Written by Janice Shaw Crouse
The man I married so very long ago is a wonderful husband and father. Our kids love their dad, respect him and often rely on his good judgment for advice and counsel, even now that they are long since adults and have children of their own. He plays a very special role in their lives as well as mine –– an irreplaceable role. His particular gifts and abilities mean he plays a very different role in our children’s lives than the one that I play as their mother. The combination and interplay of our differing strengths has, we believe, given them an illustration of the possibility of building strong, disciplined, productive lives — uniquely their own, not carbon copies of ours — based on their own Christian commitment and a biblical worldview. By working together with what each of us had to bring to the relationship, my husband and I helped to make up for each other’s weaknesses and modeled for our children the possibilities that lie in co-operatively merging two different and sometimes very divergent perspectives. Though the sparks at times flew and the oil of forgiveness was a vital necessity, in the end our combined efforts enriched us as husband and wife and by God’s grace and healing provided a stable family life for our two children who are now adults with families of their own.
I cannot imagine the huge hole that father-absence makes in a child’s life. My mother’s father died when she was only 9 years of age; my mother tells of the pain of that loss and how her father’s Christian example profoundly influenced her life. She recounts the stories that she was told about her dad and cherishes the only picture she has of him. Her memories of her dad and her experience in a father-absent home are significantly different from a cousin’s experience. My cousin’s father (my uncle) and mother divorced before she was born. She has never known her dad, but recently sought out her father’s family and eagerly seeks stories about her dad from cousins she didn’t know previously. That cousin’s life is defined by a father and mother who chose to deprive her of her dad’s influence and interaction with her dad’s family. The hole in her life was distinctly different from the one in my mother’s life from the death of her father because my grandmother talked in glowing terms about her husband and his spiritual presence in the home was almost as powerful and pervasive as his physical presence would have been.
In our youth we are convinced that we can and will create our own identity independently of our family roots. But in time we learn it’s not so simple. There are a thousand versions of the joke about suddenly hearing or seeing oneself and realizing, “I’m becoming my mother/father.” So much of who we are arises unbidden from our DNA. And despite the jokes, the connection, when tied to positive memories, can enlarge our sense of personhood. My grandchildren listen with rapt attention when I launch into the stories of how Gil and I fell in love, became engaged, and married, even though the account is by today’s standards “old fashioned” and radically different from the culture they inhabit and the values that bombard them daily from peers and the entertainment media.
Gil’s personality shines through in those stories of our courtship. One of the most important roles that Gil models is being a good husband. Gil shows our children in numerous ways that he cherishes me and would lay down his life for me or either of them. He models Christian living for our children and teaches them the importance of a father’s unconditional love along with his firm guidance and, when needed when they were young, stern, but fair, discipline. He is a wise, involved, caring, nurturing, encouraging and consistent presence in their lives. He is an objective “sounding-board” when they need another perspective on things.
As our kids were growing up, Gil transmitted to both our son and daughter his love of hiking in the mountainous backcountry, biking coast to coast, running marathons, experiencing triathlons and driving non-stop to vacation spots. Though I have my own interests, by joining in wholeheartedly in these pursuits, I helped teach our children to be adventurous and to reach out beyond their comfort zones to enjoy new experiences and expand their horizons.
Both of our children inherited my husband’s analytical bent and benefitted from his technical math skills. He passed along to both our children a love of politics and history. He was more patient than I when it came to working alongside them in doing mundane chores; when a plan was agreed upon after carefully considering the options, he was tenacious in seeing it through despite the inevitable obstacles that might arise. This taught them to work for long-term goals and not give in to distractions and obstacles. I, on the other hand, am willing to tackle almost anything confident that I’ll be able to learn as I go and find a way through whatever difficulties arise. Thus I taught them to “go for it” when an opportunity came and they were uncertain whether to commit.
You say we don’t sound like we are all that compatible? Depends on the moment, I suppose, though when it comes to the most important things in life – commitment to our marriage, our family and God – we couldn’t be more on the same page.
I like Ogden Nash’s humorous take on the matter of compatibility, too.
That is why marriage is so much more interesting than divorce,
Because it’s the only known example of the happy meeting of
the immovable object and the irresistible force.
So I hope husbands and wives will continue to debate and
combat over everything debatable and combatable,
Because I believe a little incompatibility is the spice of life,
particularly if he has income and she is pattable.
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., is author of Children at Risk (2010) and Marriage Matters (2011). She heads the think tank for Concerned Women for America.