Many of you who read this blog knew my father. If you knew Dad you probably know my mother. They were married for 46 years, which is quite an accomplishment in this day. Now that the evil Lynne and I have passed 38 years of marriage, making us scarred veterans of the marital wars, I sometimes think about how my parent’s marriage worked and compare theirs to mine.
Most long term couples evolve ways to get along with each other and to help the other person with shortcomings or inabilities. (For a lengthy and comprehensive list of my marital inadequacies please feel free to consult the evil Lynne. Make sure you have at least a couple of hours.) This was certainly true in my parent’s marriage. Most of you know that my father was a lawyer and was always impeccably dressed for work. What you probably did not know is that the man never dressed himself even once in his married life.
Dad did not have a clue about how to dress. When it came to colors, patterns and styles of clothing, he was hopeless. He knew it, too, which was good, because my Mom, while not a “clothes horse,” has a very refined sense of fashion and color.
So every night before my parents drifted off to sleep, my mother laid out what my Dad was to wear the next day, down to socks and underwear, as well as his suit, shirt, tie, belt, shoes, tie tack, cuff links, watch and handkerchief. Mom left nothing to chance. All Dad had to do each morning was to take his shower and put on whatever Mom had laid out. This is why he always looked so professional.
Every morning my parents each had roles to play in two long-standing rituals. The first ritual began when Dad was finished with breakfast. He would head to the door to go to work. Mom would say, “Let’s see what you look like.” Dad would stop and wait to be inspected. Mom would walk around him, adjusting his tie or collar, maybe straightening his lapels, or pulling out his cuffs to check the cuff links. When she was satisfied, she would say, “You look good.”
Then their second marital ritual would play out.
Heading toward the door, Dad would say, oftentimes mimicking the voice of a very, very bad Shakespearean actor, “I am going forth to slay the dragon.” This would be followed by Mom's response, “You are my hero. My knight in shining armor.” And out the door he would go.
At 6 o’clock my Dad would come home from work to a formal dinner in the dining room. The table would always be set with crystal, china, linen tablecloth and napkins, and the chandelier would be dimmed or the room lit with gold candelabras. This was a nightly event in their house. Dad would sit at the head of the table with Mom at the other end, us children on the sides. After the prayer, my Mom would inquire, “Owen, did you slay the dragon today?” Dad would respond saying, “I got in a couple of solid hits, but he got away, again.” Mom would follow his response by counseling, “Well, there is always tomorrow. You can slay him then. You are still my hero.” And the dinner would proceed.
I loved writing this piece, because it brought back memories about my parents and my childhood. Their marriage wasn’t perfect. They had their ups and downs, like all marriages do. Somehow they made the decision to stay together because the relationship was worth it.
These two schmaltzy rituals seem quaint and outdated to me. Yet my heart is warmed when I recall them. If nothing else, my Mom dressing my Dad, inspecting him before he walked out the door, and the “slaying the dragon” skit offered some regularity and solidity to the marriage. Good for them. But there is more to it than merely accommodating or adapting to each other. My Mom knew what is maybe the most important thing a wife can know about her husband.
All good wives know that their man, perhaps above all else, wants to be a hero…their hero. I think God wired men that way. Every man wants to be known by those that he values as being courageous and brave, because that is what makes a hero. Courage and bravery. And you know what else? The hero does not always have to win, either. The true hero has but to try his best.
As I was writing this, the evil Lynne reminded me of what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird. She said that true courage was present when you knew you were beat before you started, but you took up the fight anyway, because it was the right thing to do. That is what knights in shining armor do, you know.