Crazy for Karaoke
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
NEXT:THE NEW RETIREMENT | ESSAY Crazy for Karaoke
Sure, a hobby or two is nice. But what happens when your spouse begins collecting them?
By Kathleen A. Hughes
October 25, 2010
"I always knew marriage would involve compromise," a friend once told me. "I just never knew how much compromise."
I was reminded of that comment when my husband, Dan, age 57, took up karaoke singing. Most of the time, he's a cardiac surgeon. But since I married him 20 years ago, he has embraced a long series of hobbies. It might be more accurate to call them obsessions. He would say he enjoys master new technical skills.
These have included, in order, the NordicTrack, weight lifting, masters swimming, wine collecting, stock trading, photography, fly-fishing, remote-controlled model planes, in-line speed skating, online chess, harmonica and conga drums. He roasts his own coffee beans and strives to make perfect cappuccinos with quirky designs in the foam.
The never-ending series of hobbies seems to fascinate our friends, who really enjoyed the wine and espresso stages. "What is he doing now?" they ask, laughing.
I don't find it quite so amusing. The problem with my husband's hobbies, from my perspective, is they take up a lot of time. His main job already is very time-consuming. We have two children, ages 17 and 19, and many of the hobbies, particularly online chess and the building of model planes, involved hours and hours in studious isolation.
Of course, the isolation had some advantages over the camaraderie of the masters swimming and in- line speed skating. Those hobbies catapulted him into large groups of remarkably fit women dressed in minimal outfits. The harmonica playing took him to a bar in downtown Los Angeles late at night. Flying model planes took him to the edge of bluffs along the California coast.
To be fair, our family was happily drawn into some of these hobbies. He enrolled our children in chess camps. We took lessons on flying model planes after driving six hours to a beach in Carmel. We
joined a weekly rollerblading class in a nearby parking lot, but—after some hard falls—the rest of us dropped out. Dan went on to do a marathon.
'You Need a Toy'
I don't have a hobby. Before getting married, I worked as a reporter and have freelanced sporadically since having children. I head a foundation but still dream of becoming a foreign correspondent. If I have free time, I read. If I had more free time, I would read more and write. But mostly, I am the one who has ferried the kids to school and sports. I volunteered for the school book fairs and community service groups. I was able to exercise and walk the dogs on a regular basis.
Ultimately, however, after 20 years and with an empty nest looming, my husband's hobbies, combined with my downsized career, just didn't seem fair.
So when I finally dragged Dan to a marriage counselor to discuss the hobbies—and a long list of other things I'm not going to tell you about—I expected a lot of support. Instead, the counselor said, "His hobbies are healthy," adding, "He has a toy and you don't. You need a toy."
Then she drew two equal circles with a slight overlap in the middle. "This is a healthy relationship," she said. "Both people have a life outside the relationship." Then she drew a smaller circle trapped in a bigger circle. "This is unhealthy," she said, tapping her pencil on the page and aiming her gaze at me.
I was apparently the smaller circle, trapped in the bigger circle and lacking a hobby.
The counselor suggested that I pay more attention to Dan's singing. She also said I needed to do something I loved, like writing. So that's what I'm doing right now. I'm writing about how I came to be married to a karaoke singer.
Dan found Gwen, his first singing teacher, three years ago. He went for lessons every Saturday and practiced in the garage—with the doors closed—as much as he could. It was hard to gauge how it was going. "He sounds like a dying duck," one of the kids said. But he loved singing, and it clearly made him happy.
Then Gwen moved away, leaving Dan feeling forlorn. He went online to search for singing teachers and found two candidates. He signed up with both. He now goes to Marti every Thursday and to Megan every Saturday.
The two women don't know about each other.
It's hard to pinpoint the moment when Dan decided to get up onstage and sing. One day he said he was going to a party and someone was bringing a karaoke machine. He packed up the speakers in the garage and invited our daughter to go along.
A text soon arrived: "omgomgomg dad is singing!" The karaoke machine gave him a very high score.
He began to seek out karaoke bars. When he went to a conference in Boston, he located a karaoke bar and invited other surgeons. The group had a blast, he said. Then Marti invited him to a series of parties where everyone sang. Dan always invited me, but I was usually making dinner or driving our daughter to water-polo practice.
The critical moment arrived last year when Dan insisted I go with him to one of Marti's parties at a nearby karaoke bar. It had been two years since he started to sing. This made me nervous. I had only heard him sing through the car window or the closed door to the garage. But I agreed to go.
When we walked in the door, a small crowd at the bar cheered. They all knew him.
"Come meet Trixie," Dan said, guiding me toward the tattooed bartender who was busy making drinks. (He now realizes her name may be Trinity.) "You're Dan's wife?" she asked. "I love it when he sings the Rolling Stones!" I ordered a diet Coke.
I finally met Marti and her sister, who hopped up onstage to sing "Nasty Girl." Eventually, Dan's name was called.
'He Rocks' He took the microphone and began to belt out "Beast of Burden" by the Rolling Stones. He was
wearing black jeans, a gray striped shirt and an unfamiliar expression. He looked cute, if a little studied. He's not Mick Jagger, but it was a pretty good rendition.
"Is that your man?" asked a woman on the next bar stool. I nodded. "He rocks when he does that song," she said, taking a swig of beer.
Another woman, wearing a tight yellow sweater and even tighter blue jeans, walked up to my husband, who was now back on his bar stool. "Was that 'Beast of Burden'?" she asked. Dan nodded. "That is such a sexy song," she said.
We left shortly afterward.
Now that I have shared that hobby, I'm determined to spend more time reading and writing. In the meantime, Megan, Dan's other singing teacher, has suggested he speak in a higher pitch because it would be good for his vocal cords.
So now I'm married to a karaoke singer with a high-pitched voice. But that's OK because I can write about it.
Ms. Hughes is a writer in Rolling Hills, Calif. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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