We are sitting side by side on a flight to Brisbane. Ours was the first flight out this morning, which meant we were up at 4am. Sandy dozes beside me and I once more find myself incredibly thankful that this woman has shared her life with me.
We’ve been married for 30+ years and yes, we each have annoying little quirks. When Sandy pulls out one of her many lists that demand certain chores be completed and completed now, I long ago learned the virtue of surrender. When I get started with some new idea that has excited me or have launched into one of my political rants Sandy too knows that I have become like the Borg and that resistance is futile.
These little annoyances are the very small price paid for a love and friendship that runs deep. Life has taken us into dark valleys, onto breathtaking mountaintops and all the mundane moments inbetween. We have deliberately cultivated our communication patterns, our emotional intelligence, and ways to resolve conflict fairly.
I can’t help feeling that the thing that really binds us together is, from my side, the fact that every night as I lay beside her I am filled with wonder that this incredible human being has chosen to share her life with me. It seems that with each new challenge life brings our way Sandy not only shows up but shows up with courage, love, tenderness and hope. Yes, some of these challenges have exacted a heavy toll, but a load we somehow manage to bear together.
There is no special occasion that has prompted this piece, just a need to put into words the admiration and gratitude I feel in my heart.
Two years ago I wrote a blog piece “She’s moving out today” in which I described my thoughts, feelings and hopes as my daughter Jessica left home to undertake an acting diploma in Sydney. Two nights ago she graduated.
How those two years have flown! In what seems a very short space of time I’ve had the joy and satisfaction of watching Jess learn the art of acting. I was blown away by the skills on display at her presentation night. But more importantly I’ve been thrilled to see Jess grow from a schoolgirl into a vibrant, independent and amazing woman.
I still miss her like crazy, but that makes the times we get together all the sweeter.
Jess’s move out of home and to a new city meant renegotiating the father-daughter relationship, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how comfortably this occurred. We’ve gone from seeing each other every day and mum and dad being authority figures (or having the illusion of being so!) to phone calls, dinner dates, and the treasured times when she’s home for a few days; from strongly directional input into her life to sharing wisdom, offering advice when it’s asked for, learning to withhold it when it hasn’t been asked for and watching respectfully as she makes her own life choices.
All in all it’s been a good run, everything I could have hoped for as a father.
On the weekend we helped our daughter Jess move into her own apartment. What a bittersweet experience! I am thrilled for her. She’s an amazing young woman, full of life and ready to take on the world. As we bought furniture, moved things old from our home and things old and new into her new home, it was lovely to see her excitement. Setting up a new life in a new city, making new friends, exploring new places, discovering new things about herself and her world. It will be, I hope, an incredible experience for her.
I will miss her. I will miss the raucous laughter, the daily doses of her beaming smile, the reflective conversations about matters great and small, her sense of style, the spontaneous outbreaks of joy, the midnight maccas runs, staying up late waiting for her to get home, the knowledge of what she is doing each day, being there to debrief on her day.
It’s time like these parenting is simultaneously its best and worst. It’s incredibly rewarding to see who she’s become and to see her stepping into this new phase. I am looking forward to what this new stage in our relationship will bring, but I am loathe to say goodbye to the stage that’s passed. Goodbye dear friend. Hello new friend. Pleased to meet you.
In recent days there has been much discussion about the meaning of marriage and threats to it. It is with some interest then that I am reading Marriage. A History. From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz.
Coontz shows that for most of human history marriage had very little to do with love and intimacy. It served goals such as securing links between families, the transfer of wealth; increasing social standing; regulating social relationships among adults; and the production legitimate heirs. While a husband and wife may have hoped for love and intimacy, this was very much secondary to the purposes for which they married.
During the 20th century the social ends served by marriage were dissipating. Children could be born out of wedlock and be well regarded; women no longer needed a male protector and could enter the workforce to support themselves; adults could remain single and be fully accepted in society; sexual freedom broke the nexus between marriage and sexual intercourse, and effective contraception meant sexual intercourse could be pursued without the likelihood of pregnancy and the commitments of parenting.
Marriage today is no longer necessary to having children, securing social status, transferring wealth, or gaining entry to adult society. This has radically redefined its meaning. People enter marriages in order to celebrate and secure a relationship of love and intimacy. Coontz calls this a revolution. It has made marriages much more personally rewarding than at any point in history yet at the same time has stripped away the social benefits of marriage and thus left them more fragile than ever, dependent entirely upon the capacity of married couples to maintain love and intimacy over the course of their lives. As paradoxical as it sounds, love is not only the greatest possibility, but also the greatest threat to marriage.
A few years ago the Family First political party arose, with strong links into the Christian church. It struck me at the time that perhaps we were putting more emphasis upon the family than the Bible does. The debate around marriage equality has raised the question again with the claim that children need access to a family unit that includes a mother and a father. I wonder if we have not bought in way too heavily to the idea of the nuclear family, giving it a prominence in our thinking and our priorities that does not exist in the Bible.
When we turn to the creation stories there is no strong link between marriage and procreation. The concept of marriage is introduced in Genesis 2, where it is not linked to procreation but to companionship, a resolution to the problem of human aloneness. Procreation is mentioned in the creation stories but it is in Genesis chapter 1 where the command to be fruitful and multiply is given to humankind as a collective.
When we turn to the Gospels Jesus is highly critical of family structures of his time. Yes, he affirms the bond between a husband and wife (Matthew 19:1-12) and a need for children, even when adult, to honour their parents, but at the same time he declares that his family is not his biological family but the community of those who do the will of God (Mark 3:31-35) and that there will be no family structures in the coming of God (Matthew 22:23-32).
Throughout the rest of the Bible the household structures of the time are far broader than our nuclear families. They were typically multigenerational and included both blood relatives and servants/slaves (Exodus 20:8-11; Colossians 3:18-24). While they are recognised as the context within which people live, nowhere are they or any other family structure endorsed.
The upshot of all this is that it seems to me that the Bible is much more ambivalent about family structure than our rhetoric suggests. Perhaps we should focus less upon an “ideal” family type that is nowhere endorsed in Scripture and focus more on building households of various types and communities of faith that fulfil many of the functions we wish to ascribe to families, that are places where men, women and children give and receive love, care, and kindness.
Yesterday was a day spent with my son. We played a closely fought set of table tennis, went for a swim during which we threw a football back and forth, duelled with with water pistols, and experimented with lying on the bottom of the pool. In the late afternoon we went to the cinema, picked up pizza on the way home, and watched Terminator 3 on DVD.
All simple things that were really just an excuse to spend time together, for a son to know that his dad not only loves him, he likes him. And for a dad to know his son not only loves him, he likes him. A time to do nothing more and nothing less than simply enjoy each other’s company and in the process to affirm one another’s humanity at some inexplicably profound level.
This is what my dad did for me, and now it is my turn to do the same for my children. I think it created in me a deep sense of belonging and “okayness”. I hope I am doing the same for my children.
It’s funny. If you asked what we did yesterday we’d both probably say “nothing much” but it seems to be that in doing nothing much we were doing something of incalculable importance.