When I got laid off in 1992, I became a 55-year-old househusband. It’s an etymologically redundant title, since husband means a person who is in bond to a house, either as a master or a servant. Househusband has the gender-inclusive sound of a contemporary coinage, but the Oxford English Dictionary says it was first used in 1858.
When my wife and I both worked, we split the shopping, cooking and cleaning. Now I did all three. I enjoy shopping and cooking but didn’t take to cleaning, so we eventually hired help with that. My wife, who has been retired for 10 years, does all the gardening, gift-buying, and cooking for special occasions, so maybe I should be called a half-househusband.
When I first began this nonpaying job I sometimes felt depressed because everyone else I knew had well-paying employment in government, academia, medicine or business. But these negative feelings were short-lived, as I quickly became busy not only shopping and cooking but also reading, writing and playing tennis.
My sense of fulfillment isn’t unique. I know a man who became a househusband long before I did. His wife, who has a Harvard doctorate in economics, was a World Bank economist who traveled frequently to Africa and Asia. Many years ago he and my wife took turns carpooling our kids to the same private school. I have known this man, who is also a freelance writer, for four decades and he has always struck me as a happy person who enjoys what he is doing. I occasionally run into him in the supermarket.
My househusbanding chores left me plenty of time to write—mainly essays about the 18th-century British writers I admired. I also found time to play tennis indoors every weekday morning. My tennis game gradually improved, making me a better player at 80 than I was at 60. Or so my tennis partners tell me.
Are there famous writers who were househusbands? Near the end of
life he was a sort of househusband on the remote island of Jura. With the help of his sister Avril, he was raising his adopted son, Richard. (Nine months after adopting Richard, Orwell’s first wife died while undergoing a routine operation.) Orwell gardened, fished and hunted. He also fixed things. Reviewing a book on household repairs, he says: “I looked up all the domestic calamities I have had to deal with during the past year, and found all of them mentioned, except mice, which perhaps hardly come under the heading of decorations and repairs.” In another essay Orwell talks about how much he hates washing dishes.
Orwell says the British people during World War II were resilient because they stuck to their daily routines. “In the face of terrifying dangers . . . people just keep on keeping on, in a sort of twilight sleep in which they are conscious of nothing except the daily round of work, family life, darts at the pub, exercising the dog, mowing the lawn, bringing home the supper beer, etc. etc.”
If something I’ve written gets rejected, I rarely brood about it. I keep on keeping on by doing my househusbanding chores—and by playing tennis. There is nothing like hitting an ace to make one briefly feel that life is good.
Mr. Miller is author of “Conversation: A History of a Declining Art.”
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Appeared in the June 7, 2021, print edition.