Relationships- III

If we’ve covered parents and God, I think that brings us around to significant others on the “influential relationships” circuit. I’ve known a lot of guys who say things like “My wife saved me,” or “I was nothing before her.” I think that’s a wonderful sentiment; I can’t express it. I have definitely become a better person since I met Emily, and a lot of the improvements have been because we’re together. I don’t have any interest in going back to my life before her, but I still have self respect, and “She’s the only reason I matter” sounds like codependent BS. For those of you who say things like “I was nothing before her,” please check right now that you’ve not been dragging your spouse or girlfriend down since the beginning of your relationship. With all that out of the way, I’m not sure I would have survived the last six months without her. We have a good relationship. We watch our families and our friends, see what they do that works for us, and what they do that don’t. Then we try to stop doing the things that don’t work, or change them so that they do.

That brings me to the focus here, the things we do–and don’t do–that work for us. I’m writing this as someone who has been married for all of four years; I’m not an expert, I don’t know how things will change. I know what’s gotten us this far, and kept us generally happy with our lives.

Spend quality time. Not all the time, but a decent amount of it. That means talking about the implications fictional characters’ decisions would have in our life, coaching each other in video games, sharing what’s going on in our days and trying to empathize, and going on walks. Literally, just spend time together. That’s not enough to strengthen a relationship, but it’s a prerequisite.

Support each other.  That also means not judging or shaming the other person when we come to different conclusions in a conversation, for completing an objective differently, or criticizing decisions made throughout the day. It might be fun every once in a while, but it’s the world’s job to test the relationship’s strength, not ours. As Major Frank Burns said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” and we both prefer being supported to being challenged.

Trust. If a relationship is going to work, you have to trust the other person. That’s why support is so important, so the other person knows they can trust you. But it’s more than not cutting each other down; let the other person into your life. If you can share a house, and a bedroom, you can share fears, dreams, and bank accounts too.

Make decisions together. If you’re in it together, be in it together. That means not hiding things because you’re ashamed, and taking advantage of a second perspective.

Accept help. Chances are pretty good that you’ll need some help, especially at the beginning of the relationship. Whether that’s living with family members, advice from friends or other couples, or support from government programs, you’ll need help. Don’t abuse the systems, but don’t be so proud that you reject help. Pay it forward down the road.

Men do not get pregnant. If there’s going to be a kid in the picture, you have to grow up fast. If there’s a pregnant woman in the picture, she’s growing a human being inside her. Her body’s changing drastically, her hormones are probably all over the place, and she might seem like a crazy person. She’s probably doing the best she can, which means the other person needs to pick up the slack. Non-pregnant person, you don’t get to be crazy or selfish anymore. EVER AGAIN. When the baby comes, then it gets to be crazy and selfish. If you’re adopting, you don’t get the slow lead-in time of early infancy to learn what you’re doing, so you both need to bring your A-Game. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but it means you don’t get to slack off anymore.

Accept that you have your own things; your own pasts, your own interests, your own problems. You don’t have to have everything in common. I don’t think Emily will ever be as interested in food as I am. She still helps make cookies and accepts that I treat a clean kitchen as a challenge rather than a goal. I’ll never be as worried about a clean house as she is, but I still help with laundry, mopping and dishes when I think about it. Help each other work on the things that are problems, and don’t worry about the rest.

I don’t think anything on the list is really all that profound. As I wrote it, I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking “well duh” for almost every item, even when they contradict. But I see needless struggles because people are ashamed, afraid, selfish or proud.

Relationships I

I started thinking about this set because two events happened to intersect in my life. The first was that I didn’t have wi-fi set up on my kindle at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, so I couldn’t download my loans from the library for a little while. To pass the time until I found the network password, I read the first chapter of Don Miller’s “Blue Like Jazz.” In the opening of the book, he talks about his conception of God the Father, and how it related to his memories of his own absent father. The language and imagery sparked my imagination.

The second event is that we just ended a week long trip to watch the house and dog for the Aunt and Uncle, and then visit my family in the Ozarks. This will be the first time I’ve seen my parents in almost a year, but I started a project in March to record some of dad’s stories for posterity. With the visit being so close, I wanted to mimic Miller’s idea and write about my own family.

My dad was a phone man for the first eighteen years of my life, first for AT&T, then in business for himself. As a kid, I remember thinking that whatever he did must have been very hard work. He was deeply tanned from years of working on telephone poles, and I was convinced all that sun must have burned most of his hair off. He carried a massive tool belt, and it seemed like all the things he carried around his waist had been made from missing material elsewhere on his outfit: the elbows of his striped, button-up shirts were always threadbare, his jeans never had both knees for long, and the steel that reinforced his boots’ toes always gleamed through. It never seemed like his clothes were shabby or in need of repair, but like he preferred them that way. His day-to-day attitude made him who he was in more than just clothes. As a kid, Dad’s adopted father had chickens, and the swagger of those bantam roosters rubbed off. As a scout leader he was always assured, whether we were splicing rope or stuck behind a trailer that jackknifed on an icy road. Even when he was in rehab from his stroke, he would strut around in his bright stocking cap, crowing and checking up on all the hens in the ward.

They say smells are the strongest sensory trigger for memory, and I think there’s some truth to that. The combination of coffee, sweat, and cigarette smoke leaking into my room meant Dad was home for the day, and it was usually followed by the smell of light beer when I wandered into the living room. If I could stand the flavor, I would probably keep Natural Light in the fridge for the memories it inspires.

He started the business when I was young, and the weird hours of phone technicians combined with the long hours a new business needs meant I don’t remember him being around too terribly much. When he was around, he was exhausted a lot of the time from ten hour days. There wasn’t much time for horseplay, but he made it count when he could. I remember playing with a little cocktail sword for hours one night, and he played “dead” for what felt like half an hour after I “stabbed” him. Once I was in the Boy Scouts, he found ways to get away from the business more often. He was at meetings most weeks, camp outs every month, and at least one summer camp every year.

That was when I really got to know Dad, not as a man who had to work long hours and came home frustrated that the house wasn’t clean enough, but as a man who was under too much stress while still trying his best. In late night talks around the campfire or on anchor watch, he told me about how he thought the world worked, and how our family fit into it. I don’t know if we’ll ever have a best friends kind of relationship, but I don’t think we need that. We’re father and son, and that seems to work pretty well for us.

Next time: how family relationships affect conceptions of God.