Without Us Guys (by Billy Coffey)

As a teacher, my wife has corralled fourth-graders, mentored high schoolers, and endured the rants of countless bemused parents. As a mother, she has changed dirty diapers, cleaned vomit off the couch, and has no reservations about sticking her hands into the goop that collects in the sink strainer after the dishes are washed. She is a courageous soul, yes. There are none braver. I honestly believe this.

But she has not ventured near the mailbox for about a week now. She’s scared, she says. Because lurking there far in the back corner is a spider has taken shelter from the cold November air.

My wife does not like spiders. Not just the tarantulas or the black widows, either. She’s afraid of the teeny ones, the daddy longlegs, and those little furry black ones that like to hop, too. They are evil, she says, though she lacks the evidence to back that up. On those infrequent occasions when my wife has nightmares, spiders are often the primary antagonist. They’re in her hair or her food, and once they were even in our bed (it’s never a good thing to be awakened at three in the morning by a temporarily insane spouse exclaiming, “They’re going to eat us!!”).

Taking care of the spider was my job, which was done easily enough with the rolled up edge of the day’s Wal-Mart advertisement. It didn’t seem like a victory, not even a small one, but as I flicked spider guts onto the grass my imagination kicked in and I began to ponder.

What if I wouldn’t have been there?

Various scenarios were played out in my head. My wife would have never again checked the mailbox. Days upon days of junk mail and catalogs and bills would have piled up. Especially bills. Bills that would go unpaid, which would eventually lead to the electricity being turned off and then the gas, and then the water. Foreclosure would soon come. My wife and children would have lost everything, abandoned to a life of homelessness and destitution. All because I wasn’t around to kill the spider in the mailbox.

Okay, so maybe not. Maybe my wife would have ended up asking a neighbor to kill the spider or she would have just paid the bills online. But still, my responsibilities around the house to ensure domestic tranquility seemed at that moment pretty amazing.

I keep the yard and the vehicles up. I do the painting and hammering and sawing. I fix what is broken (and occasionally break what is fixed). I unstop the toilet. I kill the snakes and scare off the bears. I shovel the driveway and seed the grass and take the trash out.

When my kids go to bed at night, it’s me they wanted to make sure is in the next room. Not their mother, as important as she is. Their father. Because in the eyes of children, every father is a freaky combination of Old West gunslinger and Jedi knight—big and strong, wise and unflappable. At least, that’s the way it should be.

Men have a tough go at it nowadays. We’re not really allowed to be the people our father’s were, strong and stoic and tough. People in these modern times expect men to be in touch with their feelings, to be softer and not harder. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe. I don’t know.

But I do know this: in the corner of the dining room, right by the backdoor, another spider has taken up residence. I saw it this evening. And I’m pretty sure it saw me, too. I doubt that spiders hold men in high regard. After all, we’re the only people keeping them from overtaking the world.


To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at at his website and follow him on the twitter at @billycoffey.

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22 Responses to “Without Us Guys (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Bradley J. Moore November 23, 2009 at 7:30 am #

    >Yes, men's roles are a lot different than what they were 30 or 40 years ago. Maybe the women just caught on and got a lot smarter about the way things should be. But I like it better this way.

    Oh, and I am also the spider-killer in our house.

  2. Glynn November 23, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    >How many times have I heard a scream only to find this other adult in my household quaking in terror before a little spider? And all the recent stories about brown recluse spiders have not helped the situation. My job — squash the sucker, with whatever's available. My shoe, usually. A newspaper. A roll of paper towel. A book. Anything that does the trick.

    But we're not going to talk about snakes. This was about spiders.

    Great post.

  3. Janet Oberholtzer November 23, 2009 at 8:56 am #

    >Well, I'm awake now! Gosh, what a way to start a Monday – that picture at the beginning of this post … sheesh!

    As you can tell, I couldn't do life without my husband – need that man to take care of spiders! (Wonder if he can take care of that picture on this post?)

  4. FaithBarista Bonnie November 23, 2009 at 9:00 am #

    >You had me at: "I unstop the toilet."


    Seriously, that's bold courage.

    "When my kids go to bed at night, it's me they wanted to make sure is in the next room. Not their mother, as important as she is. Their father."

    I remember being surprised by that. During the day, it's "MOMMEEE" for the boo-boos, but why was it only Daddy could talk TJ down from the nightmares?

  5. Heather of the EO November 23, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    >I have the cure for spider phobia for your lovely wife. Not to take away you job of saving her, but she may grow to feel she can conquer anything, even the spiders, if she takes a shower with a tarantula.

    I know this because it worked for me. I lived somehow to tell the tale, and now I get rid of my own spiders. 🙂

    I think about what you said in this post a lot. When roles change it can be such a good thing, but sometimes it takes away from other good things that were fine the way they were. I always thought of my Dad the way you described, strong and protective and wise. I learned later in life that he had a soft side, but I'm almost glad I didn't know that as a kid. If that makes sense.

  6. Maureen November 23, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    >Wow, I guess I have another take on this. Do all of you know that the presence of (harmless) spiders in your home is a sign of good luck?

    Does anyone remember reading "Charlotte's Web"?

    And couldn't you just ease those spiders onto a piece of paper and release them outdoors?

    One day we came home to find the most beautiful web spun just to the left of the front door. The sun was shining through it. Heavy rain took it away the next day. It was one of God's little miracles. I wouldn't have harmed it for anything.

    And I guess I should confess: My college son has a tarantula. At his dad's house, he has a gecko. When I was growing up, we raised baby alligators and a huge assortment of other creatures, large and small. The only thing my mother wouldn't allow was snakes.

  7. Alan November 23, 2009 at 10:07 am #

    >Certainly snakes and spiders are just part of Eve's punishment. I'm sure if Eve had rolled up newspapers, Adam would have had less to do.

  8. Candace Jean July 16 November 23, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    >Billy, you are so brave. RB would have saved me from the wrath of the spider, but he would have terrible guilt if he killed it rather than doing the "catch & release." My eldest son, however, would have demolished the mailbox. Either are fine with me, as long as I don't see them.

  9. S. Etole November 23, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    >You almost lost me with the photo!!!!

  10. Nick the Geek November 23, 2009 at 10:57 am #

    >I despise the way men have been morphed into lampoonish brutes or effeminate metros. It seems the world can't stand the thought of a real man.

    I'm talking about someone who is able to take charge or the house, but also listen to his wife and children. The guy that teaches his son to shoot and to fix the car, not because of some gender stereotype but because these are things that will come in handy in the future. The guy that holds the door for a lady or gives up his seat for women, the elderly, or the infirmed.

    Chivalry isn't dead but it sure isn't trying anymore.

  11. katdish November 23, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    >S. Etole,

    Oh come on! That picture is awesome! Besides, I almost posted

    this one

  12. Jeanne Damoff November 23, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    >Good work, Sir Coffey.

    My husband does a million handy-man jobs I wouldn't have the first clue how to do, but he doesn't kill spiders. It's not that he's afraid of them. He's a biologist and, in his view, most spiders are our friends.

    In the course of our marriage we've owned a couple of tarantulas (including one that Jacob rescued from a swimming pool drain when he was a young teen) along with rescued squirrels, hummingbirds, snakes, etc. If I were afraid of critters, I'd probably be living in a padded room somewhere by now.

    I do have a creepy mouse story, but spiders honestly don't freak me out. Example: One day I was standing in our bedroom, talking on the phone, when I spotted a black object scurrying from beneath the desk, headed for the dark space under our bed. I tapped it with my sandaled foot, then bent over and saw the red hourglass on its belly. I think I casually mentioned to the caller what had just transpired, picked up the remains with a tissue, tossed it in the trash, and continued my conversation.

    Sure, I'm glad Madame BW was denied the opportunity to give birth to thousands of BW babies under my bed (and yes, they have thousands of babies, or at least it looks like thousands–that's another story), but no they're-going-to-eat-us nightmares.

    Someday maybe I'll tell you about the mouse that actually DID get into our bed . . .

  13. Corinne November 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    >I admit it, my husband is the spider killer around here. I also hate hate spiders.

    And I have to say – my kids want their daddy at night as well. I never did, so it surprised me, but I think you guys are doing something right if that's the case 🙂

  14. Roxane B. Salonen November 23, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    >I agree that men have it tough, and I'm not even one. I love how you ended this post — I can just see you and that spider eying one another. Great visual. 🙂

  15. Bridget Chumbley November 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    >You do realize that if you attempt to kill a spider, and you don't succeed… they go tell all their spider friends and then you're doomed!

    Great post, Billy.

  16. jasonS November 23, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    >Never thought of online bill pay as an effective spider avoidance system. I'm sure that'e where the idea came from in the first place. 🙂

  17. Joanne Sher November 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    >This post really got me thinking. Despite the fact that I do much of the "stuff" around the house because of my husband's health issues, he is still the "man." Our roles have changed, but he is still my kids' knight. (and I can kill spiders. I like them – AND snakes. And I pulled a live mouse out of our cat's mouth a day or two ago and let it out in the front yard)

  18. Karin November 23, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    >Every couple has their unique division of labor and that's the way it should be! If there's any killing to be done around here – of insects and such – it's me, lol! Hubby wouldn't hurt a fly! He shops for groceries, vacuums, and loads the dishwasher, but he's never cleaned a toilet or dusted! We're in a good place!

    Almost everywhere though in today’s media, men are being insulted, humiliated or dishonoured. Some commercials make men look like they can’t take care of their children or even know how to run a simple household appliance. Quick wit and good humour are appreciated, but these are neither funny, quick nor witty. I dislike it when men are made to look like macho morons or wimps, fools, and losers.

  19. S. Etole November 23, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

    >OK, Katdish … as soon as I get my monitor fixed I'll be back … monitors don't take kindly to getting smacked it seems {just kidding} … I'll just scroll down a bit first the next time I come visit and then open my eyes.

  20. Helen November 24, 2009 at 1:22 am #

    >I am cool with spiders, but keep all rodents away from me for the sake of both of our sanities…. (my high pitched screams will drive them mad.)

  21. Anonymous November 24, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    >in our world, the 'spider killer' is our five year old son… as my macho husband is afraid of spiders.

  22. Robin Arnold November 25, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    >When we moved to Texas I learned to become one with insects and spiders. They grow them big and mean there (we live in Virginia now). Besides, as my bug man told me, "spiders eat things you really don't want around." And webs come in kinda handy to catch fleas and mites–okay so that's a bit too organic for me. Anyway, I have underappreciated the things my husband does and for all these years. It took his broken foot to set me straight. I miss having stuff taken care of and I'll be glad when he's two footed again!

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