EPISODE 16: Married with Children
Originally Aired: May 30, 2017
LYNN He was a twenty-eight-year-old man who had always lived with his parents. I was a twenty-one-year-old who always was taking care of by my mommy and daddy, and graduated from college and got married. So I didn’t know who I was. And I just realized that about three or four years ago, that I had no clue that I was an independent person with a life! Because, all of a sudden, I went from being a child to a wife.
JOHN The story you shared, Joe, is one of the great dilemmas of our parents because, how could you feel so much love and know what love feels like? But why did they never express it? I mean it is something that drives me every single day in my life to tell the people around me that I love them.
AH You’re 84, you’ve noticed some memory loss, how has that impacted your life and your marriage?
Joe My memory loss, I don’t think impacts my life that significantly.
Lynn I don’t agree. I think it does because I think you miss a lot of fun moments. For many months, even years, have said you don’t listen and therefore that’s why you don’t remember. So we’re still into that but I realize now it’s because you’ve forgotten your hearing aids! [Laughter]
Joe Well, I think that whereas I didn’t listen was something that my father told me as a young boy growing up, that I had the answers. So that has been the characteristic of my persona, not listening. What has further aggravated it is now the memory loss.
Lynn I do think it impacts our relationship because, you know, we’re in a different role now than we were. I have to remind you now. I could fib and say ‘This is what we said we would do’ and you’d say ‘Oh, ok’ because you can’t remember. So it requires a whole lot of honesty, straightforwardness on my part, which sometimes I don’t tell you.
Lynn I think a bigger issue about who we were when we were married.
Lynn He was a twenty eight year old man who had always lived with his parents, except when he was where he was before that, you know, in the seminary and the army but always lived with his parents.
Lynn I was a twenty-one year old who always was taking care of by my mommy and daddy, and graduated from college and got married, so I didn’t know who I was. I was someone’s daughter, you were someone’s son, and we got married.
AH Yes, two kids getting married and having kids right away.
Lynn Exactly, and not knowing who they were, and I’ve just realized that about three or four years ago, that I had no clue that I was an independent person with a life! Because all of a sudden, I went from being a child to a wife and both of them were fairly subservient positions.
Lynn And then I became a mother, so as a wife and a mother the only time that I ever got like a glimpse of Lynn was when I did things like cook the pig at Christmas and everyone freaked out, put the cat in John’s cradle, uh, so it would keep him warm and everyone freaked out so I did things almost to get reactions. I mean, I don’t think I discovered who I was till about ten years ago, which is pretty bad.
AH Mom talked about not knowing who she was about being a little girl, about not knowing her voice. My experience of their marriage is that mom had a very strong voice and was passionate about a lot of things. She seemed so big. And yet the way she described herself is almost kind of lost. Do you guys remember any of that?
Joe This is Joe here. I remember her always as being intellectually curious and culturally engaged and having a passion for lots of things, a sense of purpose.
Missy I also think she had to learn quickly. And so I think some of the unknown or the insecurity came across in sort of the control, like I know how to do this.
Joe I think they both had a strong sense of wanting to control things and that maybe came from the instability of parts of their own childhood sort of a reaction to the alcoholism that they each experienced, mom with her mom and dad with his dad.
Lynn Well I was in transition [Laughter] I didn’t you know, I enjoyed all the moments but it wasn’t like I was self-directed with a mission. Like Joe, you were always self-directed with a mission, up at six am in the morning, put on those nasty boots, go to the job. You knew where you were when you were in construction, when you were in management, I should’ve learned more from you and maybe you should have said to me ‘Grow up!’
Lynn Jumping back into the role of spouse when everybody left and still not realizing ‘wait a minute!’ I remember thinking that it would- to get a Masters in Anthropology and/or go back and get an MFA; all of those things were like ‘oh! I can’t do that’ I never had that kind of drive, personal drive. I was always sublimating. And I’m still not doing a very good job at that but I think the people that I seek out as friends now are all people that have that focus, I don’t have any friends really who aren’t artists or who aren’t somehow in that sort of vein.
AH Did you confront her or challenge her much?
Lynn Not at all.
Joe No, I didn’t. It was just something that I didn’t feel was part of a relationship. My mother and father did not have a good marriage and when they would really get into serious discussions it was always violent, verbal…
AH Verbal violence.
Joe Yes and that just left such an impact on me that subconsciously I looked at our relationship as one of bonding, of nurturing each other, and…
AH Did you guys…? I don’t remember you fighting much when I was a kid.
Lynn Oh, come on! Are you serious?
AH I remember lots of yelling but everybody was yelling at our house! It was like you were yelling at Joe, Joe was yelling at you (my older brother) but it seem like you didn’t really yell at each other a lot.
Lynn No, we didn’t.
Lynn if you ask Missy that question, maybe other people get…
AH A different memory?
Lynn Yeah, because you’re in the middle, maybe you were aware of all this cacophony around you and it was everybody.
AH But now you bicker a lot.
Lynn Well that’s survival [Laughter]
Joe But you said you were alluding to bickering early in our marriage.
Lynn Well I think it would be interesting to ask people…
AH What do you guys remember about their relationship when you were younger, when we were all younger?
John This is John. I remember having a conversation with the two of the and at one point, Dad said, “Oh, Johnny, thanks so much for helping Mom and I work through this. You’re being our therapist here.” I just remember thinking, “This is bizarre. I shouldn’t be doing this.” And it wasn’t an intense conflict, but it was conflict and I remember thinking, just remembering everything about the experience and thinking both empathetically but also that it was a little odd for me to be in that position.
Missy This is Missy. I feel like John that is coming back full circle now that we’re in marriages and so we are on sort of equal footing. And being with mom and dad when they’re going through struggles and we can relate and sharing some of what I might be going through with Mike and then Mom and Dad saying, “Oh wow! This is really helpful. Thanks for the therapy.”
Joe This is Joe. I felt like there was a sort of bickering and the inability to listen to one another sort of led to everything being black and white not just in their marriage, but in my relationship with each of them. So I feel like I never learned it, the idea of holding two concepts at the same time or realizing that there can be two truths when if we’re trying to work out the challenges in a relationship.
Joe I mean that seems sort of amazing to me when I sort of finally came to that realization after, you know, many struggles in my own marriage.
Missy Some of that Joe is related to the dominant culture I think many, many struggle with that not just us in our family.
AH Yeah. Do you guys remember much fighting?
Missy Yeah. I totally feel like as a result of their sort of arguing and just sort of hanging out their dirty laundry, I sought a relationship with someone, Mike, my husband, who did not experience that growing up in his family and that was comforting to me to be in a relationship where, “Come on, let’s just all get along and not air that stuff out.” He came from a family where his parents never argue and they kept it underneath the surface. And so he was actually seeking out more conflict. We both felt like we saw love, but it was exhibited in different ways and I think we both wanted some kind of balance. But I think growing up with Mom and Dad arguing and you know I think at the time I thought, “Well, is this love? This must be love because dad always finds every card I ever got all my love.” They were such happy, lovely card.
Joe I do remember in signing that in his card and Mom too signing love in our cards, but I never had a memory of them saying I love you to me as a kid growing up. I think the first time I remember I was in my mid to late 20s and it like hit me like a rock. It is like, “Oh my God!” I knew that they loved me. I always knew that. There was no doubt. But they never verbalized it and I was like, oh my God I didn’t know that I needed that.
AH But Joe, do you remember them saying I love you to each other?
Joe I don’t.
Joe I remember them kissing and hugging.
John I think the story you shared Joe is one of the great dilemmas of our parents because it is like one of the more vexing kind of existential dilemmas. How could you feel so much love and know what love feels like? But why did they never express it? I mean it is something that drives me every single day in my life to tell the people around me that I love them.
AH Speaking of that dilemma, in our family, it was chaotic and there was a bunch of yelling. And what was also true is that there was an incredible amount of love. And for a while, I couldn’t reconcile the two until I realized that, “You know what? Just both were present.”
Joe Yeah. That’s interesting because I wrote down that they had a limited emotional realm of expression other than joy and love and anger and there was like nothing in between. And also there was no ability sort of… or a little ability to sort of verbalize those or to identify and say, “Oh, I am feeling angry at the moment or I’m feeling joyful,” you know.
Missy Yeah. I also remember just a lot of chaos, a lot of kids, a lot of animals.
John I know that I experienced conflict because I have a deep core part of me that is conflict averse in part because I probably felt it emotionally and I sort of embodied and didn’t like it and wanted more.
Joe John, I relate to your point about avoiding conflict because I find sometimes in my work and in some personal relationships I will avoid conflict because we experienced so much in the household growing up. But then also if I’m stimulated, I will go to battle very readily. So it’s a both and thing, both wanting to avoid conflict at sometimes and then wanting to just have conflict at other times.
Missy I think because we kind of just let it all blend together and out pops sort of conflict and arguing and it doesn’t matter what the issue was it was there. And so I think to sort of park it in our mind as conflict and tension and then move on is maybe what I did.
AH You know Joe, I don’t remember them arguing with each other. I remember them yelling at you, Joe. Each of them sort of taking turns at being frustrated with you.
Joe I was the cause of all the troubles in the family and their relationship. I was a lightning rod being the oldest.
AH You have a tendency to have rose color glasses about the past, don’t you?
AH A little bit.
Lynn And about… in general life.
Joe But… so what does it do?
Lynn What does it do? It denies someone’s feelings
Lynn So if I say to you ‘I’m really upset because you don’t help out’ and then you say to me ‘But, don’t I shovel the snow in the winter time?’ Instead of saying ‘What do you mean help out,’ you take an example that happens once every five years, we get snow that has to be shoveled and it’s not a part of our real life, so what I mean is that your reluctance to really engage and to hear bad stuff, or tough stuff, or feelings of sadness, excitement, you want to divert it to yourself.
Joe Because I think you have some similar attributes where you will talk about things I didn’t do today or yesterday and you go through stages where you’ll be in a good place one day and then maybe for the next week you’ll be just on edge about some of the things I didn’t do or how I did them.
Lynn Right! I think what we have learned to do is to work through and to communicate as opposed to just going down, down.
Lynn I think it has brought us closer so we can laugh about a lot of things. I think the memory issue is something where I wish you would try and write things down so we wouldn’t have to kind of go through the same things over and over again. And laugh about it! Because we’re both out of it sometimes.
Joe When I think of memory loss, I just think of end of life issues and that is something that I accept as a reality,
AH Yeah, and so what’s it like to think about that?
Joe You say well, Jesus, I’m eighty five, a lot of my buddies have died or they’re not active and so I make an effort to call the couple buddies I have to stay in touch with them and it’s just something that I find nourishing. I called another buddy of mine that lives down in Florida and he says ‘It’s so nice when you stay in touch’ and I’m not- it nourishes me that they’re happy but I do it because I like talking to them.
Joe There’s also, too, not a whole lot of vulnerability and sort of self-reflection. I adapted that hook, line, and sinker. Because who taught me how to be vulnerable. Well, not either one of them.
John You know I agree with most of that. I think there’s an aspect when you’re passionate and you speak to your hopes and dreams and you engage in adventure that there’s an aspect of that that can entail failure. And that they didn’t model it in ways that expressed intention, they didn’t bring the language to the experience of it. But when you’re passionate, you fail and when you fail, you have to be vulnerable in some way.
AH That’s interesting John you said it because I am so desirous of words to describe something and I think that’s where I got it from. We had all these experiences and all this passion and aliveness, but nobody was really putting words to it including I love you and including explaining it. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’m so like, “Okay, what’s happening here? Let’s process this. Let’s name it,” to a fault.
Joe You had your little emotional antenna up and you’re going, “Oh my God! This is chaos here. We need to go to the therapist and work this out.”
AH Part of what we ask couples is about sex but I’m your son so I don’t want to ask about sex, I just want to ask about, like, do you hug and kiss? Is there that romantic piece as you get older?
Lynn It’s probably not as complete and exciting as your father would like. [Laughter] But for me there’s great affection and we talk about it.
Joe Well it was interesting how we had a period of about six months ago that was very romantic just in a senior way and it ebbs and flows.
Lynn Yeah. I think it does.
AH I’ve noticed this last year it feels like you bicker less and you’re more kind to each other; you still do your dance but I’ve just noticed a kindness.
Joe I like the kindness, the insight that he brings to it, that he notices that there’s less bickering.
AH And I notice that you’re writing something down, what are you writing about?
Joe ‘Noticed kindness, less bickering’.
AH That your son noticed that.
AH And what’s that like for me to notice that in your relationship?
Joe Yeah, that we have been able to be on a warm, close relationship even though physically is not like it was. And that it does have the intimacy of warmth, of sharing…
Lynn Of love!
Lynn I’m less aligned with that we have fewer years left. That’s not something that I’m very Zen about.
Lynn I also feel like I’m a little more desperate to get things done.
AH I think of the word urgent.
Lynn Urgent! That’s good [Laughter] thank you!
AH Desperate feels a little…desperate.
Lynn Yeah. No, ‘urgent’. Could you write that down, please? Urgent.
AH Do you feel like age is giving you that? Permission to do and act, as you see fit to meet your needs going forward in your life or to follow the passion you’ve always wanted to follow?
Lynn So for the first thirty years I was didn’t know whether I was somebody’s- well, I was probably more somebody’s child, then the second thirty years I was somebody’s wife and mother.
Joe I use twenty years of our marriage.
Lynn Ok, twenty years
Joe First twenty married.
Lynn And now the last twenty years, I’m trying to figure out that I’m really a different person and who am I? So it’s, I’m a slow learner.
Joe In the first twenty years I ran show.
Joe When we took time off, where we’d go on vacations. And the second twenty we did it together, our children were reaching adulthood, some had left I was comfortable with where I was and Mom then stepped in and did her part, uh, more than just being a mother. And In the third twenty, she’s taken over.
Joe And it’s something that I don’t rue, I feel sometimes sad or disappointed but it’s the reality that Lynn’s vitality and energy is what’s keeping me vitalized.
AH And what’s your role in these last twenty years?
Joe My role is to be an active partner and finding nourishment and substantive activities as a team player.
Lynn Good! [Laughter].
Joe Thank you.
Joe Just still pains me is that our parents have not figured out how to be patient with one another often enough. You know, whether it’s about driving or about the kitchen or about – I mean you name it. Come on, just one gram of patience would really go a long way for you guys.
AH Rather than hold it, it seems like they pounce on each other as a way of like, “I can’t handle this. Get this out of me.” And they do that bickering thing.
Lynn On my phone, about two weeks ago I put this note ‘Be patient with Joe’ because I was not being patient with Joe after 56 years of marriage I have lost a lot of my original goodness and patience, which I had for most of my life. Ha.
Joe She gave me the code to her phone when I was out two years ago, to look something up. So I got on her phone and then I typed in this hourly reminder to her to be patient with Joe.
Joe Mischievously knowing that it would pop up every hour for her. Because she doesn’t know how to get rid of it too. That’s the other great thing.
Lynn And now I think I remember it. Sometimes I say ‘Joe!’ and then…
AH Through your teeth…
Lynn Yeah! Then I relax.
Joe You’ve accomplished what you set out to achieve.
Lynn Well no, it’s a daily thing so you never accomplish it if it’s a daily thing.
AH what’s it like to have been sitting face to face across from one another?
Lynn Well we do that a lot, right?
AH You do this a lot?
Lynn Yeah! We eat dinner at night and we don’t talk about, you know, the Redskins [Laughter].
Joe I find it quite different.
Joe I just had a few moments where I was just pleased with how we have worked uh through the years together. And how it goes up and down, which is understandable but how through it all it has a positive connection that is genuine and nurturing for me.
THANK YOU TO MY PARENTS, LYNN AND JOE, AND TO MY SIBLINGS, JOE, JOHN AND MISSY.
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