A few days ago, on June 16, I turned 40. Oh, not 40 years old. Rather, I celebrated 40 years of marriage to my bride, Tia.
At first, our marriage blew a few tires on unexpected potholes. I learned (because Tia told me in a tone she today reserves for robocalls) that when a married couple sits down to dinner, the husband is expected to do more than eat, burp and ask for seconds. She expected me to, well, TALK.
I tried it; conversation slowed progress incalculably.
But that’s one secret to a good marriage: when your spouse threatens divorce unless slowing your fork pace, it’s wise to throw out a thought every so often, even if it’s only, “Hey, wanna get a dog?” or complaining that your students don’t staple their research papers.
Besides those potholes, married life ran smoothly. Then we had children. That’s not to say the fun stopped when Jay and Molly arrived. But what we thought was life turned out to be analogous to reading the dust jacket before starting “War and Peace” or backing out of the driveway before a cross-country trip.
A child meant immersion into lives other than our own: our children’s and our children’s U-10 and U-12 soccer teams.
Speaking of parenthood, June 16 doubles as Father’s Day, when sons of fathers celebrate becoming fathers to sons or daughters, going from (not only) giving gifts to receiving them, an event worth celebrating as much as their first child’s arrival.
Speaking of which, 30 years ago, Tia’s obstetrician handed me a screaming infant. Once in my arms, Jay quieted. Talk about an epiphany! He loves me!
The first birth, however, forces the husband into hiding. I chose the basement, where a desk and books produced nepenthean effects similar to what other dads might use, Prozac and dry martinis.
See, upstairs, at any time, day or night, “Daddy” might be asked to “change his diaper,” “take the baby and dog for a walk so I can get some sleep,” or “while I’m breastfeeding, can you make dinner, do the bills, prune the lilac bushes, and paint the house an indigo blush?”
To which “Daddy” thinks, “Just put the kid in the crib and he’ll sleep it off. He’s practically old enough to microwave his own bottle. Let me know if there’s anything else you need before I grab a beer and head out to the hammock.”
When sanity intervenes, “Daddy” replies, “You bet, hon. A five-course meal will be served before you can say, ‘My breasts are raw’; I’ll sign the checks, shape the lilacs, and give the house a new coat it’ll wear proudly as modeling a runway fur.”
Two years later, Molly arrived. If love could be quantified, put into an equation, it would be more than the sum of its parts: 1+1 = Infinity.
Twenty-some years pass, and the kids grow up and leave. ... Just kidding! There’s no such thing. Even if they don’t inhabit the same space, they’re there. If you’re lucky. Because parenting never grows old; only parents do.
Listen! No, not you. “Listening” is the key to staying connected. Whether complaints cover jobs, relatives, or drivers not using their blinkers, acknowledge all perceived injustices.
That, and do the dishes, whether or not you made dinner.
OK, except for the silverware, which is SUCH a pain.
And the glasses because you usually break one. Or two.
And the pans, which need to soak till morning ... three days from now when, miraculously, you find them clean, drying in the rack.
That’s how you know she loves you.
Rick Holinger lives in Geneva, teaches at Marmion Academy, and facilitates Geneva library’s writing workshop. A collection of his columns, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” is forthcoming. Contact him at email@example.com.