« Picking A Lemon | Main | Babies “R” Expensive »

Let Me Give You Some Advice

When Terry and I got married, I was graciously allowed to use the school cafeteria where I worked for the reception. (Before you roll up your nose “Ugh! Gross!!” it’s a private school, it was cheap, it wasn’t that ugly, and there was a playground for the kids attending to run around in.) The emotional pound of flesh the school director required was an announcement to the entire faculty about my marriage during a school-wide meeting. Without consulting me, he told everyone that 1.) I was married over the summer; 2.) I had doubts about the marriage; and 3.) I consulted with elementary school children about what marriage meant. Since only #1 was true, he then read a list of Internet jokes to the assembled teachers, who laughed, thinking they were real answers to my questions. I didn’t think it was a problem at the time, until after the presentation, when a teacher came up to me. “This will be the worst year of your life.” Excuse me? Are you talking about the school year? “No. The honeymoon year is the worst year of marriage. You have nowhere to go but up from there.” 

Um, okay. I’d only been married for a few weeks at that point, so I thanked her and went about my business. What I didn’t realize is that the faculty didn’t realize that the Director was kidding. I doubt the Director ever knew this, but for weeks afterwards the faculty would stop me in the hall, come into my office, prevent the elevator doors from closing, anything to tell me what would happen in the coming years of marriage.

Now I wasn’t shy about my personal life, but it also didn’t come up regularly during staff meetings. So the teachers had never met Terry, and they felt they were doing a great service by telling me what they had learned from their marriages, whether I wanted to hear it or not. Besides being the worst year of my life, it would be the best year of the marriage, and then everything was downhill from there. I would have six or seven good years and then we wouldn’t be able to stand each other. I would have fifteen good years and then our goals would diverge and we would divorce immediately. I would hate my wife for all the years of the marriage, but never leave her because there was no place to go. One person, married for over forty years, said she wished she married her best friend and it was never too late to get married to the one you really loved, which was ironic, because I had already married the only person I have ever truly loved. The most traumatic was when a very upset woman I’d never met before made me promise never to be violently angry with my wife, because that was the worst thing she would ever experience. The silliest was when an English teacher declared her intention to destroy my marriage. I’d had it at that point and launched into a long, emotional declaration of why I would never divorce, only to be met by a titter of laughter when somebody pointed out I’d been married for only two weeks, so what do I know about marriage?

Clearly the faculty was really depressed about the state of their marriages. Complaining about the situation to friends only brought more advice about their own marriages. It was morbidly funny at first but then it was annoying.

This crash course on really bad marriages led me to realize that marriage is an extremely personal experience. Certainly certain things can be shared, but all of these stories were delivered with the certainty that whatever had happened to the storyteller was destined, predetermined, to happen to me. Well, I enjoyed my first year, it wasn’t the worst ever, and the second year was really great too. I don’t know if I can rank experiences, but I vastly prefer being married to being single, and I feel like I’ve married the most wonderful person in the world (for me) who has the most talent, the most beauty, the most compassion, the most just values, the most love (for me). Sure, there are problems and things I’d like to improve, but it’s really working out well. I wish everybody were as happy as I am.

Since I’m a proud expectant parent, I tell random people about the baby when I have an opportunity to make conversation. Now that we’re having a baby, I’m learning that many people have advice for me. A lot of this advice is very selective, like the marriage advice. A lot of it is very specific to the fact that we’re having a boy. Despite being male, I am told that the small testosterone bomb I’m about to throw into my apartment will completely surprise me.

This advice takes several forms. First, there are the people who are recommending that I approach the newborn baby as some sort of wild animal, who is cute now but soon will require chunks of red meat and a cage to control his rages and hormones. Others believe that despite the fact that I’ve had a lifelong interest in guns, but no desire to own them, I will be surprised by Ronan’s need to arm himself to the teeth. Ronan will want and collect toy guns, slingshots, pen guns, and possibly Crocodile Dundee’s largest knife. I’m not sure what these people are thinking — less confident parents would be terrified with these stories of hyper-violent boys. It’s as if these people are expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger to come out of the womb and start looking for a phase plasma rifle in the 40-watt range.  This expectation is not limited to women; many men have told me to be prepared for my son to start karate-chopping the furniture. And he may do so; it’s okay, because my wife technically owns most of the furniture, and I don’t have a job right now, so I won’t have to pay for a new couch. I wonder, though, if anyone expecting a girl has heard, “Gee, a girl! She’ll come out fully armed and try to wreck the futon!!” because while girls may seem calmer, they can experiment with fire just as well.

Because I had given up on being a Dad, I’m grateful for just having a baby, and gender was irrelevant. When Terry and I found out we were having a boy, we had a special moment where we mourned not having a girl. I think I would have mourned not having a boy if it had turned out the other way ‘round. Now that we’re having a boy, I think it’s pretty cool. For every story a parent has about bringing a gun to school, or destroying personal property in a fit of rage, or karate-chopping the couch, there’s a story of compassion, of tenderness, of care that the son has initiated. I don’t think they get written up in the press. And for every girl, there’s a story about a meltdown in the middle of the swanky restaurant or library or during that office visit.

You see what I’m getting at? There’s a double standard implied in these stereotypical stories about boisterous, aggressive boys. Sure, boys and girls may handle anger differently, but two children of the same gender will handle anger differently. It’s not a rule that boys will be boys.

It’s one of my goals as a parent to help Ronan understand how gender constructs limit boys as well as girls, by putting a lot of pressure on males to solve problems with violence. Of course, I intend to do this without using the words “gender constructs” around him until he’s old enough to understand it.

In the mean time, I look forward to six or seven years from now, when I’m told my marriage will self-destruct for no apparent reason, leaving me wondering what happened for the rest of my life.

I’m not losing sleep over that. I’m actually looking forward to the many years to come.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 13, 2007 1:26 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Picking A Lemon.

The next post in this blog is Babies “R” Expensive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 3.34