'I love my wife more than my children (but she loves THEM more than me)': Breaking one of the great parenting taboos, a father-of-three makes a revealing confession
19:51 GMT, 18 June 2012
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were arguing about whom we’d throw out of a sinking hot air balloon to enable the other passengers to survive.
Do you save Gandhi, or Mother Teresa Princess Diana, or pop star Prince
Kate Middleton, or Kate Moss David Cameron, or Cameron Diaz
Then my wife raised the stakes. ‘Who would you throw out — me or the kids’
Brutal honesty: Jim Keeble rates his wife Jessica more highly than his children, (from left) Isla, Esme and Milo
I laughed, dismissively: ‘Neither, I’d throw myself out first . . .’ She shook her head: ‘That’s not the game. Me, or the kids’
It was one of those moments men dread, when we know there might be a right answer but suspect there isn’t, and that whatever we say will lead to tears, usually our own.
‘What about you’ I asked, attempting to turn defence into attack. ‘Who would you throw out, me or the children’ Jessica didn’t even hesitate. ‘You,’ she replied. ‘Obviously.’
It wasn’t obvious to me. To be honest, my wife’s certainty left me a little shaken.
Was I wrong for not knowing instantly whom I loved more, my wife or my children When clearly I should have saved my offspring
Or was my wife wrong for her certainty that she would cold-heartedly toss out her life-partner, the father of her babies, without a second thought
I was confused. Did Jessica not love me enough Or did I love her too much And, perhaps most concerning, did my reaction mean I love my wife more than my children
It’s a bit of a taboo these days, admitting that you might love someone more than your children. In our child-centric world, even leading politicians compete to tell us how often they pick up their kids from school.
Writer Jim Keeble admits he's a 'reluctant father'
We’ve come a long way from the detached, disciplinarian fathers of the past, who loved their whippets more than their offspring. Today such masculine icons as Brad Pitt and David Beckham are pictured enthusiastically cuddling their broods. Does this make me some kind of deviant
I blame my wife. Perhaps unfashionably, I’m still besotted with Jessica 11 years after we met. She lives for the moment, something I’ve always struggled with.
She says what she thinks, unlike me, and has great taste, which means I no longer look like I’ve been dressed by Woody Allen. And I love the fact that every day I make her laugh, usually — but not always — deliberately.
We met on a snowy winter’s night in 2001, in a rowdy Irish bar in New York. I was there on a business trip, and Jessica was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
After an hour talking to her, I’d forgotten my own name, but I was sure of one thing — I was in love. Unbelievably, she seemed to feel the same. We kissed, time vanished, and I missed my flight back to London.
To begin with, I felt the familiar high you get in any new relationship. But something about this seemed more dizzying than normal. There was a connection I felt to her that I’d never experienced before.
Jessica is a quarter English — her grandmother hailed from Stoke-on-Trent, a war bride who met a dashing American airman and emigrated to the U.S. As a teenager, Jessica drove around empty suburban Denver streets on the left-hand side of the road, listening to British pop groups with the windscreen wipers on, pretending she was in rainy England.
I, in turn, had been in love with American girls since the age of ten. A Cambridge boy, my heart was broken one summer by Denise from California who wore cut-off jean shorts like Daisy in the Dukes Of Hazzard.
The initial passion did not dissipate. Jessica came to England and we moved in together. Less than two years after we met, we got married back in Manhattan on a hotel rooftop at sunset. Three years later our first child, Milo, was born in London. And everything shifted.
One night I found myself in tears, not of joy, but despair, as I attempted to calm a screaming baby. The child seemed to have taken over our lives, and, more painfully for me, taken away the woman I loved. I resented this howling little creature who left my wife exhausted, and me side-lined.
Everything revolved around the baby and his schedule. I’d expected to have time to hold my wife tight, to share the thrill of parenthood. Instead, showers, sleep and even sandwiches seemed more important to her than I was.
Jim and Jessica Keeble's children Milo, 5, Esme, 4 and Isla, 2
And I couldn’t connect with my son. His fragility terrified me, he was so completely dependent on us. I sought excuses not to hold him, passing him to Jessica. When I did have to rock him, often deep in the night, I felt utterly useless, unable to stop his crying.
Then one day, about three months in, Milo started smiling, reaching out, and gradually I melted. He held my finger, watched me cross the room. And I was hit by a new and puzzling emotion, an instinct I didn’t even know I possessed. A feeling both deeply protective and wholly nurturing — the all-consuming love of a parent for their child.
Five years on, we have three children — Milo is now five, Esme, four, and our youngest, Isla, two — and I would throw myself in front of a bus for any one of them.
But this love of a parent for a child is wholly different from what I feel for my wife, a passion that connects back to that first instant in the New York bar.
For Jessica, I feel something more . . . exciting. More fiery. And more romantic.
Because men are romantic. In fact, they’re much more romantic than women. The statistics bear this out. A recent study found that more than a third of British men (36 per cent) considered Valentine’s Day romantic compared to just 24 per cent of women.
I know how un-romantic women can be. I once had a girlfriend who asked for a frying pan for Valentine’s Day. And shortly after we were married, my wife refused Valentine’s flowers or chocolates, insisting instead on . . . wallpaper.
I think this is because men are sentimental in a way women aren’t. Perhaps because we’re less ‘in touch’ with our feelings, when emotions do hit us, we fall hard.
Jim had difficulty connecting with his children, at first, but insists he would 'throw myself in front of a bus for any one of them'
In 2011, a researcher from Pennsylvania State University interviewed 172 college students and found that men were most likely to fall in love in a matter of weeks, whereas it took the majority of women several months to feel besotted. Surprisingly, the study also recorded that men were three times more likely to say ‘I love you’ first in a relationship.
Men’s attachment to their partners continues at the other end of the love train. Studies show men consistently feel lonelier, more depressed and less free after a break-up or divorce. Three times more men than women commit suicide after a disastrous relationship.
I fell apart completely after one particular love affair ended badly. I dated a Canadian for seven years before she dumped me, in Niagara Falls, the Honeymoon Capital of the World. I became depressed, and it took a close friend convincing me to have counselling sessions to understand why. I was astonished how hard the break-up hit me.
And I realised it was because something deep and necessary was suddenly missing from my life — love. Relationship expert Dr Terri Orbuch explains: ‘Men don’t get the same amount of affirmations as women from their friends and family. They rely on the positive feedback they get in their relationship for their overall mental well-being.’
seemed to have taken over our lives, and, more painfully for me, taken
away the woman I loved. I resented this howling little creature who left
my wife exhausted, and me side-lined'
Dr Orbuch is right. After being rejected by the Canadian, I desperately missed the emotional intimacy I got from being with her.
I came to see that almost all my other non-romantic relationships were based on a purely male ‘matey-ness’, comprising in-jokes, mutual insults and beer.
Whereas most women I knew had female friends and family to lean on in bad times, no one else in my own life gave me the support and reassurances I’d gained from the relationship I’d just lost.
Perhaps this is why my wife could happily toss me from the balloon but I could never jettison her. Jessica is very close to her mother and sisters, speaking to them daily. She texts her best friend on an hourly basis. As for me, when I have something emotional to discuss I talk to . . . well, my wife. That’s it.
I’m not alone. A quick poll of my male friends suggests many of them only really feel comfortable being vulnerable with their wives or girlfriends.
And while none confessed to loving their women more than their kids (not being as perverse as me) several happily admitted they’d be lost without their wives, to the point of feeling dizzy at the thought of having to get through the day without them.
Which is how I feel. Jessica acts as my confessor, counsellor and Gok Wan-style fashion adviser. I love her selfishly because she makes me feel better about myself. And yet perhaps my love for her is not entirely self-serving, nor bad for my family.
Earlier this year, Nicole Kidman’s husband, country singer Keith Urban, caused a stir when he stated he loved her more than their two daughters, adding: ‘As a kid, all I needed to know was that my parents were solid. Kids shouldn’t feel like they are being favoured. It’s a dangerous place.’
Ultimately, though, maybe the difference between my wife and me comes down to this: Jessica and I are hard-wired differently.
Studies in prairie voles have shown that females bond with other voles when levels of the hormone oxytocin are high, the same hormone associated with childbirth and milk production to feed offspring. For male voles, it’s the presence of vasopressin that creates a bond, a hormone released into the bloodstream during human male sexual arousal.
It’s simply biology. My wife cannot help saving her children, and I cannot help saving the woman I find so attractive. Perhaps when it comes to the purest forms of love, we’re all just prairie voles.
Jim Keeble’s novel The Happy Numbers Of Julius Miles, a tale of a reluctant father, is published by Alma Books at 12.99.