The foundation for our fledgling family was built on top of two already-solid family traditions. Karen grew up the daughter of missionaries in South America, and I was raised in a Navy family. We both grew up surrounded by faith, hope, and lots of love.
Our paths first crossed in El Paso, Texas. Karen was attending nursing school at UTEP, and I was assigned to Fort Bliss for a school, following my first tour of duty in Germany as an army lieutenant. We met at church, in the college department. I was Karen’s Sunday school teacher.
After our first date, Karen went home and told her father she didn’t think we’d ever go out again. I went home and dreamed we were calling our parents to let them know we were engaged. It took a while, but eventually I convinced her that my way was better. :-)
After a whirlwind courtship and a simple wedding, we boarded a plane to begin what would be seven years of assignments at various bases in Germany. Gerrit and Tucker were both born there.
Every marriage is a blended family of sorts. We each bring into the relationship what we experienced in our upbringing, and there’s an understandable expectation that what we saw there must be how things work. No matter how much premarital counseling any of us receives, life together almost inevitably presents us with situations where those presuppositions collide.
Growing up in a military family, I was taught that adults should be referred to by their titles and last names. My parents might refer to their friends as Bob and Betty, but to me they were always “Captain and Mrs. Jones.” It didn’t matter how close our families were; adults were adults and addressing them with their proper rank or position was a matter of respect. I had every reason to believe that this must be the way everyone did it.
Karen grew up in a missionary culture where every adult was either “Aunt Sue” or “Uncle Jerry.” It didn’t matter that some adults had important titles or positions; they were all just part of one big extended family. It was expected that kids would address adults by their first names, preceded by the appropriate familial adjective.
These are not traditions that are easily blended together.
So we talked it over.
Eventually we worked out a solution, but the implications of those early talks went far beyond the resulting decisions about how to raise our boys. For me, they brought to light something that has influenced everything else I have done as a husband and a father to this day. Something that has directly impacted the kind of men my boys will be.
I respected my wife.
And because I did, so did my boys. From the very start, they knew that their mom was someone whose opinion mattered. Her contribution was valuable. I sought her advice, and acknowledged her wisdom. When decisions were made we made them together, because what she had to say was likely as good as or better than anything I could come up with. And I was a lucky man, because she respected me too.
We were a team.
So, what did we decide? We reasoned that our boys needed to acknowledge that adults are different. Some were close friends, some represented authority in their lives, and others were just acquaintances, but regardless, they should all be shown respect. So, in our family adults all have a title. If they are close friends they might be “Ms. Debbie” or “Dr. Randy.” Our minister is “Pastor Mark.” The man down the street who is a more casual acquaintance might be “Mr. Miller.” At one point the Mayor showed up at the ball field when we were there. Her campaign had emphasized her approachability and made clear that she was just fine with folks calling her “Loretta”. But we called her Mayor Spencer. Titles help us keep straight who is who.
Respect is important.
originally published 8/29/11| next post Many Choices