It’d be easy with a title like the one above to think I’m talking about college or jobs or what have you.
But I wasn’t.
This was a discussion with my two girls, on separate occasions, about relationships. The latest discussion came with my middle daughter, who’s now fourteen, filled with hormones and had her first trip to the movies with just a boy. He’s apparently “just a friend” but the Dad who has lots of power tools and an unfinished guitar neck in his closet still comes out once in awhile.
It was a chance to talk about what the ups and downs of my own relationships were and how they can and should learn from my lessons. Some of those lessons aren’t too easy to listen to, particularly when the lessons are about their mother and me.
When I met my wife, some twenty-odd years before she passed away, I was in the same profession as she was, working at a tiny television station that doesn’t exist any more. I had split from my first band, a cover-band that had quite a bit of internal strife, some legal problems I won’t recount with our light guy and the fact that I thought, at times, our set lists were schizophrenic. So at this point in time, after Andrea and I were together nearly every day, I wasn’t playing live music any more. In my mind that was going to change and I still had intense and passionate dreams of going on tour and making it as a musician.
My wife had other plans.
I have had to have the discussion with my kids about how difficult it was for us in those early years. As compatible as we were on other levels, there were a couple major hurdles we just couldn’t seem to jump. Music was one of them. When I’d play a gig, with a band she convinced me would be a healthier atmosphere for me – one I built from the ground up myself – in her mind when she walked into the club my entire focus should be on her. My focus when playing, however, was always on the playing. I could never explain to her how when I strapped on the guitar and played my entire mind went somewhere else. It would lead, inevitably to major arguments at home.
Early on those first arguments would lead to Andrea throwing out, just to be mean, that she’s just divorce me and move on. Not occasionally, but during every knock-down, drag-out argument. It could be money, could be music, could be her wanting to change professions on a dime and go back to college. She’d shout it at me.
“Don’t ever say that to your future husband unless things are really that dire that you’re thinking it,” was my line to my girls. I will tell it to my boys, too. Andrea, you see, didn’t mean it. We did love each other and there were days, sure, we weren’t sure that was enough. But I grew up in a household that had two people who truly loved each other and had so much in common they were the litmus test, for me, of a good marriage. One day, after she threw out the “d” word, I turned a bit cold and stern and looked her, at very close proximity, in the eye.
“That hurts, you know. Do you mean that, you’re going to divorce me?”
“No,” she said. “Why would you think that?”
“Because you keep saying it. That hurts because I’m trying, really hard. One day you’re going to say that and I’ll take you up on it so be careful of the words you choose.”
That one day, those couple sentences, stick in my mind because she turned very pale. I remember it. It dawned on her this wasn’t a throwaway sentence. She’d heard her mother use that threat all the time and yell it at her father. Difference was her father never believed it and her mother never had any intention of it. I, however, didn’t grow up in that household. Divorce – and I told my children this – is a court of last resort. It shouldn’t be a decision you take lightly. Nor should marriage. When you marry someone it should be because you truly see your life better with them. I grew up, raised in an area of the country where divorce wasn’t a dirty word, but you didn’t do it unless things were truly irreconcilable, not the Hollywood version of “irreconcilable.” So to throw the word around hurt.
Today I wouldn’t have the same views as the woman to whom I was married. When you say “people don’t change” I actually vehemently disagree. I’ve become far more responsible in some ways, far more innovative and free-spirited in others. Andrea, at least the Andrea I knew when I dated her and even the softer, more understanding to whom I was married still a few years ago, would be the same. She’ll be that forever young woman in my mind now, but I’m not that person any more. It’s not a bad thing, I’ve made some great improvements.
So my advice to my girls was always this: you’re worth the effort. Changing yourself just to convince a guy (or a girl) you’re worth it just isn’t going to work. Necessary change – change like I’ve had to make lately – those are things you cannot avoid. Trying to be someone you’re not so that you can be with someone will inevitably lead to failure. Find someone you can spend your time with, was my response. Sitting by a fire tonight and staring at the flames I told my daughter “I’m not sure who could put up with me. Your Mom couldn’t even handle it sometimes,” I said admitting my own failures. I have, you see, a mind that goes a thousand directions at once. I still, unrealistic as it sounds, think I’ll hit the road as a musician one day. I love reading quirky scientific articles and watching Doctor Who with the kids on Saturday and cooking and making cookies. I want to see the world still and don’t really see myself still in California after the kids leave home.
Hannah looked at me and said there was enough that I loved about her Mom that it was okay, though, right? And of course there was. But my point to her, to all the kids, is that the blueprint I’ve followed, the one I strive for, was in my house every day. What they should want is that person who they didn’t think existed . . . that sees the world just like they do and loves the ideas they have and supports them because they’re sure my daughters and sons can take on the world and win.
That may seem impossible, but I’ve seen the impossible happen.