s supposed to be my friend, and they abandoned me,” or maybe, that’s too far. But, maybe, they were not as supportive as I wish they would have been. “In this moment of real crisis of not knowing what I was doing, I was just operating, instinctually, and where were they? Were they sleeping? Were they helping? Were they changing diapers?” I know there are things that happen during those crazy, early moments that are so difficult and creates real resentment that can be a barrier to have these larger conversations that you’re trying to have.

Brandy:            Yes.

Matt:               It creates a big stumbling block. I think, for men in particular, there’s enough cultural stigma on the so called “deadbeat dad.” That is scary or embarrassing, and you don’t want to feel like you’re one of those. It gets close to that when you start to think through all these choices that are made. “God, did I do enough? Could I have done more?” Sometimes, I think, it’s hard for anyone to admit fault, but especially, when it comes to your children and your partner, who you’re supposed to love the most.

Brandy:            Yeah. I think the medicine for that, though, is the communication for both parties. If a dad realizes, “I really could have done more…” – and basically, everything you just said. If there’s a dad out there that feels that way, to just say it. I mean, imagine the undoing of tension, or even, like I did with you (and I talked about it on my podcast) when our youngest was like three. I was just like, “I have so much resentment, but I love you. It’s not personal, but it also is because you’ve gotten to do all these things that I haven’t been able to because of this role that I picked. But I didn’t know.” Even feeling confused about that, I think bringing it to the other person is the first place to go because holding on to it will kill you.

Matt:               That’s so true. I think it speaks to the earlier question depending on who the career person is in the relationship. In our situation, it was me. I became the worker. I had resentment even about that. We talked about it too. It requires a kind of mutual understanding and generosity with one another that can be difficult for any couple. I mean, it’s just hard.

Brandy:            Yeah.

Matt:               You think your experience is the hardest one. It’s understandable. You’re not in someone else’s mind. You’re not in their body. You don’t understand the pain they are in. You understand your own pain and your own resentment and frustration, so it’s easy to be settled in that place. And it takes a lot of work to realize.

Brandy:            Totally. In each other’s brains, we each have these resentments and questions and frustrations going on, and if we aren’t voicing those to the other person, I don’t know how marriage lasts.

Matt:               Yeah, I agree.

Brandy:            Because then I think that’s what happens when the kids are no longer the thing that distracts you. It’s kind of like the pandemic right now in that everybody’s coping mechanisms and distractions are gone, so you’re just like with yourself right now. I think in that way that marriage, once the kids are gone and they’re the big distraction, it’s like, “Oh, wow, things have eroded, and we’ve never looked at them.”

Matt:               Yeah, like, “What’s our relationship anymore? Where do we connect?” That kind of thing.

Brandy:            That’s why I’m a huge proponent of having the hard conversations, and you’ll also learn if this is somebody that I want to keep doing this with. That’s important.

Matt:               Yes. That’s an important thing. Even saying that, I think, for so many people, understandably, is very scary.

Brandy:            Especially for avoiders. I think different personality types — an avoidance mindset who’s a distractor and somebody who’s like, “I don’t want to feel the feelings, and I don’t want to look at that.” It’s almost impossible. So, I know that not everybody can do it and I know maybe it’s just my ideal version, but I really do feel like open communication is the medicine for modern marriage.

Matt:               I totally agree.

Brandy:            Also, Too Hot to Handle is also medicine… {laughter}

Matt:               Yes, is also an important piece and The Bachelor. All trashy reality television is a key piece to a happy marriage.

Brandy:            Do you have any tips or anything you would say to moms who are in a situation where they have a husband who isn’t stepping up? What do you make of that? Or what would you tell the dads? You seem to have this aspect of it figured out about being a respectful, engaged husband and father. Is there anything? Or is it just that there’s nothing you can tell somebody and they either are or aren’t? Or are there any parting words of wisdom you would have to pass on?

Matt:               That’s such a great question. I don’t know if I feel comfortable — I just don’t know if I feel like I have a strong enough sense of it. I mean, I appreciate you saying that you think I do.

Brandy:            I mean, I’ve known that one time when were talking about this, I think I said, “How do you know to be this way?” And you were like, “You’re my best friend. Why wouldn’t I treat you respectfully and equally?”

Matt:               Oh, yeah. Right. I mean, I love you and care about you and want you to be happy and want you have time to yourself and creative exploration of the things you want to do in your life, beyond the really beautiful life that you participate in with us together. You have other things that you want to do, and you do do. You should be able to do those. That’s an easy thing to figure out for me, because you’re my friend and I don’t want you to be suffering. If things get to a point where you’re doing too much of the work of our home, I feel badly. Not because I feel like I should do more, for some abstract reason, which I can also feel badly about that, too, but I feel directly badly because you shouldn’t have to do all that work. That’s not your job. This home is ours and the work of it is ours, shared, and it should be more equal. I would feel uncomfortable giving, especially, any mother or wife or a woman advice. I think it’s not my place to do that, but for dads, I think it’s remembering that this person you’re married to is your friend. I mean, as simple as that is…

Brandy:            Everything you’re just saying, I’m just kind of smiling inside and also a little pained inside because I feel like it’s so simple.

Matt:               It is.

Brandy:            And yet, I feel like there are plenty of husbands out there who don’t have that sort of goodwill-take on their wife. It’s beautiful, and then it breaks me a little bit. Then, I wonder how do couples get back to that place? And if that place never existed, then that’s its own thing.

Matt:               That’s maybe a larger, more difficult conversation.

Brandy:            How do couples get back there? And I think we’ve talked about some of the ways (like, obviously, communication), but I think getting back to that place is important.

Matt:               Yeah, remembering why you fell in love with that person in the first place. You might love them for different reasons now. I certainly love you for many more reasons than when we first fell in love, when we first started dating, first became friends, and all of that.

Brandy:      Skateboarding together to Taco Bell, in Boulder, Colorado.

Matt:               Yeah, those are great. I love all those memories, but you’re an incredible woman now. You were incredible then for reasons that were obvious to me then, too. I still appreciate those things. But you have grown into a really stunning woman, and I love you for reasons now that I couldn’t have even imagined when we were in Boulder skateboarding together or goofing off together. We were kids. {laughter}

Brandy:            Right. That’s what I always think. How did we know that this was gonna be this rich, deep, supportive, bigger thing —

Matt:               We didn’t. We got lucky.

Brandy:            We did.

Matt:               I mean, we really got lucky. We’ve done a lot of hard work, and we’ll continue to do that work.

Brandy:            Right, but our personality types — I think, we’re just matched.

Matt:               I mean, luckily.

Brandy:            Because what if you weren’t a communicator? I would have left a long time ago. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah, right. Totally. I mean, I think it’s a roll of the dice. It’s so hard to know the answers to these things. But that early moment when we met each other and we were just weirdos together, that was great. That’s what I remember. When you’re feeling tired or I see you’re tired, I see you’re exhausted. I know why. It’s not hard to understand. And maybe, I don’t know why. Sometimes it’s obvious because the house is a mess, kids are crazy, and it’s clear to me that too much has landed on Brandy’s shoulders or it just feels like too much and I need to step up and help, so it’s easy to make those choices. But then, maybe, there’s times where I don’t fully understand what you’re going through. Maybe you’re feeling stressed or anxious or feeling pain about something that isn’t actually in our home. It isn’t about our marriage. It isn’t about our kids or something else. You’re still my friend, and I don’t want you to suffer. It’s easy to see when you’re feeling those feelings. I want to do what I can to help support you feeling okay again. Sometimes that’s just as simple as like, “I’m going to clean up the house. I’m going to do this, or I’m gonna go figure out dinner or whatever. I’ll put the kids to bed.” These little tasks –

Brandy:            They’re not little, though. No, they’re huge.

Matt:               Well, they do have huge implications for sure — little things over time, for sure. Those are easy things to figure out. If you just step up and see the opportunity to do something, you just do it because somebody’s got to do it. If you’re not doing it, your partner’s doing it.

Brandy:            That’s exactly right, and that’s how we feel. When it’s not being done, we feel like, “Well, they know that we’ll do it.”

Matt:          Right.

Brandy:            So, it feels aggressive to not have your spouse do something, which I think dads don’t totally get. I think, they (and not all of them, of course) just think like, “Oh, I’m just clueless,” or, “I didn’t see it.” But it’s like your wife feels that that’s an aggressive move on your part. That’s a disrespect of her.

Matt:               Right. I think men are really well served by not letting themselves become one of the children in the house. {laughter}

Brandy:            I think that’s an understatement. {laughter}

Matt:               Yes, I think that’s a really big deal, and I think that does happen.

Brandy:            And sometimes it’s just easier for her to have him be another child because undoing it is too much work, and you only have so much energy so it’s like, “I’ll just do it for him because the argument we’re gonna have about it, I just don’t want to have.”

Matt:               Yeah. There are so many pieces of our lives where the partner can really step up and help, and yet, a partner, usually — I don’t want to stereotype so much, but usually, the dad or the husband is leaning on the wife/mother to organize the home. That includes grocery trips –

Brandy:            The “unseen work of motherhood.” {laughter}

Matt:               Yes, that we’ve talked about and you talk all the time, so importantly. Little, simple things that I have seen bring great value to you, and I want to do them anyway. But seeing the appreciation you have for them is another really strong animating force in my life. When I see that like, “Oh, wow, this little instinctual thing that I did really brought a lot of joy to Brandy,” or, “She mentioned and complimented me for doing something that made her feel less stressed or took a task off of her plate” — If I’m at the store and I pick up something or if I make my own list for the store, that sort of thing is silly and dumb in some ways  —

Brandy:            No, it’s not.

Matt:               That does so much. I think husbands would be really well served by taking on those sorts of tasks and recognizing that there’s something lacking in the home or that there’s a mess or that there’s disorder, instead of just looking at it and shrugging it off or being resentful that it’s there and not doing anything about it, you just do something about it. And that does so much for your partnership.

Brandy:            Yeah. That’s the other answer is communication and noticing and doing.

Matt:               Observation and being an active participant. I don’t think I’ve ever been the person that’s just passive — I don’t think I’ve done that in our marriage. There are moments where I have. I mean, there are moments I know I have fallen short of wanting to do more, and maybe, I have excuses that I feel are justified but it still happens. It’s a thing that I’m thinking about all the time because I don’t want us to fall into those traps because I think it kills so much of the friendship in the marriage. It becomes something else.

Brandy:            Yeah, for sure. Man, I feel like this is this is exactly how this would go with you and me. I feel like we could talk for hours about all this stuff.

Matt:               Totally.

Brandy:            We should just have a joint podcast where we do nasty R&B…what do you call it?

Matt:               Covers.

Brandy:            Covers!! Yeah, lets start with the “Remix to Ignition.”

Matt:               Yeah, that’s the right one.

Brandy:            Okay, in closing, can we please talk about the time you shit your pants while you were wearing our son?

Matt:               {laughter} Yes! Man, that was a rough morning.

Brandy:            Wait, can I just tell the part about where I entered, and then we’ll go back?

Matt:               Yeah.

Brandy:            Because the visual of that is so confusing.

Matt:               Okay, sure.

Brandy:            So, our son was an infant and they were on a walk (which is something that they did together often), and then all of a sudden, I’m having the yummy alone time where I’m alone in my home for an hour and it’s so good. All of a sudden, I hear the door open, and I hear, “Brandy. Brandy come down here quick.” And I’m like, “Oh my God, something happened to the baby. He’s not okay,” so I’m in this “mother flurry” running down the stairs. I come downstairs, and my son is on Matt. There’s shit, but it’s on Matt’s shoes.

Matt:               {laughter}

Brandy:            All I remember was like, “Oh my God, the baby shit. Wait a minute. The baby looks dry, but there’s shit.”

Matt:               {laughter}

Brandy:            So, let’s start now.

Matt:               Oh my God. Yeah, that’s a great setup.

Brandy:            And you have to give the short version.

Matt:               Yeah, okay. I was in a habit of taking our young son on these morning walks, so you could sleep. I would get up really early because he’d get up really early. We’d come downstairs, and we’d both have a big breakfast. So, I’d have this big breakfast, he’d eat, and that was good for him to take a nap. At the time, we were using that Baby Bjorn thing, and I would strap myself into it and strap him into it. I’m a big runner and walker. I love going for long distance kinds of journeys like this. We would go outside and cruise around. One morning, I just, I don’t know, I ate too much or something like that. It was a bad set of choices that led up to this. I’m out, and we have walked seven miles. I’ve been gone for hours. It is a long journey. It was too long, and I should have turned back. I knew I was pushing it. I’m a mile from our house when I start to feel like, “Oh my God, something’s terribly wrong. This is not good, and I don’t know what to do.” My son’s asleep in that Bjorn, and his head is conked out. I can’t run because his head will move around, but if I run is it gonna make a worse.”

Brandy:            Yeah, you’re gonna grease the wheels on that one.

Matt:               I’m in a full sweat panic now because I’m like, “Oh my God, am I gonna have to find an alley? What do I do? There are no public restrooms anywhere.” We lived in the city at the time.

Brandy:            And then the fact that you’re wearing a kid is just like –

Matt:               Yeah, there was nothing. There was nowhere to go. No restaurants were open. The parks didn’t have bathrooms. I was just like, “This is gonna happen. I’m just gonna have to let this happen. I just have to accept this happening.” And I get within sight of our home, and I’m in a full sprint now. I’m holding our son’s head to my chest because I’m running so quickly. And it’s already happening. I am dying, and I know this is now a permanent memory that I’ve made with all of us. I burst into the house, and I scream up to you. My memory is, because of the way the Bjorn worked, that he was on the ground. I thought I had laid him on the bathroom floor. Maybe not.

Brandy:            You might have.

Matt:               I thought he was down there still asleep.

Brandy:            All I remember is that I assumed that it was baby shit.

Matt:          Well, understandably, as you should.

Brandy:      It was like that moment of — and then you were so defeated. {laughter}

Matt:          It was the most humiliating thing of my life.

Brandy:      Yet, a great memory, so thank you.

Matt:          Yeah, a wonderful moment.

Brandy:            Thank you. Thank you for that. I also want to give you a chance to name your top Iron Maiden album. I know this might take four hours, so let’s not overthink it.

Matt:               Ah. I think it’s got to be — ah — I mean —

Brandy:            See, I shouldn’t have even asked you.

Matt:               This is such a complex –

Brandy:            I regret asking you this.

Matt:               I’m gonna say Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

Brandy:            Okay, look at that. You did it.

Matt:               I did it.

Brandy:            Thank you for coming here, to your own home, downstairs. {laughter}

Matt:               Yeah. Thanks for welcoming me to our home that we’ve been trapped in for three months.

Brandy:            I know it was a huge trek for you.

Matt:               Yes, it was.

Brandy:            But seriously, I’ve wanted to have you on the podcast forever, and we just haven’t really had the time. So, I thought Mother’s Day would be a perfect way to make you do it. I’m also so grateful that you were so open to saying yes to doing it, but then that you came here and really shared some intimate details — sometimes, almost too intimate for me, which is weird. I’m like, “Oh my God, are people gonna listen to this and be like, ‘Oh, wow, I don’t feel like I should be listening to these two talk.’” So, thank you for possibly being one of the most intimate guests.”

Matt:               Oh. (sexy voice)

Brandy:            Oh, yes. Nice. And there we have it, and now it’s turned into something seedy.

Brandy:            (outro) I feel like you guys know me on an entirely different level now — like you’ve all seen me naked. Here are things that I didn’t expect from this interview. I didn’t expect Matt to open up so quickly and with such a visceral emotion, but I’m so glad he did. And even though he’s wildly supportive of me, I also expected him to have more complicated feelings about my work that maybe he just hadn’t shared with me. But this interview illustrates why I can do the work I do and be so open and honest. Like I mentioned in my last podcast, it’s because I have people around me who love me for me, whose love isn’t fragile (Frozen II shout out), and who see themselves as partners with me in this work. I am beyond lucky. And also, we work hard to have this kind of family and marriage culture. And Matt is a fucking unicorn, and what you couldn’t see here was me swooning with my chin perched on my hands while he said all of those really nice things. I mean, wow, I didn’t expect that. So, this might be an episode that you have your spouse listen to if you think there’s something that they could gain from it or your marriage could gain from it. I think Matt does a great job of validating the fatherhood experience, especially with a childhood that had those kind of experiences, while also calling bullshit on problematic behavior and while also modeling what it’s like to be an emotional and passionate man in a society that doesn’t really allow those things.

Brandy:            I hope you’re all hanging in there on day fifty bajillion of constant human contact. Godspeed, people. As always, thanks for listening!

** As always, thank you to Scott Weigel and his band, Seahorse Moon, for providing me with that jaunty intro and outro music. You guy are awesome. Check ’em out on iTunes.