The In-between Days


Our son got married last weekend. At the rehearsal dinner, I shared what I believe are fundamental truths about marriage and the uniting of two people as one.

I clicked the red “Leave” button on a Zoom call; I pushed down so hard on my mouse, I was surprised it didn’t crack. I was furious at the conversation that had just taken place. The source of my frustration was a loyal teammate who had been by my side for seven years.

The early years had been the best: we were innovating … catching everyone by surprise … setting the tempo. We were unchallenged and, as such, enjoyed a kind of cultish rock star status (kind of like the Kinks or Grateful Dead where: while not everyone knew who we were, or anything about our exploits, those who did thought we walked on water).

As the seven years passed, the cycle-time of our innovations grew. We spent more time on airplanes flying to the corners of the U.S. to talk about our inventions than we did inventing! I think I flew 175,000 miles one year. Domestically.

With our early success came a seat at the table. And with a seat at the table came an expectation that we’d show up for dinner! Dinner meant long-range planning, policy-making, routinization, scale, and cost containment. Nothing to do with inventing stuff.

On this particular day, we found ourselves far away from the place where we had begun our journey together. We were arguing over our respective interpretation of a single line in a contract concerning risk and indemnification. I was flabbergasted at how stupid he was; he was gobsmacked by my myopia. I’d liked to have punched him. So I did the virtual meeting equivalent: I snarled at him and clicked “Leave.”

As I sat in my juices, my anger gave way to frustration … frustration to sadness … sadness to longing.

This guy was my friend. My buddy. My “little brother.” We’d eaten together … laughed together … solved the world’s problems together. As two corpulent men, we even got stuck in a tiny elevator together in Milan – our bellies pressed up against each other. We laughed as we translated the sign on the wall, “Maximum occupancy 4.”

I loved and admired him the minute he had ambled into my office in 2016 – an unkempt, rotund, economist from Notre Dame. He had an opinion on everything, and I loved it! He was irreverent, and it made me laugh. He was a master of improvisation – around a computer keyboard – and I celebrated it! He always got lost in the details … and while lost amongst them, he almost always discovered amazing and wonderful things.

But he’s different now. I can’t describe how, but time – coupled with our success – has changed him. He seems to have an opinion on everything and it drives me crazy. He’s irreverent … he doesn’t respect anyone’s authority, especially mine! … he hacks everything together … sure, he’s fast, but he’s sloppy. Worst of all, he doesn’t get the big picture!

Our relationship has gotten so caustic that we can’t stand looking at each other any longer – in violation of company policy, we actually don’t turn on our cameras during Zoom meetings. (I imagine he doesn’t want to see the contempt in my eyes, and I certainly don’t want to have to look at his smugness.)

Here’s one final confession: you know that I triggered my contract last month – on January 31, I’ll work my last day and ride off into the sunset. But I’m not retiring because I’ve run out of good ideas. In fact, I think I’m at the top of my game. I’m leaving because fighting with him has worn me out. I’m exhausted. Every conversation is a battle.

As I saw it, I had three choices. The first was to fire him. But he’d be impossible to replace – he’s unique in what we do. I simply couldn’t do the job without him. So firing him wasn’t an option. The second was to reconcile with him … go back to zero … start all over … but that would require a lot more effort than I’m willing to put in (including a fair amount of crow-eating). So reconciling wasn’t an option. The third option was to retire. That seemed easiest, so that’s what I did.

(Oddly: while he’s irreplicable, so too am I. Him without me will be a disaster, just like me without him. I’m pretty certain the group will be defunded within the next 15 months; all of our scientists and engineers will be redeployed, some fired, and 2 million lines of code will be put into cold storage.). Our work will turn into vapor and drift away as if it never existed.

Interesting story? Not really. Sad story? Truly.

So why am I sharing this tonight? This has to be maybe the oddest father-of-the-groom speech to have ever been uttered.

Because it’s easier for me to talk about him and me – my irreplicable partner – than it is for me to talk about me and your mom. It’s easier for me to see and understand the interpersonal dynamics in a work relationship than in a marriage. I can be a bit more detached and dispassionate. But let me try.

I loved your mom from the moment I saw her. In fact, you know the story: I told her shortly after meeting her that I’d marry her.  Over the next eight years, I pursued her with everything I had. We were – in my opinion – great together.

I loved everything about her: the way she looked, the way she walked, the way she dressed, the way she took notes in class, that she was a better squash player than I, that she was an adult amongst a bunch of college kids … I especially liked her fierce independence – at 19 she had a plan and she was managing to the plan.  She was unafraid.  No one person or no one thing intimidated her.  Her friends? Me? … we were to a degree coincidental to her plan and not central to it.  All of this made her a mystery … an enigma. I simply couldn’t get enough.

As we waded into our marriage – those first six or seven years – the things that had been alluring for me became irritants. Irritants became issues. And issues became resentment. That she had always been “the adult in the room” became suffocating.  That she was fiercely independent and unafraid subjugated me to a role of partner rather than patriarch. That I was coincidental to her plan rather than central to it tugged at my greatest insecurities. We grew distant. Worse, what began as ambivalence metastasized into loathing; we were two people going in opposite directions.

We limped along.

Eventually, we had your brother. And we had you. The two of you consumed every ounce of our collective energy. You weren’t a fix for our marriage, rather a welcomed diversion. At our core, though, Mom and I needed a lot of work.

In the ensuing years, life happened. Your brother had his health challenges and you had your own — febrile seizures and GI problems. He was eventually jettisoned by the public school system. I’d become estranged from my parents. We left our church. We were hemorrhaging money. I got fired. We found ourselves emotionally spent and very lost.

At that moment, when I should have been at my strongest, I found myself at my weakest.  Metaphorically, I’d been knocked to the ground. I had no answers. No plans. No appetite to lead our little family. I had never failed in my life.  At anything. Sports. Academics. Business. But I was failing bigly now.

What happened next cemented for me the belief that God’s hand is in our lives and that He plays the long game – He equips us with those things and pairs us with the partner He knows we’ll need to travel life’s road.

When I finally composed myself and looked out through my tears, I saw your mom out in front, leading. She was a lion. For 10 years she led the charge. With doctors and school districts and coaches and teachers. She poured into you and your brother sacrificing everything. And it made all the difference in the world.

Those qualities I first fell in love with – later, that I grew to resent – would prove to be the foundation for our salvation. Fierce independence. Courage. Able to see the forest from the trees. Unwavering focus.

It’s been 20 years since, and I see it so clearly now: God blesses us each with capabilities, attributes, and dispositions. He means for those things to see us through our brightest days and our darkest. (Oddly, on the in-between days – the ordinary days — these things sometimes get in the way … they become irritants and flashpoints.)

Wedding ceremonies are peculiar things. For two or three days, we feast, toast, dance, laugh, and share. And we should. But once we’re done with the festivities, we inevitably have to turn back and lean into our lives.

Ten thousand times, you’ll awaken and head off to work. That’s life. [Your wife] will – God willing – endure pregnancy and labor. That’s life. Your kids will endure broken bones and broken hearts. That’s life. At work, you’ll be passed over, overlooked, and maybe even dismissed.  That’s life. You’ll bury me, then you’ll bury Mom. That, too, is life.

Sure, life is, at its essence, good. But even with all the goodness, it’s hard. And that’s why God has given you each to the other.

As I’ve studied the Bible more in recent years, I’m surprised that pastors never reference Luke 10:1-3 when talking about marriage:

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves.

Maybe the reason Pastors don’t reference it is because it’s not truly about husbands and wives rather about those soldiering forward in the World, endeavoring to do the Lord’s work.  But this is exact point that draws me to the verse as it relates to you two tonight. Life is challenging. The World, unforgiving. Lambs among the wolves.

Whether you take from Genesis or here from Luke, what’s clear is that God built us – designed us … intended for us – to be paired. He means for us to be together. Me and Mom. Gram and PopPop. You and [her].  To nurture each other. To affirm each other. To celebrate each other. To take turns carrying each other.

As I wrap this up, I can’t help but think of the movie scene from “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. You know the one: he rushes to the church hoping to somehow stop the wedding of the girl he loves – played by Katharine Ross. From the balcony in the rear of the church, he screams for her. Realizing her complete love for him, Ross flees with Hoffman. As the credits roll, the two of them are seated on the back seat of a bus, nervously laughing … not sure what just happened … she, in her wedding gown. The look in their eyes is, “Now what?”

Ah. Their whole lives in front of them. And you. Your whole lives in front of you.

Hold on to each other. Lean in. Be bold. You are each other’s brake against the storm.  And celebrate each other. Endeavor to be lighthearted. Serve each other. Most importantly, always and often remind yourselves what it was that originally attracted each to the other.  In the best of times, whisper to yourself, “That’s the person I fell in love with.” And in the worst of times, whisper to yourself, “Thank you, Lord, that you put this person in my life to help me carry the load and navigate the unknown.”

May the Holy Spirit dwell in your marriage. May you find peace and joy within it.

Published in Marriage
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There are 5 comments.

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  1. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat

    Beautiful and powerful.  Glad you published it here. 

    • #1
  2. Levi King Member
    Levi King

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Beautiful and powerful. Glad you published it here.

    I would do anything to be able to give them the entirety of my learnings from 37 years of marriage, now.  Alas, they’ll have to figure it out on their own.   It gives me a heavy heart.  Joyful because I know the end of the story.  But heavy.  

    • #2
  3. dajoho Member

    And all God’s people said “amen.”

    Great story, thank you for posting.

    • #3
  4. Bob Thompson Member
    Bob Thompson

    Levi King (View Comment):
    Alas, they’ll have to figure it out on their own.

    Yes, because it’s different for everyone. I’ve been married to my wife for 57 years. I have a story of my marriage that I can relate to yours with comparable points but I’m certain every detail is very different. I have two married children and one not and I think all three have figured this out. I’m betting yours will.

    Great post.

    • #4
  5. Levi King Member
    Levi King

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):

    Levi King (View Comment):
    Alas, they’ll have to figure it out on their own.

    Yes, because it’s different for everyone. I’ve been married to my wife for 57 years. I have a story of my marriage that I can relate to yours with comparable points but I’m certain every detail is very different. I have two married children and one not and I think all three have figured this out. I’m betting yours will.

    Great post.

    Fifty-seven.  Simply fantastic.

    • #5
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