Virtue & Mischief: Those first 40 years


As I wrote in my previous column, my niece Shannon married her best friend and soulmate, Spencer, last weekend. It was a splendid affair, full of sunshine and laughter and joyful tears, toasts and mirth, dancing and hugging and gaiety of every good sort.

Among its other functions, the wedding was also an occasion for reminiscing (I shared one such memory in last week’s Virtue and Mischief space) and for fortune-telling. The most prominent soothsayer of the day came in the form of my 89 year old father, who officiated the ceremony and provided the brief homily.

Dad has always loved talking. He pontificates with ease, brio, and confidence. He is a strong story-teller and has accumulated an impressive oeuvre from which to draw. Whether he’s consciously aware of it or not, he has long subscribed to the maxim that “everyone is entitled to my opinion.” He likes to preach, and does it well. He delivered about 4 sermons a year at the church we attended when I was a boy (he and mom attend this congregation still), and many of his sermons incorporated stories—often-unflattering-and-mildly-humorous—about me and my sisters. Sounds vaguely familiar for some reason….

In any event, there stood my old man on that particular late morning roughly a week ago, holding court in front of the bride and groom and gathered witnesses. Dad is slightly more stooped over than he used to be, his hair is just a little more askew (though, let it be fully disclosed: He has a lot more of it than I do and his is much thicker), his clip-on sun glasses are circa 1974. He tires more easily and his voice doesn’t project quite the way it did decades ago. The old gray stallion ain’t what he used to be, but still: He demonstrated he can still deliver an entertaining stemwinder when he wants to.

The topic of the day was, of course, “marriage.” He was quick to share that he feels he knows a little bit about the subject, given that (a) the overwhelming majority of his professional career as an academic psychologist was devoted to researching marriage, and (b) he (with a little help from my mother) has acquired nearly 68 years of direct experience with it himself. He also mused that when he and Shannon’s grandmother got married nearly seven decades prior, they had no idea where their lives might take them nor the souls who might roam and flourish (and, yes, suffer on occasion) on this beautiful blue orb as a direct result of their union.

He then got to the meat of his talk, which, distilled, posited two central points. First, he pointed out, “You will have problems. Lots of problems.” Well, nothing like getting everyone’s attention out of the box with a hearty knee-slapper! There were, indeed, a few giggles from the crowd, but they sounded like they masked some anxiety. “Problems in a marriage are inevitable,” he continued, smiling like a quasi-sadist who enjoys the attention one commands when delivering disturbing news. Oh, boy, I thought. He’s got them right where he wants them. No gauzy speech about never-ending love tinctured with an infinite stream of puppy dogs, cotton candy, and good times. “It’s going to be grueling and frustrating and confusing at times,” he assured them. For the benefit of the couple I wanted to interject “This is why we nicknamed him ‘Dr. Feelgood’!” but I refrained. To his credit (and everyone’s relief), he immediately and succinctly proceeded to unfold effective approaches in addressing matrimonial challenges, practices and philosophies he has learned through both his direct and professional experience. From my vantage point twenty yards away or so, it appeared that Shannon was taking mental notes and that Spencer wanted to raise his hand and ask “Is this going to be on the test?”

Second, and I’m paraphrasing liberally here, he shared something along the lines of “If you can make it through the first 40 years it gets really, really good. ‘Wow!’ you’ll say to yourselves, ‘Those first four decades were tough, man, but life sure is sweet now!’ Children, should you have any, will likely be grown and on their own. You may even have grandchildren you can spoil, and thereby enjoy the great and well-earned blessing of vexing your children in this fashion. Your careers will be well established or perhaps even in the rear-view mirror. You probably won’t have the financial worries you had when you were younger. Most importantly, you will have developed the wise and patient perspective that can only be gained by many years of your own experiences, including difficult experiences. So, congratulations, you two. And hang tough until 2056!”

By Timothy Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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