“It was all his own idea,” says Pat Peters, the 38-year-old wife of Palo Alto, Calif. high school football coach Bob Peters, 39. “He wrote the contract himself without consulting me, then insisted we have it notarized. I was so embarrassed I walked into the bank, signed and left right away. The girls there thought we were crazy.”
Maybe Bob was. He had just drawn up a “motherhood contract”—a document stating that for 70 days this summer he would take over the care and feeding of the couple’s children—Debra, 16; Jennifer, 7; Robert Jr., 5, and Christopher, 4—plus all household chores. “I, Robert W. Peters Sr., being of sound mind and body the same as most men,” the contract began, “knowing full well that switching roles with my wife should be a snap, a real piece of cake…” Peters agreed to provide, among other things, “general guidance and emotional development (such as selection of proper TV programs and reading material), general cleaning (such as scouring sinks, basins, cupboards, walls, toilets), errand-running, food-shopping, staying within a food allotment budget of $2.50 per diem per each adult and $2 per each child.” Although he didn’t even know how to make coffee when he signed, the handsome, 6’3″ Junior College All America end was supremely confident. (He thought the experience would make a cute book.)
After 40 of the 70 days, he was ready to throw in his apron. “I was beaten down, completely humbled,” admits Peters. Three weeks later he issued a press release (also part of the bargain) stating, “Not only is motherhood a difficult task, not only is it never-ending, it is an impossible job for any normal human being.” Bob adds: “I had taken care of the kids before for half a day. I think that’s what led to my over-confidence.”
He and Pat were high school sweethearts in hometown Stockton, Calif. After they were married in 1960, she worked as a secretary to help put him through Stanford, where he earned his master’s degree in education. Since then Bob has been the football and wrestling coach at Palo Alto’s Cubberley High while Pat raised the kids.
Then two years ago Pat went back to work as a secretary at Cubberley. “I had been around children so much,” she sighs, “I couldn’t talk to a grownup.” She continued to run the household, however—until Bob signed the contract, whereupon she decided to enjoy the role reversal. After work she behaved just the way he did when he came home: She plopped on the couch and didn’t move.
“I thought she’d take it lightly,” Bob recalls, “but there she was resting like any man while I was fixing dinner and trying to get our daughter to set the-table. Pat would ask me for coffee, and when I got halfway to the kitchen she’d say, ‘Don’t forget the cream.’ ”
Although Peters had consulted with his school’s home ec teachers and the head of the cafeteria, his meals were sometimes a disaster. “I’d try to slip the butter I’d forgotten under the eggs after they were frying,” he winces, “and once I poured water on the spaghetti to cool it off. It got real cold.” The kids’ reactions ranged from “yucky” to “disgusting” to “It makes me puke.” When Bob found “I could never get everything done,” he pulled little tricks, like “forgetting to take the meat out of the freezer so we’d have to eat out.” For the last three weeks, the family did that a lot—sometimes going to McDonald’s for lunch and dinner.
Peters soon discovered other ways to cut corners. The kids wouldn’t give him enough time to fill two shopping carts in the supermarket until he bribed them with all the candy they wanted. To get a few hours’ extra sleep in the morning, he let them stay up late and watch spooky movies. “Once I promised Christopher a horse just to keep him quiet,” admits Bob, who during the first two weeks also had to contend with two visiting nephews: “It was destroy Daddy time.” During that period he lost 10 pounds (to 225).
As for housekeeping, a home ec teacher had told Bob that a room always looks clean if the bed is made. “I found an easier way—I shut the doors,” he says. “If I could have, I would have put a chain at the top of the stairs.” Soon the kids were wearing the same clothes for a week. “I’d have them wear their shirts inside out, and when we went to pick up Pat at work they’d turn them right side out and look clean.”
Meanwhile Pat lounged for hours beside the backyard pool. “I had a beautiful summer,” she smiles. “It was better than a vacation.” For her husband, it was like “Marine boot camp.” Even hosting his own Tupperware party failed to cheer him up. One day Bob came out to the pool with a knife and a baseball bat to demand his wife’s help. “I think I was kidding,” he says.
Now that Bob has publicly admitted the error of his ways, he is routinely sharing the child-raising and household tasks with Pat—much to the chagrin of his male friends. “My brother will hardly talk to me now, because his wife is yelling at him to do the things I did. Well, I say, if I go down, I’m taking all husbands with me.” The tentative title of his book about the summer is taken from a warning he shouted at the kids one day: “Wait till your mother gets home!”