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How a same-sex couple make a division of labour work

Three-year-old Declan Mehnert, centre right, plays a harmonica as his twin brother Mason Mehnert, far left, plays a tambourine while their parents Richard Abgrall, centre left, and Anthony Mehnert, right, sit in their backyard in Vancouver.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of a Globe and Mail series on housework.

Wednesday afternoon, 5 p.m.: Anthony Mehnert is just home from work and a stop at the grocery store. "It's sunny, so we're having steak," he announces.

He lights up the barbecue while his husband, Richard Abgrall, consoles Declan, 31/2, who is sobbing after getting his finger jammed in the backyard gate. "Do you want your blanket, Declan? Let's find something cold for you to hold onto."

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"Mason!" Mr. Mehnert yells out the front door, addressing Declan's twin brother, who has just run outside after his grandmother, who looks after the boys on Wednesdays. "Come back here, please."

The controlled domestic chaos in this East Vancouver bungalow continues until dinner time: Mr. Mehnert, 44, whips up a fabulous-looking dinner; Mr. Abgrall, 42, emerges from the basement with folded laundry. Declan gets a timeout for using the word "stupid." Mason plays with Lego.

"For the most part, our living room looks like a toy store," Mr. Mehnert cautioned on the phone, before the visit, explaining that he has some issues with clutter.

Mr. Mehnert and Mr. Abgrall have been married for eight years. They have two boys, two cats, two full-time jobs, one nanny (who does not do cleaning) – and a system that seems to work.

Mr. Mehnert looks after the groceries and almost all the cooking. A neat freak who is, shall we say, particular about how things are done, he scrubs the bathroom, washes the floor, cleans out the refrigerator with "this happy gleam" in his eyes, his husband jokes.

Mr. Abgrall handles the lawn, the Christmas lights, the home repairs, even renovations. Also, he deals with some of the more unpleasant jobs: "I'm the designated vomit-cleanup person in the house, human or animal," he says. If there's a rat trap to be set or a spider to be relocated, he's your man.

He also took the paternity leave, he usually bathes the boys and he is the one who sings them "lullabies" before bed – which tend to be things like the theme from Gilligan's Island, followed by O Canada. He can be "trusted" with the kids' laundry, but not his husband's, he says.

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Most of the time, this division runs smoothly. "Every once in a while, we'll have an argument about him saying [I] need to do more housework, and I'm like, 'That's fine, but you need to be less controlling about it, because I'm not going to wash the floor and have you come after me and spot clean,' " says Mr. Abgrall, who also hung up his spatula after one too many helpful hints from his husband.

Despite the rare chores-related tiff, these two seem to have it figured out: Each does what they're good at, and what they enjoy. Could it be that without the baggage of age-old gender roles, there is more freedom for a solution to be found organically?

"I look back at my parents: My mom did all the cooking and the cleaning, my dad did all the yard work and the home repairs," Mr. Abgrall says. "Now please don't make that connection between the two of us. … But he's not handy. I am. I'm sure if we were both really handy there would be some scraps about who's doing what. But I don't think we've ever looked at it as gender-specific roles."

Mr. Mehnert believes that the gender issue it's irrelevant. "I think we both … go with what we're strong with, and that's just what we do. … As we went through our relationship, it was: Who does this better? Whoever does it better, there you go," he says.

"For us, you do what you're good at."

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About the Author
Western Arts Correspondent

Marsha Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver. She covers the film and television industry, visual art, literature, music, theatre, dance, cultural policy, and other related areas. More

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