A few years ago, I was on a crowded D.C. Metro car during rush hour when I noticed a young woman do something that caught my attention. She saw a guy at the other end of the car, waved at him and started plowing through the other passengers to get to him.
My wife didn’t know what to expect the first time she met my dad, and I wasn’t sure how to prepare her for it. As I explained to Raquel, “My dad is like — I don’t know — this truck driver preacher who talks to everyone he meets. He’s kind of eccentric.”
This past year was a hard one for my marriage. My wife had to take care of me for a few weeks when I got extremely sick. I completed the final manuscript of the book I’d been working on for over a year (the book, which is about building a happy marriage, required me to rely on her heavily for insights and edits). Then I got a new job, which resulted in us selling one house, buying another, jumping through five temporary living arrangements and restarting our lives.
I had only been dating my girlfriend for three months when I decided to ask for her father’s permission to marry her. It didn’t go well — not at first. On a sunny Saturday morning, I sat across from her dad trying to make small talk as my omelet grew cold, but I couldn’t focus. My heart was racing and I just wanted to get it over with, so I went for it.
One day, my wife and I were listening to a playlist of Disney songs with our two little girls when the sentimental love song “I See The Light” from Tangled came on. I walked over to my wife who was in the kitchen, took her in my arms and started dancing with her slowly. I could tell it caught her off-guard and embarrassed her a little — it came out of nowhere. Thank goodness she stayed in my arms and danced with me anyway.
Today, I was in the car with my wife, Raquel, and the kids when she pulled out a package that had just arrived. “Go ahead and open it,” I said, knowing what it was. Raquel tore off the top of the envelope and pulled out the hardbound copy of Confessions of a Happily Married Man: Finding God in the Messiness of Marriage, the book I’ve been working on for over a year and a half. We came to a stoplight and Raquel handed it to me. I took a deep breath and opened the book, flipping the pages and watching the words…
I grew up in the Deep South and in my family, there was an expectation that women should always be “ladylike.” That meant, in part, that a woman should never burp in front of others (seriously, I’ve never heard my mom do it). Another thing about the South is that the secret ingredient to 93 percent of entrees is grease, so if you’re someone who avoids fried foods, that requires building up a certain intestinal fortitude to digest the lard that permeates the Southern diet.
One morning when my youngest daughter was 3, she got out of bed, met me at the stairs, and with quiet sincerity said, “Daddy, I have a husband.” “Oh really? What’s his name?” “Ramón,” she said, pronouncing the name “Wah-mone.”
When I was in my early 20s, I took an etiquette class back home in Mississippi. Although I remember very few of the rules, one has always stuck with me: As a general rule, you should let people embarrass themselves.
This year marked a decade of marriage for my wife and me, and after our handful of years together, we still have a long way to go. Even so, we’ve made progress in some important ways and I would encourage any couple to try growing in these areas:
My brain did it again. I was so frustrated. I had completed 7 months of a grueling treatment for a neurological disorder that had plagued me for several years. It wasn’t debilitating though. I just had these 20-second episodes where I couldn’t read or write, and sometimes it made it hard for me to speak.
Two years ago, my wife hurt me worse than she ever had before. Her big offense: She said something that wasn’t very nice.
When I was in college I wrote an op-ed for my local newspaper about the kind of woman I wanted to marry. It embarrasses me to this day. I had three criteria for my future wife: First, she needed to have the body of Nikki Taylor, a “child bearing supermodel.” Second, she had to measure up to the perfection of my mother. And third, she had to be the kind of woman who Mary, the mother of Jesus, would approve of.
When you witness another couple give each other an extended, passionate kiss, you don’t forget it — especially if they’re a married couple. I certainly haven’t forgotten one particular time I got an eyeful on a sweltering afternoon in Mississippi.
I sat on a bench in a beautiful cemetery visiting with the woman who would be my wife and tried to ignore my sad, racing heart. Our relationship was about to end — not because I wanted it to — because she was about to learn the awful truth. “There’s something I need to tell you,” I said.