Father Knows Best - The Best Relationship Advice!
Over the years, I’ve received a fair share of advice on the topic of marriage. In retrospect, I could place this advice into three categories – “good”, “great”, and “not so much”. When recently asked the best piece of marital advice I’d ever gotten, this fatherly wisdom emerged as the greatest of the “great” category. At first glance, it might sound a bit unorthodox. So, to add context, I’ll provide the backstory.
Cliff and I met in February 1991 and immediately fell head over heels in love. We spent every possible moment together. We would talk on the phone till the wee hours of the morning; firmly convinced that our relationship was a gift from God.
After a brief, five-month courtship, we tied the knot on a hot, humid June day. Never before had a couple taken their vows more seriously. Determined to prove to the world that our love would stand the test of time, we embarked upon our journey – excited, and full of anticipation.
The honeymoon stage of our marriage lasted about 6 months. Our biggest challenges had been disagreements over money. Early on, it had become obvious that I was a saver and he was a spender. These differences had led to conflict after conflict regarding finances. From my point of view, Cliff’s uncontrolled use of the ATM card was infuriating. From his vantage point, my yelling and screaming about it were probably just as frustrating. But we were still passionately in love; so despite the financial potholes, traffic jams, and detours - we always seem to navigate our relationship back on course. Little did we know that just beyond the next bend, we would encounter a proverbial fork in the road.
Without warning, we came to an abrupt halt – accompanied by screeching brakes, trails of tire marks, and racing heartbeats. His children’s biological mother was on the other end of the phone, ranting and pitching a hissy fit! Fed up with their adolescent daughter, she threatened to throw her onto the streets, if he didn’t take her in right away – that very day!
Yes, this was indeed a fork in the road if I had ever seen one. My instincts were screaming, “No more of the back-and-forth games! If the child is going to live here with us, then let’s revise the custody agreement and adjust the child support order!”
Nothing I said could persuade Cliff to require the children’s mother to set the legal affairs in order as a condition for us taking the child in. He was overwhelmed by images of his sweet, innocent, little girl of yesteryear panhandling on a street corner with a sign marked, “Homeless, will work for food.” Those daunting thoughts caused him to defy all sound judgment.
Our daughter moved in that very day, with only the shirt on her back and the shoes on her feet - literally. She came with no belongings, not so much as a toothbrush. As the official keeper-of-the-budget, this was problematic for me. Having to dip into our barely existent savings to re-purchase things that she already owned began building resentment in my heart. And because the child support had not been addressed, we had an extra mouth to feed, while money continued to be deducted from Cliff’s pay and sent to a person who was no longer providing her food.
What bothered me the most is that on any given day, the child’s biological mother could have apprehended her, and we would have had no legal recourse. All this was due to Cliff ignoring my wise advice.
Suddenly, the honeymoon had ended. And the road to bliss became the road to hell. We were contending with a defiant adolescent, who was upset about having been sent to live with us. (For anyone who’s raised a rebellious teen, that’s probably enough said to paint the picture.) We dealt with phone calls from the school counselor informing us that our daughter had been absent more than 40 days that school year (and it was only April). We learned how close she was to failing the 7th grade. Add to that, the sarcasm, nasty attitudes, disrespect, sense of entitlement, and other teenage garbage.
Money was becoming tighter by the day. Cliff was dealing with the weight of guilt over his children having been subjected to manipulative games all their lives. I was wading through a zest pool of bitterness, feeling my life was being adversely affected by his poor decision-making.
Where was the undying love we had experienced such a short time ago? Perhaps those loving feelings were lost between the sea of guilt and the pool of resentment. Or maybe they were hiding beneath the arguments, the misunderstandings, the silent treatments, the slamming doors, the confusion, the money problems…the CRAP! Wherever they were hidden, we were hard-pressed to find them.
At that moment in time, I was bombarded with thoughts of how a divorce would solve all my problems. After all, I could have killed two birds with one stone and detached myself from them both with one simple, legal procedure. And who would have blamed me? I wasn’t the one who kept making the poor judgment calls. Nor the one who had repeatedly overdrawn our checking account by the unrestrained use of an ATM card. Nor did I bring the belligerent child and the baby-mama drama into the relationship. And I certainly was not the pig-headed, stubborn one who refused to heed the wise counsel of their spouse.
Almost convinced that it was time to cut my losses, I reached out to the only man I was certain had my best interest at heart – my father. If no one else had my back – Daddy did!
Although I loved my father dearly, I was fully aware that he may not have been the best source of relationship advice. His track record was not exactly exemplary. But at the very least, I knew he really loved me and would not want me to be unhappy. So, I made the call.
Hysterical, frustrated, and disillusioned, I poured out my heart to my father during that fateful phone call. Bewildered, I desperately looked to Daddy to answer my anxious barrage of questions. How could I have possibly wound up in this place? Where did I go wrong? How did I get to this juncture? And was this the end of the road for us?
Dad listened patiently, as complaint after complaint about this man who he had lovingly given me away to the year before - in the presence of the minister, many witnesses, and most importantly, God Almighty – came gushing out. It was as if a dam had ruptured. The flow of grievances was unstoppable.
To this day, I am not sure if he realized how dramatically the fatherly advice he was about to give would impact me. First, he admitted that he did not have answers that would resolve my dilemma. He went on to say that he could not explain why it was this way, but he had one word of wisdom to share. The next four words he would utter were simple, yet profound. They would change my life forever.
“We’re all that way,” he said. This statement turned my universe inside out! I am thoroughly convinced that it caused a tear in my time-space continuum. He went on to state that he didn’t know why they (men) were that way. It didn’t make sense. It was totally illogical. And there was no reasonable answer for it. But that was just simply the way it was.
Those four words induced a major paradigm shift and lay a foundation for a new way of thinking. I hung up the phone and immediately entered a violent wrestling match with my own thoughts. The right side of my brain attempted to rationalize this information by listing its implications:
1. If all men were pig-headed;
2. if they were all too prideful to ask for advice;
3. if none of them would heed sound wisdom if it came from his wife;
4. if all of them would resist change at every turn;
5. if all of them would consider their wives nags and babbling idiots for offering correction;
6. if none of them wanted to be accountable for how they handled money;
7. (The list went on and on…)
My analytical side concluded: “If men are all alike, then I might as well do my best to work things out with the husband I already have. How ludicrous to start all over with another man, with full knowledge I would inevitably encounter the same issues with husband #2, husband #3, and so on.”
That was the day I resolved to learn how the male species worked, and to use that information to try to stick it out with Cliff. As I look back, nearly 3 decades later, I realize that I made the best choice. Obviously, one could debate whether the statement is true of all men. But what is not debatable is that Daddy's advice served as sutures that held our ruptured marriage together, while allowing it time to heal. Almost 30 years later, I’m still thankful for the advice, because the relationship that I had considered “junking” has evolved into “a classic.”