Friday, August 28, 2009

So Long to a Senator

I have to hand it to my local YMCA. They make it very difficult to make excuses about exercising.

On most of the machines that are there for aerobic exercise, whether treadmills, elypticals or cycles, there are little televisions into which you can plug earphones and watch and listen while you exercise.

Believe me, I take advantage of this little luxury. Anything that will hasten the time or help me go into another dimension while I am huffing and puffing is a good thing.

This morning while doing my stepping on the elyptical machine, I watched the funeral mass for Senator Edward Kennedy who died earlier this week.

Now, as I have said about others of Kennedy's left-leaning persuasion, I would have never, ever voted for him. Not in this lifetime; not on this planet.

Still, as I have also said about President Barack Obama, I think if I had ever had the chance to meet Senator Kennedy, I would have liked him. I think we could have been friends. We even share, I believe, some of the same ideological principles; we just have always had different theories on carrying them out.

Today, as I watched his funeral and listened to the eulogies, I was struck once again by what a remarkable country we live in.

Sitting in the audience were Kennedy's admirers, but also some of his strongest detractors. Republicans sat among Democrats; liberals among conservatives. Three former presidents and one sitting one also paid their respects.

For events such as this, we are very civil. We know how to put politics aside and honor a statesman who served his country with distinction; a public servant who championed causes in which he strongly believed; a family man who endured more tragedy in his family than most of us will ever know, and who, as the "baby" of his own family, by default became its patriarch.

There is a lot of needless bickering, partisan yammering and turf-protecting pettiness in U.S. government; of that there is no doubt. But on days when we need to, we can pull ourselves together, suck it up and remind the world what we're made of.

That gives me encouragement about the future of this country; that gives me hope. And I believe that is exactly what Senator Kennedy would have wanted his funeral to do.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I don't do "mad" well

I don't do "mad" well. I'll try to explain.

My dad always told me how important it was to speak up for myself, that nobody else was going to do it if I didn't. He kind of went into every situation, whether it was getting a car fixed or going out to eat (which he did as little as possible), with the assumption that someone was out to get him and, by god, he would not allow it. And if anything was out of order, he could always successfully wear down the offending party to achieve (what he perceived to be) justice.

In other words, he could get mad and get results.

Wife's father was, and is, similar -- and her mother too, for that matter. She recalls her mother telling her, "You just let people walk all over you, that's what you do."

And now, Wife doesn't do "mad" well either. If she gets mad enough, she'll end up crying, bless her heart.

We have put our heads together and decided, just maybe, the determination we saw in our respective parents didn't look all that attractive to us and that's why we are each a little on the meek side. We are not into the pop psychology that might have us blaming our parents for this; we both had (and Wife still has) very good relationships with our parents. We just acknowledge the possibility of our parents being the root cause of this characteristic we share.

What happens, of course, is that Wife and I often feel taken advantage of because we either (a) refuse to get mad like we probably should or (b) we get mad, but we do it so poorly that we make fools of ourselves.

Here are some recent examples and one not so recent:

-- Daughter has had a laptop computer that is nothing short of a lemon. It's a piece of crap. Fortunately (I guess) we bought the extended warranty when we purchased it two years ago. Under said warranty, you take it back to Big Box ("BB" -- and I'll let you figure out who they are) for repair. Only BB keeps it, oh, anywhere from two to four weeks, or they might even forget to send it off to wherever the heck it is they send it. So you just do without while it's gone. And they don't care how much inconvenience that might cause you.

The fine print in the warranty states that, the FOURTH time you bring it in for repair, they will give you a new computer. So about four weeks ago, not long before Daughter would be leaving to go back to school, you guessed it. The piece of crap goes down for the fourth time.

Daughter and I showed up at BB with computer in hand. I walked up to the service desk, explained the problem and said, "I want a new computer." The guy behind the counter said that wasn't his decision. I repeated, with a little more volume, "I want a new computer." I got the same response.

I think I said, "I want a new computer" about a half dozen times before he explained to me that he would again have to send it off to wherever, and they would let us know something as soon as possible. I felt Daughter nudging me from behind as I gave him the history of the worthless machine and all the trouble it had caused for two years. I think I was still saying it as Daughter guided me out the door. And I'm pretty sure I was shaking.

The story has a happy ending, in that a week later they called and Daughter got her new computer. But it probably had nothing to do with my ranting which, Daughter admitted, actually scared her. You see, I just don't do mad well.

-- Wife and I frequent a little neighborhood restaurant. We love the food and the ambiance there and we eat there often. We have sent a lot of our friends there. We have been extremely good customers.

When eating there a couple of weeks ago, Wife told the waitress that she would like to purchase a gift card for a friend who had recently done her a very nice favor. For some reason this threw her (the waitress) into a dither and I never fully understood why she could not just add $25 to our bill rather than having to go ask her manager, three different times, how to do it, but for some reason she could not.

Anyway, after much discussion between our waitress and management, and our having to have two totally different checks for our meal and the gift card, we left with the card, which Wife presented to her friend the next day.

Imagine Wife's surprise and embarrassment when Wife's friend called a few days later and told her he and his wife and been to the restaurant and, upon presenting it at the end of their meal, were told the gift card was worthless. He had to fork over the money and pay.

Wife immediately called the restaurant's manager who said he just didn't understand how that could have happened, but he would get back with her. He eventually called her back and said obviously the waitress did not "key it in" correctly. He said he would leave a new gift card at the front and we could pick it up. He never ONCE apologized or offered us any kind of additional compensation for our trouble. Wife said he was much more concerned with the mistake the employee had made than the trouble and embarrassment it had caused us.

Wife took her friend $25 cash and apologized all over herself. We want $25 cash from our former favorite neighborhood cafe but, see, we don't do mad well and if I went up there and made a scene and raised hell, I'd regret it later. Same for Wife.

But if my dad were alive? Or if Wife's mom or dad had this happen to them? Any of them would walk in there and walk out with not only the $25 cash but probably the gift card as well. But me? Or Wife? No, we will just slip in and get the new gift card, then go right back in there and eat again because we can't let that go to waste.

-- Wife and I went to another restaurant Thurs. night to celebrate our anniversary. We had one of the worst waiters of all time. Not only did he give poor service, but he called Wife "Sweetie," interrupted our conversation, didn't listen to our orders, never offered to refill glasses and was incredibly annoying.

But what did I do? Well, I didn't say much to him but he didn't get much of a tip either. At least I can do that.

-- Now here's a funny one that happened over a year ago.

When Older Son graduated from college, we, as his parents, who had paid a fair amount of money for that college education, thought it would be appropriate for us to be there.

At this graduation, which included a large number of graduates, the names were called rapidly. This was necessary if the event was not going to last eight or nine hours.

As names were called, however, it was very common for large groups to get up and leave. What became obvious was that, when So-and-So's son, daughter or whatever's name was called and the stroll across the stage was complete, So-and-So was done.

And guess what? There was a big old bunch of these So-and-Sos sitting right in front of us and they all got up, en masse, and walked out just as Older Son's name was called. AND WE DID NOT SEE OUR SON GET HIS DIPLOMA BECAUSE THESE INCREDIBLY RUDE PEOPLE WERE IN OUR WAY!

Well, I will tell you that Wife and I did not care at that moment how poorly we do "mad." We let them all know how rude we thought they were and I told them I was very happy for them, that they got to see their son/daughter/whatever graduate, because I, because of them, had not had the same privilege.

Daughter and Younger Son were both humiliated but we didn't care. After a while we started to laugh about it and it's become one of the favorite family stories, of Mom and Dad "losing it" at the same time (which wasn't pretty). So, even though Wife and I may not do mad well, we did it at this event, and we really don't regret it.

But that's definitely the exception.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twenty-five Years

A death of an old friend has caused some unexpected travel early this week and I will probably be away from anything but a work computer for the next couple of days, so please pretend you are reading this on Tuesday, August 11, the day I intended to post it:

I will be honest: although I do watch television, I find little there of redeeming value. If I had it to do over again (how many times do I find myself saying that?), I might be one of those radical parents who doesn’t allow one in the house, forcing my children to be more creative and resourceful.

But with that said, I will grudgingly admit that, on occasion, there will be a nugget of truth that comes my way via the airwaves. One such little jewel made its way to my brain just recently when some cable sitcom was on in our playroom.

It was a typical scenario that has been done and overdone millions of times on TV, where a husband decides he must take a more assertive role and not allow his wife to run rough-shod over him. In this particular episode, when said husband began throwing his weight, he learned that his wife, who made numerous decisions each day without consulting him, was actually making them with his best interest at heart.

She explained, for example, that, when she had asked him for what time she should make dinner reservations, he had said, “Seven-thirty.” She, however, had made them for eight. When challenged, she explained that she had decided 8 p.m. would be preferable because she knew that, at the restaurant where they would be going, he would have to valet park before that time, which would upset him, which would in turn put a damper on their evening. The point was beautifully made that, although she appeared to be taking an “in charge” position, she was actually just thinking of him.

To this, the bewildered husband could say nothing but, “Oh.”

Oh my goodness, friends, have I been there and done that. I have gone down that road so many times that my foot has a way of just involuntarily making its way to my mouth as I (lovingly) question Wife about decisions she might have made, just daring her to match wits with one trained by education to argue.

A very high percentage of the time I have learned that, just like the sitcom husband, Wife was actually thinking of me in the process.

Wife learned many years ago that she can assert herself better in these little exchanges by giving me a certain look of self-satisfaction, a look that nonverbally conveys that I may continue wallowing in my assurance that I know what she is thinking or what her motivation might be but, at some point, I will be sheepishly returning to her to admit the error of my ways.

In other words, she says it best when she says nothing at all. And she knows it.


Today Wife and I celebrate 25 years of marriage – two and a half decades in which we have had a few of the episodes I have just described but also, I am pleased to report, in which we have had a blast together much of the time. There have been ups and downs and challenges, to be sure – and there still are -- but we are insanely compatible. And 25 years since making it permanent, although we sure don’t agree on everything, we seldom have a cross word.

To give some statistics: As regular visitors here know, we have had three children, two boys with a girl in the middle, one of whom is grown (23), one who is half-way through college (20) and one who has two more years of high school (16). Fertility was never a problem with us. I could relate well to the cartoon in Wife’s obstetrician’s office where two small children are observing an obviously pregnant mother. One of them quips, “It has something to do with my dad looking cross-ways at her.”

I have lost both of my parents during the time we have been married; both of Wife’s are still with us and doing relatively well. I have had a total of seven different jobs since we got married, which I guess is not all that uncommon. One only lasted three months, a total disaster which I don’t even include on my resume. Wife has had about four and has owned two different businesses, one of which she owns today.

We have lived in six different houses, three that we owned and three we rented, and we’ve been in our current one eight years, longer than any of the others. When we moved to Nashville from Little Rock in 1997 we were unable to sell our house there for nearly three years and lived in two different rent houses until we bought our house here in 2001. We now live across and up the street from the house we rented when we first moved here.

We have been abundantly blessed with friends. We still have a strong base of friends back in Arkansas and have also been fortunate enough to develop a number of cherished relationships in the Nashville area and, really, scattered across the country from various times in our lives. We are both “people persons” and we try never to take any of these friends for granted.

Wife is not a pet person but has tolerated two dogs during our marriage. I’m a total sucker for dogs and treat them like children. Our first was a miniature schnauzer who met her unfortunate demise when she got out one night and was hit by a car right in front of our house. We had only had her a few months. Our current canine, Ralph, has now been with us for ten years, a terrier-mix rescue from the Humane Society. He is an absolute joy to me and he has grown on Wife.

We have enjoyed some great travel together. We honeymooned in Hawaii. As a family we did Walt Disney World a couple of times when the children were young, have taken numerous beach vacations and have made journeys to Virginia, D.C., California, Colorado, Alaska and New York, among others. Wife and I agree that there is nothing quite like a family trip together and we have always tried to make it a priority. We have many times deferred home maintenance and other expenditures or purchases in favor of family travel. I have never once regretted it.

When Wife and I started talking about our 25th wedding anniversary and what we might do to celebrate (having only modestly celebrated the previous 24, if at all), I very pragmatically explained to her that, although it would be nice to go somewhere, the house would need all kinds of repairs this year (we’ve deferred about all we can defer) and we still have six years of college tuition ahead of us. In other words, not going to happen.

She gave me that previously described look a number of times and eventually presented me with an envelope in which she had saved a significant amount of cash, which we will use to go on a Mediterranean cruise in October. So, good for her – she knows I would have never taken that kind of initiative – and Happy Anniversary to us.


What is the secret to a happy marriage?

Well, I could espouse a number of theories. A friend told me once not to “major in the minors.” I took that advice to heart, and I think it makes great sense.

I know that I am inherently selfish and have a certain amount of prejudices. I’m not proud of that. But as I’ve lived with another person for 25 years, I have learned what a joy it is to let go of so much of that. It is really fun, and preferable, to defer to my soul mate. I love seeing her happy. And I know she feels the same about me.

No, we don’t agree on everything and, in fact, we disagree on many things. But, when all the dust settles, does it really matter? Not usually. I think we both understand that.

I think our common faith has a great deal to do with our commitment. I know that when we each said, “I do,” our Heavenly Father said, “I do too.” We take that seriously.

In the early years of our marriage we were involved, through our church, in a number of studies about marriage and God’s supposed “blueprint” for it. Funny thing was, the more I got into it, the less I believed in a specific formula as much as a desire on God’s part that we observe His directive to love each other and strive to have pure hearts and attitudes, with His help. Today I am much more concerned with that than how we might fulfill some rigid roles of husband and wife.

I realize that participating in intentional projects and reading commentaries on being a faithful spouse is helpful to some – and please understand I am not in any way putting it down – but for me it was tedious and way too mechanical. I have learned tons more in the past 25 years of marriage by just going through the day-to-day than I ever did from any of that.

As a young lawyer I occasionally practiced in the domestic relations area and would receive referrals from friends and fellow church members. I would at times come upon spouses – both husbands and wives – who I believe totally distorted the Scriptures to try and justify the divorce settlements they thought they deserved. That annoyed me.

What still baffles me to this day are the scores of folks in the Evangelical world who are so quick to quote Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit to your husbands . . . ,” but act as if the immediately preceding verse, Ephesians 5:21, the one that says, “Submit to EACH OTHER,” is not even there. No such thing as mutual submission, they say. Hmm, that’s sure not the way I read it.

And there, I believe, you have it. No, I don’t know of any secret to a happy or successful marriage, but I think much of the success in any relationship, especially a marriage, comes down to a mutual deference and submission to each other as the Apostle Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians. He stated it similarly in Romans when he said that we should “give preference to one another in honor.” Both Wife and I are imperfect people and we will not always achieve that, but we stand a greater chance of being content in our relationship when we try.

And it helps, as my friend said, not to major in the minors.


Happy 25th, Honey. I miss you today. Thanks for a wonderful 25-year ride.

I’ll see you on board in October.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Another transition

"Summer" -- the summer that is defined as the young folks being out of school, having a more relaxed or flexible schedule, having Daughter home from college, having Younger Son at camp, having friends of both here at late hours, making road trips to baseball games -- ends early around here.

Today Daughter and I load up (and when I say "load" I mean it literally in every sense) and move her back to school, with Rush preparations, then Rush itself, being imminent, then classes starting in a couple of weeks. She will be moving into a brand new dorm this year, one of those apartment-like facilities that I would have gawked at back in the 70s when I moved into a cinder-blocked cell my first year of higher learning. We have our move-in instructions for tomorrow morning and any prayers for patience and understanding on my part are most appreciated.

Younger Son is in his second week of football two-a-days and he starts back to school a week from Thursday. Our supposedly wiser-than-the-parents school officials here believe we need to get an early start, have a break in the fall and finish first semester before Christmas. They have tried, unsuccessfully to push a "balanced calendar," a/k/a year-round school, on us but we have, thankfully, fought them off. Starting mid-August is bad enough and we traditionalists still enjoy the aforementioned rites of summer days and nights.

Wife and I have learned to flex. In the past several years we have gone from having three offspring at home, to two, to one, back to two, back to one . . . I've lost track. Suffice it to say we do a mental headcount every morning and we go with the flow. The doors revolve well and we try to do the same, enjoying whomever, whenever, and trying to keep some semblance of order at the same time, a feat that is never fully achieved. As a mild anal retentive and early-onset curmedgeon, I have to go out on the back porch and take the occasional cleansing breath.

I told Wife recently that I have this idea in my head that I really can slow things down if I try. "Maybe if I sit still for part of every day and just think about things . . . "

She suggested maybe I try a little harder to make the most of moments while they are here, a suggestion full of hidden meaning for me to ponder and a suggestion just chock full of wisdom, as her statements so often are.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


Not to worry! Here's an update on Cash for Clunkers from this morning's paper:

"The wildly popular "Cash for Clunkers" program chugged full steam ahead into the weekend as the U.S. House approved an additional $2 billion for the government-run auto trade-in program on Friday, which a day earlier had almost run out of funds."

You see, all we had to do was let them know!

"Not enough money? Oh my goodness, how did that happen? Here, let's just print a couple more billion. You let us know if you need anymore, OK? "

Just leave it to your friendly Federal Government, folks. They've got your back.