by Kathryn Streeter | photo by Priddy Little Picture Photography
Dear Teenage Son
Today your dad and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. It was a remarkable day since increasingly, marriages are falling apart.
Tying the knot is the easy part. Staying together requires intentional habits and staying in love most certainly does not happen by chance.
Here are some things you may be unaware of that your dad has done well to keep us together and in love over the years.
Exercise has been a priority. We married young and he brought his high school football body into the marriage. Luckily, he quickly realized that without playing the game his muscles would soften and so he morphed into a runner. When we turned 30, just as when we turned 40, people continued to warn that rapid weight gain was practically guaranteed due to a slower metabolism and a sedentary lifestyle. Your dad thought it a ridiculous prophecy and rejected it. Because of this, at age 46 he kept up with you in the last Spartan Race competition. Not only is he able to be a more engaged father, his disciplined workout routine has kept me motivated to do the same. We have a fuller life because we can bike, paddle-board and hike together. Besides the natural health benefits of exercising, we recognize that our options are more open to the adventures we can have now in mid-life and beyond. If the day comes, I imagine that we’ll also be better able to keep up with grandkids, too.
Synchronized habits. Your dad’s professional life has always meant that the alarm sounds early. Synchronizing our sleep habits was reasonable because we wanted to be tired at the same time so that our rising together helped launch a new day better. Establishing this routine helped us do the little but difficult daily things together like getting you out of bed for school. There were times in your dad’s career when he’d barely get home in time to kiss you good night before you drifted to sleep. We’d then share a simple meal off the grill and though he’d be deservedly whipped, he would fill me in as I would him on the day. It helped keep our worlds connected. Too many couples fall apart because their worlds grow apart.
When I’ve wronged him, he doesn’t harbor resentment. Your dad doesn’t keep a list about what I’ve done wrong. He doesn’t keep score. This character quality is something I’ve admired in him since we were newlyweds. I’m profoundly grateful that he honestly lets things go after some disagreement has been righted. There are already too many things that pull relationships apart. Nagging each other about trivia is perilous to a strong marriage. So is regurgitating past wrongs. It simply doesn’t profit the relationship.
Prioritizing play every weekend. Your dad likes to make memories together. Early on in our marriage, we did weekends very simply: we played together. When you kids entered the picture, we adjusted and went to playgrounds. We didn’t have huge expectations for our weekends. The honey-do list didn’t exist and neither did your dad have unrealistic expectations for me. We were content putzing around and playing together. Do couples who play together stay together? For us, yes. This doesn’t negate the obvious, that, as you’ve often seen, he’s often worked late into the nights. But play over the weekend was and always will be important.
Forthcoming about the week’s demands. We talk beforehand about what is scheduled for the upcoming week—no surprises means being better prepared. This time of exchanging and reviewing the pending week’s schedule often revealed just how many times your dad had excused himself from various cocktail parties and receptions so as to get home at night. These conversations were illuminating to me: it underscored his desire to get home to us at the end of each intense day. It also helped me to prepare for the extra-long days as a work-at-home-mom (WAHM) when he was gone, and I’d be running completely solo.
Willingness to lead. Since I’m the product of an indecisive home, I’ve appreciated your dad’s unapologetic direction. When I am ambivalent and he’s felt strongly, I appreciated your dad showing decisiveness. It’s a relief. He’s offering something I don’t have and helping us to be whole. Of course, there are ways I solely contribute to our marriage partnership, but I humbly acknowledge that this isn’t one of them.
As you grow into manhood, you’re learning from observing men in your life. We both know that your dad hasn’t been perfect. But when he’s messed up, he’s been able to readily apologize and make fun of himself. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. As your mom, I’ve been delighted to watch you two hang out together. Ultimately, these notes I’ve written down today are to help you know your dad more fully and recognize habits that have contributed to our marriage. This letter isn’t to be confused with marriage insurance, as if such an equation existed to achieve a long, happy marriage.
You’re your own man. You’ll be great just as you are.
Originally published on The Good Men Project. Kathryn Streeter’s work has appeared in publications including AARP, The Washington Post, The Week and Paste Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.