January 07, 2011
By Jacey Eckhart“Ignorance and arrogance. This is how the young survive.”
My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary —the darlings. All year people have asked them how they did it—as if marriage was a craft project. As if love was a recipe. My mom kept patting people’s arms and saying, “We are so lucky. We are just so lucky.” My dad just told people that their success was all due to home cooked meals and his secret cereal mix—the one my mom refers to as “twigs and rocks.”
Yet I am their child. Their witness. I’m a woman whose job it is to analyze and agonize over how the demands of modern military life affect families. I can’t help but see that long ago my parents went through a 25-year military career that included war and separation and lack of money and multiple moves and five kids born in eight years. I see how that should have been too much for them. They surely should have divorced in the Seventies when women were burning their bras and going on strike from the housework.
But they didn’t. They didn’t stay together as a mark of endurance or because they had no other choices. They didn’t stay together because they were lucky or ate whole grains. Sometimes I think they stayed together because their military life taught them to respect each other. It makes me wonder how the rest of us are doing in comparison. Are we doing what they did? Can we predict 50 deeply good years for our own marriages? Ask yourself these questions:
Did you go with your gut?
My parents had no idea what they were doing. Really. When my dad returned from flight school the summer of 1960, he told me himself he had no intention of asking my mom to marry him. They were too young, too poor. Then she stepped out of her house wearing a yellow sundress. And he could not wait to get her alone to ask her to be his Air Force wife. They were married all of six months later.
Is war normal for you?
As an anniversary gift, we had boxes of my parents photos put on CD. In picture after picture of base housing, I am so aware of how my parents were surrounded by other couples who were raising their kids inside the military. Here is a picture of my mom in an evening gown pregnant with me. Here is a picture of the lady who angrily scrubbed her kitchen floor every day when her husband was away on training. There go the dads in uniform. The kids in umbrellas and bathing suits playing in the rain. The ladies who traded babysitting and cups of sugar and watched their husbands leave for Vietnam. This was our normal. Typical. Acceptable.
Do you understand him?
I don’t think my dad ever spent a lot of time analyzing my mother’s needs. But my mom never stopped trying to understand the silent serious man that she married. She said they were married 27 years before she realized that when she asked him about his day and he did not immediately respond that he was not ignoring her. Instead he was going through all possible answers and the result of each answer. If she would just wait, he would speak. And they grew closer than ever.
Are you self-actualized?
In the Seventies, my dad was required to take a course at Malmstrom AFB. Part of the course was Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It shows how people have to fill their physical needs before they look for safety and then love. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization—where you are creative and forward thinking and firing on all cylinders. My dad always said that my mom was the only truly self-actualized person he ever knew. She rolls her eyes and says, “Oh, John!”
Are you ready for your midlife crisis?
The end of my dad’s military career left him adrift. He got a job as a contractor….and hated every minute. My mom urged him to quit, showing him how with his retirement pay and her income they could squeeze through. He did. A few months later he got a job at an airline where he was satisfied on a deep level—exhausted, but satisfied.
I want you to know that at my parents anniversary party, my mother stood up and said again how lucky they were. My dad stood beside her, looking down at his hand on the table, trying not to cry. Everyone else wept for him. Because we know what went into those 50 years. And we know that we are the lucky ones, benefiting in three generations from all they did for love.
Jacey Eckhart is a military life consultant in Washington, DC. She is the author of "The Homefront Club" and the voice behind the award-winning CD "These Boots." Facebook Jacey or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.