My parents just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. In a world that coined the term "starter marriage," such accomplishments are all too rare.
While I have an obvious bias, I believe they deserve a lot of praise for holding fast those five decades.
Like all enduring relationships, it’s not been all wine and roses. While nobody wants to wade through a retrospective of life’s troubles, those sour times shape who we become. They reveal important aspects of our character.
It’s no great revelation that we all have faults. We all expect too much. We all fail to do things we should; but our shortcomings shouldn’t be the focus. Our resolve to overcome them should. More importantly, our commitment to finding the best in each other determines not only how happy we’ll be in our relationships, but whether we’re a dissatisfied misanthrope or contented in the balance of life.
Being in close proximity to another person for half a century must surely breed ample opportunity to identify and focus on every single tiny imperfection they might have. Hopefully, though, it also gives us the opportunity to remember all those subtle sweet attributes that might otherwise be hidden to the world — and that likely attracted us in the first place.
This must be one of the keys to my parents’ enduring marriage. They are able to see past those largely superficial flaws and focus on the deeper good.
To be sure, it hasn’t always been easy. While this isn’t the forum or time for airing family laundry, suffice it to say that all relationships of any duration require conscious effort. My parents are no exception. Again, what matters is their commitment to it.
Similar things could be said of my mother’s parents, whose 50th anniversary is long in the rear view. I’m glad my folks had my grandparents as a model for how to make things work.
I’m also thankful for the things each of them has taught me. They give me guideposts for the person I would like to be.
My father has a way with people. With exceedingly rare exception, most folks just can’t help but like my Pop. His talent isn’t a command of glib ingratiating chat. Rather, I think it resides in his ability to manifest a sincere interest in other people. He defines what it is to have charisma.
My grandfather is very much the same. People just seem to love Mr. Buddy. Perhaps that comes from the fact that all those years of running that gas station he trusted people (extended credit) that no one else would. Did a few folks beat him out of a dollar? Sure, but it usually wasn’t the "un-trustworthy" ones.
My grandmother instilled in me a sense of fun and an appreciation of reading. We have fond memories of riding the sled together and countless trips to town. My grandfather tells a story about her from long ago. Back on the farm my grandmother would read while churning butter. Gramps says he could tell when the book got good because the churning got very slow. Who wouldn’t want that kind of magical transportation away from the mundane tasks of life.
Lastly, there is my mother. My sense of humor is in many ways my mom’s. She is quick, playfully sardonic and wise. She is also generous — generous beyond my understanding. She worries she hasn’t done enough, when by any objective standard she has already done too much.
All four of these people have set life-long examples as to the value of hard work. Whenever Kathleen tells me that I’m working too hard, I remember the people who made me, and I don’t feel as tired.
Looking back across all those years, I am so very thankful for these people. I don’t know that I will ever be as innately good, charming, generous, clever or hardworking as any of them, but I appreciate their resolve and commitment to our family.
Simply saying congratulations fails to express what I want my parents to know. Thank you for hanging in there, putting up with me and for being my folks. Mom and Pop, I love you very much.
Matthew Pate is a former law enforcement executive who holds a doctorate in criminal justice from the University of Albany and who has advised police agencies around the country. He writes from Pine Bluff, Ark. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org