|Blanchard Hall, Wheaton, Illnoise|
As Gord and I stood there, three girls came out of McManis dormitory walking toward us. One of the girls was noticeably taller than the other two. She was dressed in a purple miniskirt with matching tights. She wore a tight turtle neck sweater under a navy blue pea coat and sported three inch platform wedgie shoes. While her outfit made for an alluring package, to be sure, it was the legs that got me. They had to be nine feet long.
“Who is that girl in the middle?” I asked Gord.
“Check out those legs, Gord! I think I am going to ask her for a date.”
“You’ve got to be kidding, she is a Clysdale, Mike. She’s at least six feet tall!” This coming from someone who was five feet six on a good day.
“I don’t care. I am going to ask her out.”
And then it happened. She slipped. Her feet flew out from under her and she plopped down squarely on her bottom in a nasty slush puddle. Her skirt flew up around her waist and her coat and sweater were soaked with the icy street water.
Gord and I then did what all gentlemen would do in such a situation. We joined everyone else in laughing our heads off at this poor klutz of a girl, who immediately began to cry. Her two friends glared at everyone, helped her to her feet, and guided her unsteady walk back into the dorm for a change of clothes.
That night I called her up and asked her out to see The Longest Day to be shown in the chapel on Saturday, February 21, 1970. Surprisingly, she accepted my invitation. There was an odd look that came over her face when she answered the door for our date. I could not figure out why. Many years later I learned that she thought she had a date with Scott Bolander, a campus king, and was the envy of the other girls for having landed such a catch, until I showed up, which accounts for her puzzled facial expression and the many giggles I heard from behind the girl’s dormitory door as we walked to the chapel.
That was the beginning of our nearly 43 year romance. We continued to date through graduation, got engaged our senior year and made plans to get married, once I got into graduate or law school. Lynne got a job teaching English in Kokomo and I worked for the street department as a fulltime trash man on the back of a packer truck and part time dog catcher for the city. We lived in separate apartments while I tried to sort out my life after college.
I remember a year later sitting on top of a roof in the hot sun laying asphalt shingles when she drove up in her car with an envelope in her hand. “It is from the law school. Want me to read it?” “Sure,” I said. To my astonishment, I had gotten in.
We got married in June.
I could tell you that we went on a wonderful honeymoon, following the wedding, and started upon a happy married life. But that would be a lie. I remember driving back to Kokomo from Detroit in my 1966 Corvette thinking, “What have I done? Somehow I have got to get out of this.” I did not want to be married, yet that is exactly what I had done. An uneasy silence ruled the apartment for a few days after we returned. I was simply overwhelmed by the mess I had created. I knew I could get out of the marriage, but was not sure how to go about it, because I knew it involved legal stuff and I was not going to ask my dad about it. So, I went with the flow and started law school, thinking that I would deal with this problem later.
For the next year, I got up and drove to Indianapolis every day for classes, while Lynne walked to the high school to teach English. The apartment was a dorm room, really, so we were both used to the routine of students. Lynne was working on her Master’s degree in English (still the only teacher at KHS that has one). The apartment was covered with books, papers, typewriters and the other necessities of fulltime students. Lynne used to say that for the first two years of our marriage all she saw of me was the back of my head, as I hunched over my desk studying.
Money was tight. Every two months we saved enough to buy a two pound pot roast for dinner. A lost contact was not replaced for a month because we could not find the $35 to replace it. There were lots of salads and noodles and a bag lunch at school. Every extra dollar went into the gas tank of the VW. We were getting by, but just barely.
About the end of law school, Lynne, who had finished her master’s degree with honors, found herself wanting a child. The transformation was breathtaking. She was relentless in her quest to get pregnant and I was just as relentless in trying to avoid it. Guess who won the argument? Not me.
And so we embarked upon that journey many couples take together. Elaborate plans were made. We fixed up the baby’s room. Baby clothes were acquired. All the necessary baby stuff, needed or not, was amassed. The D-day invasion at Normandy in WW2 was not as well planned. And we awaited the great event. Lynne was electric with excitement. I was a trapped rat.
The trip to St Joe was unremarkable, as was the birth... except Nathan was born dead of unknown cause or causes. No one, including the physician, saw that one coming. We both held Nathan’s small, lifeless body in the hospital room. Lynne wept uncontrollably. The OB staff panicked, because the delivery physician was a last minute fill-in for our vacationing, regular physician (he never told us he would be gone) and I was completely unprepared. We were both numb, not being equipped to deal with this disaster and never having had any significant experience of failure or with the randomness of tragedy that sometimes the human condition encounters.
As I previously said, Lynne was devastated. For a considerable time after Nathan’s death, I wondered if I was going to get my wife back. She stared into the distance frequently, cried a lot, and sat by herself. I was clueless about what to do. I remember sitting with her on the front steps of our house, holding her hand, when it all came to a head on a Sunday afternoon.
“I cannot believe this has happened,” she said. “It’s like a nightmare.”
“I know.” I responded. “Are we supposed to say that Nathan’s death is the Lord’s will? I do not know that I buy that, Lynne.”
“I know this.” she stated. “Somehow this IS the Lord’s will. I do not know how or why, but that is the truth. I do not understand it at all, but I have to learn to accept it.”
“We can have another child after you feel better, you know? I am available anytime.”
“Then let’s get on with it. I am feeling better already.”
Our daughter was born eighteen months later at St. Joe. No birth was monitored as closely as that pregnancy. Every nurse and OB person was radical and fanatical about that upcoming delivery. We later learned that we had the “A” team monitoring the pregnancy. (Kate Middleton won’t get the quality of care Lynne received.) It was as if the entire hospital OB staff decided that there was nothing going to go wrong this time. Everything was checked and double-checked. The new OB physician called in his super nurses and other personnel, who were all put on call when the delivery date approached. The subsequent birth of our daughter was routine.
What did we learn as result of Nathan’s death? A couple of things. First of all, Lynne and I were, up to that time, two of the “golden ones.” Products of intact families, fathers who worked hard to provide for their families, married to good, solid mothers devoted to their families and who stayed home to raise them, insisting that the children were educated at the best schools where excellence was expected, and given everything they could want and all the tools to get ahead in life. We could do no wrong. Neither of us had any failures of any significance. Life was our oyster. Our inevitable success was written in the sky. Who could stop us?
We learned that life could stop us. That’s what. How could we have predicted this tragic event? We couldn’t. We were shot out of the saddle with absolutely no warning. And I think that Nathan’s tragic death welded us together for the first time. We had to learn to accept and deal with a seemingly random event for which we had not planned and over which we had no control. Everything had always somehow worked out before or there was a fairly simple solution to the problem.
Nathan’s death taught us in no uncertain terms that we were not running the show, that our carefully laid out plans were meaningless, and that sometimes you get to take a hard knock of life right on the chin, when you were least expecting it. More importantly, we learned that you picked yourself up off the ground, got back in the saddle, and got on with your life…together. I think we became a team because of Nathan’s death.
The next significant event was my father’s untimely and unexpected death. Up to the time of his death, I had it made. Let me explain. Dad and I worked together for 23 years without a single argument. Most fathers and sons could not do that, but we did. Dad didn’t like doing some types of cases, which I liked to do. I didn’t like doing some cases which he liked. So, we worked it out so that I got to do what I liked, and dad did what he liked. So everyone got to do what they liked. It worked perfectly. Dad handled all the mechanics of operating the office, like hiring and firing, paying the taxes, setting schedules, and so forth. This left me to do nothing but actually practice law every day without being burdened by the crap of running an office. I was making more money than I could spend, and occasionally, had fun doing it. Then he died during a routine procedure at St. Vincent Hospital. To say I was devastated would be an understatement.
Within 36 hours I went from happy-go-lucky kid-lawyer to the boss, responsible for the whole office. I was not equipped to do that, so I got a crash course in on the job training. I had to clean up his cases plus do mine, all the while keeping the office running. I was scared to death.
I got through it only with Lynne’s help and support. I worked 80 hours a week for almost a year to get it all under control, or at least marginally controlled chaos. Lynne knew that the stress I was under was affecting my health. I was not sleeping. I was at work at 6am and didn’t come home until late at night.
Eventually Lynne said to me, “You go take care of the office. I’ll take care of everything else. Do not worry about anything here. I will handle it. Fix the office.”
What can I say about this now? Simply stated, I could not have done it without her. She was marvelous. She knew what I was dealing with. She knew exactly what to say and do…and did it. What a woman! Once again, we were a team. It made all the difference.
In today’s world, we have all sorts of idiots trying to tell us what makes a successful marriage and how to have one. I have something to say about that based on personal experience and success. Few people can speak with that authority. I can. You may not agree with me, but then you would be thinking ignorantly.
Most people who talk about successful marriages usually talk about three areas: respect for the other person, money and sex, not necessarily in that order. I am not an expert in any of those areas, but I know a little. Maybe, just enough to get into trouble.
Money is not inherently evil, but it can destroy a marriage easily. Every one of us has to learn to live within our incomes. If you don’t, I can assure you the marriage won’t work. It is not good to ride home on a new Harley-Davidson with the electric bill unpaid. You better not buy that new pair of three inch heels or that piece of jewelry you just can’t live without, if you can’t pay the insurance bill that is due. And you better not be buying extras if you haven’t funded the kid’s college fund.
Most people do not do any of this. As a consequence, they are constantly stressed about bills, most of which are for stupid stuff. What do they expect? Lynne and I never had money arguments as we agreed most of the time on what we bought. We had simple rules. The kids came first. Always. And that included putting enough money back to pay for their four years of private college, plus graduate school, fully funded with no student loans. We both hated debt. All and any debt is bad. Period. No exceptions. So, second on the list was to pay off the mortgage and never get another one. We did and we didn’t. Credit cards were used for everything…and paid off each month. Always. No exceptions. And we did.
And you know what happened? Once the kids school was paid, and the mortgage paid off, and with no credit card debt, what do you do with all the money? I will tell you what we did with it. Investments. Till it got to the point that didn’t make a difference anymore. Then you get to do whatever you want, whenever you want, and not give two shakes about what it costs.
Lynne and I saw it the same. Two good incomes. And all that becomes reality. So that when you get sick, money is just not a problem. Once again we were a team.
Let me give you two examples. I have a wonderful friend who confided to me that he and his wife were seriously in debt on their overextended credit card. Serious debt. He asked for my advice. I told him that he needed to cut up the card, negotiate a settlement with the credit card company and go on an austerity plan for a couple of years to avoid a bankruptcy. He responded thanking me for what he recognized as good advice. I then got an email from him asking what I thought of him buying his wife, who is unemployed, a very expensive to buy and maintain sports car. I responded by referring to the credit card debt and suggesting that he had lost his mind. He responded that it was good to know that, while I might be sick, my brain was still working. He said he needed someone to bring him back to reality and thanked me.
So he bought the car anyway! Neither of them needed that car. They both wanted it to be sure. Need versus want. Big difference. Not with Lynne. We developed a habit of saving to buy what we needed and never bought what we wanted, until the other expenses long term were paid in full.
A few years ago I told Lynne I wanted to buy another Ducati. It was not all that expensive, as it was used. Lynne said, ”Well, the kids’ school is paid, the houses are paid, we’ve got no debt and there is nothing I want, so I think you should buy it. Have fun!” Big difference, don’t you think?
I believe sex is a private matter or at least should be (not according to the current TV who-res, the Kardashians). I am a big believer in the greatest statement about sex ever made. Lady Churchill once said, “I care not what consenting adults willingly do in private, so long as they do not scare the horses.” She would have been a great date, I suspect, but I digress. If you think I am going to divulge details of my sex life with Lynne, you are sadly mistaken, as I believe that to be a private matter. But I can tell you that I think successful married sex has rules. You will notice I said “married.” If you are not married, then this doesn’t apply to you.
First of all, sex should be fun…for both parties. If it isn’t, something needs to be fixed. Second, participation should be joyous and voluntary. If it isn’t, then something needs to be fixed. Third, sometimes one of us is not in the mood. Nothing wrong with that. There will be other opportunities. Get over it. Go read a book. It is not the sort of thing that should be argued about or the subject of hurt feelings. If you are not into it, your partner is going to figure that out in 30 seconds. Sex with an uninterested or lackadaisical partner is not worth the effort. And it is not about you, is it? If it is, then something is broken and needs to be fixed.
Great sex can make a good marriage better. But great sex is not going to make a successful marriage by itself. Everyone gets bored in that situation. Everyone has buttons they like to have pushed. If you don’t know about your spouse’s buttons, something is wrong and you had better fix it. After all, great sex is not about you, but is about your partner. Or at least it should be. Right?
I have my wife’s permission to give you this little tidbit. After almost 40 years of marriage, I think we have this sex thing down. We have a set of code comments to let the other party know we have an itch that needs to be scratched. These code phrases can be used in polite society without letting anyone who overhears know what is going on beneath the surface and can spice up an evening out with friends. Imagine standing in a room full of people at a party. Your spouse walks up to you and quietly says, “Let’s go, hey” and then walks away. The interaction is meaningless to anyone listening, except us. We both know that is a classic line from The Catcher in the Rye. That line and each one of the lines below is an innocuous way to say to your spouse “Let’s go to bed.” The rest of the evening at the party will be electric, I can assure you.
Feel free to steal the lines. We did. Author J.D. Salinger has the hooker utter a memorable line to Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. “Let’s go, hey.” The line should be delivered in a flat voice void of any emotion with a dead pan expression. Try it, providing your spouse has read the book.
Or there is the famous line from the original Stepford Wives. “Oh baby, you are the king.” To be said with totally over the top emotion at just the right moment, if you catch my drift. I guarantee hilarious laughter will follow. Or try the line from Shampoo. “Oh baby oh baby.” To be delivered totally deadpan and repeated indefinitely.
Finally, Lynne and I have our own line taken from an old rock and roll tune. Rarely do either of us come away from an “encounter” uninjured. Some one always takes a shot to the head by an elbow. Or a knee into a tummy. Or a poke in the eye or nose. Or falls out of bed. Or bangs into the headboard or foot board. You get the picture. Anytime one of these accidents happen, one of us, and sometimes both of us, will exclaim “Love hurts.” Which triggers all sorts of things, some of which is laughter. Which is a good thing, isn’t it? Try it. Maybe it will work for you.
Lastly, there is the matter of respect for your spouse. Respect is shown and is evident in many different ways. Most people do not have a clue what I am talking about. I think there are rules regarding respect. The rules are not much different than the rules of life. First, never lie. Second, it is not all about me -- it is about you. Third, your spouse and children come first, always. Fourth, whatever money is available, regardless of who earned the most, is held equally and to be spent with agreement. Fifth, when you signed on for the trip by putting that ring on your finger, you did for life, not just for the good times. Sixth, cheating is unacceptable, except in a The Sessions scenario. Seventh, everyone needs alone-time, occasionally. This is not rejection, it is about respecting privacy, which has its place in all marriages.
Finally, you need to recognize that there will be difficult times and the two of you will have disagreements. Most of the time, disagreements are over things that in the course of a lifetime really do not matter. However, sometimes things really do matter. The trick is to distinguish the two, which is not always easy to do, particularly when one or both of you is being emotional. In the middle of an argument, which is escalating, it is good to stop and ask the other party if the subject matter really matters long term. Oftentimes, your partner will say it doesn’t matter. Then why argue over it? What is the point? There is no point. Kiss and make-up.
On some points the long term ramifications really do matter. Try to compromise. If that doesn’t work, then one of you makes the command decision and the other party goes along.
Lastly, tell your spouse that you love him or her at least twice a day. No exceptions. Even when you are mad. Trust me on this. Telling your spouse you love them can make up for a world of problems and a slew of arguments.