“You know we really are incompatible”! Surprising and unexpected words from my dad as my mother, my husband and me sat around their breakfast table on a Saturday morning five years ago. His words were incompatible with what we had been discussing: plans for a family celebration honoring their 65th anniversary. His comment came from out of the blue. There had been-no current conversation about a good, bad or indifferent marriage, their marriage, my marriage or that of anyone else. From absolutely nowhere, my dad dropped this verbal bomb.
Without any hesitation or thought regarding what he had just said, I immediately replied, “Well, you know I am too old to be the child of divorced parents. I mean I am a grandmother! You will just have to suck it up”! End of conversation. We went back to the planning of their anniversary celebration.
Days later, I revisited that morning’s conversation pondering my dad’s comment. I decided, he was correct, they are very incompatible- no, more than that, and they are polar opposites. My dad is an extrovert, the cup is half full kind of guy. My mother, a recluse (except for her family), is the cup is half empty personality. So how have the two of them kept it together for all these years with so little in common? I found myself wondering how had they stayed married all these years with such differences? That is a lot of time spent together, “faking” happily married or any kind of married.
How did these two even get together? And, how did they end up married for sixty five years? Both were raised in a rural farming community in Arkansas. Mutual friends introduced them at a church social. He was almost twenty; she was seventeen-and a half. Ironic that a church would be site of their first introduction. My dad was somewhat of a wild child, little to no structure in his life. My mother was the darling of the community, a good girl, but meet they did, and theirs was an instant attraction. You know that age old story of good girl wanting to change the bad boy. She just knows she is the “one” who can make this rebel into a pussycat in this order: romance, marriage, home and kids. Turn that man around is the good girl’s goal.
My parents hit it off that first night. It was a few months before they saw each other again. When they saw each other the second time, my dad was Navy property. – He had enlisted. Marriage counselors would cringe at the time line of their relationship: two meet ups, a couple scheduled dates, and three weeks later, eloping! Two months later my dad was shipped overseas. In the brief time allotted them as a newly married couple, unknown to them, my mom became pregnant… So nine months later, my dad returned to the states to become the head of his little family: a wife, and a baby daughter.
My parents had little time to discover each other, to learn about each other’s likes or differences which turned out to be monumental. As the years progressed, my dad who had chosen to make the Navy a career would be sent overseas every three years for nine months. Fifty years later, my mom continues to bemoan those twenty years as a Navy wife. My mother hated those years, the moving around, but for my dad, orphaned young, viewed it as an opportunity to be someone, to have a career, to belong.
During those twenty years, when my dad came home they would no sooner develop a rapport, fall into a comfortable marital relationship, settle into the routine of family life, and my dad would be sent out of the states again. Difficult for a marriage- the constant changes, transfers from one post to another. So how did they remain together? Determination. They intended to honor the vows they had made while still teenagers. For them, it was simple: we chose this marriage, we are in it til’ death do us part.
I know my parents love each other, but I, also know, that for me, theirs is not the marriage that I aspire to have. My dad would enjoy more socialization with friends, more traveling, diversity in their life. My mom would rather be in her own home, surrounded by her family. Compromise has not been a tool utilized in major life decisions: where to settle down, career choices or parenting issues. For me, my partner and I need some equality in decisions with regard to where we live, how we handle finances, career changes and how we spend our free time. My dad’s philosophy, “I am the head of the household so major decisions are mine to make” would not work for me. My husband and I have input into household decisions, finances, travel, and family decisions. Disagree sometimes? Of course, we do. Maybe more than sometime we disagree, but we have learned compromise and negotiate.
My parents are admirable, honest, hardworking, and salt of the earth people. Holding membership in the population frequently referred to as “the greatest generation”. Individually, they are incredible people. I would not hesitate to say that if they were a young married couple in today’s world, they would sooner than later, be divorced. Today’s marriages give equal say to both partners. Rarely, do we hear someone referred to as, “the man of the house”. The theme word for today’s successful marriage is communication, communication. If a couple is having marital problems, the problem is usually attributed to a lack of communication. Certainly, my parents had discussions, but he was the one in charge, the man of the house. Today’s marriages might be referred to as more cooperative, equal.
So what about my parents’ marriage? Why am I writing about it? Once again, we are making preparations for a family gathering to celebrate- would you believe, their 70th anniversary? Thank goodness my dad chose to “suck it up” five years ago. As my sister so aptly put it, “lucky for us they did stay together all these years or you wouldn’t have me”! Just like a much younger sister seeing her existence the most important aspect of this marriage.
Each marriage is unique in the mechanics of how it works and is sustained. The qualities descriptive of my parents’ generation: integrity, commitment, loyalty, persevering are what contributed to their long lasting union. They were schooled in these qualities by their parents, and the expectations of that society. Do I aspire to have a marriage like theirs? No, but I do aspire to be the kind of people they are. Their type of marriage worked for them so that their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren can all come together in February to celebrate. Happy 70th Mom and Dad.
Patricia Bubash, M.Ed, LPC
Counselor / Author / Speaker
St. Louis 314 842 5460