With two of my four kids approaching marriageable age, the day will come within the next few years when, God willing, they will bring home a potential spouse to “meet the folks.” Or so I imagine. Or so I did when I was their age. Or so people do in the movies.
I’m really looking forward to that day. Not only because of a fatherly yen to see who will be blessed to live with my children for the rest of their lives, but also because it will just give me so much more to write about.
The Lad, my oldest boy, says it won’t happen, at least not with him. Not that he won’t get married, but rather that he won’t bring a prospective wife home first. That would scare her away, he says, somewhat jokingly.
So in lieu of having yet had the opportunity to meet a potential helpmeet for any of my children, I have had to suffice with a poor substitute – meeting one of The Wife’s ex beaus, an experience potentially as awkward and embarrassing.
Unless one was fixed up in an arranged marriage, the assumption is that one’s spouse was not one’s first girlfriend or boyfriend.
My kids find this hard to believe.
They find it difficult to imagine that before I met their mother – The Wife – I had been out on any previous dates. Who would have gone out with you, they ask, somewhat jokingly, reflecting the general inability of children to imagine their parents ever had the same drives and passions and fervor and enthusiasm that they do. The disturbing thing is that while they have no problem imagining their mother had suitors, they can’t imagine or visualize anyone else ever being interested in dear old dad.
Actually, I’m not sure whether this is more insulting to me, or The Wife. Kids, at least mine, take comfort in thinking their parents were somewhat nebech
at their age.
This inclination actually makes sense. If you measure yourself against your parents and their experiences, as all kids subconsciously do to a certain degree, and posit that your folks were nerds, then – if you are not equally nerdy – you must be doing well by comparison.
WHAT I find annoying is that in my kids’ minds it is not both parents who were nerds in their younger lives, only the father. It is not both parents whom no one would have wanted to date in high school or college, only the father. Yet if their mother would go out with their father, what does that say about her?
But, never mind. In my kids’ construct of reality The Wife dated, but I never did, and family tradition has it that the coolest guy she ever went out with was one Martin Stillman.
Marty, as he is fondly known around the house, was not only big hearted, good to his elders, smart, funny and not bad looking, but on The Wife’s 17th birthday he took her to a Chicago White Sox baseball game and had a personalized “Happy Birthday” greeting flashed on the outfield scoreboard.
That event has become our gold standard for birthday thoughtfulness. And it’s a high standard. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can’t top it.
And I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried. Before The Wife’s first birthday after our wedding, those halcyon days of few possessions but deep stares into each others’ eyes, she would complain occasionally about Jerusalem’s summer heat. So I saved a couple months’ salary and went out and bought a fan for her birthday. Although the thought was appreciated, the utilitarian, completely unromantic nature of the gift was not, and I was reminded of Marty’s gesture.
And so it has gone through the years. Try as I may, nothing can match a seventh inning birthday greeting flashed across one of Comiskey Park’s jumbo scoreboards.
Decades later, after I delivered a Shabbat morning speech at a Chicago synagogue, a middle-aged man approached and introduced himself as Marty Stillman.
”Whoa,” I said, taken aback. “You mean Marty Stillman from Franklin High?” And, indeed, it was him. Thrilled to finally make his acquaintance, I told him to whom I was luckily married, and then added that I have heard about him my entire married life.
“Really,” he said, clutching his heart.
But it didn’t end there. The Wife was with me at the time, standing in the kiddish line, and I excitedly pulled her aside to introduce her to her ex-boyfriend. There we were, The Wife, Marty and me, all together for this unexpected reunion.
The Wife, of course, didn’t recognize Marty – 30 years has a way of erasing familiar traces – and I had to tell her whom she was meeting.
Her mouth dropped. “Whoa,” she said, “You mean Marty Stillman, from Franklin High?” And then, pleased with myself for this discovery, I again told the former suitor that his name comes up in our house all the time. What I left out, obviously, was that this was only in the context of the scoreboard sign.
The Wife glared in my direction, saying with her eyes – as she would later with her mouth – “Hey, genius, not cool to tell an ex-boyfriend that I talk about him ‘all the time.’”
Right, I realize that now, after the fact. But in the heat of the
moment I was just making friendly banter with a subject of family lore.
When we came back from Chicago and retold that story to our kids, they
laughed and laughed. Until The Lad thought a minute, and then earnestly
declared he would never bring a serious girlfriend home, afraid of what
I might say, in the heat of the moment.
To which The Wife, ever supportive, simply
mumbled, “Hmmm, I can relate.”