Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Lesson My Parents Probably Don't Know They Taught Me

Alright... Opposites.  I have seen tons of couples out there.  Some are made up of pretty similar people.  Others, it's like they're from different planets.  My own mom and dad are pretty opposite.  Mom is bubbly and social and very giving of herself.  Dad is quiet, reserved, and careful.  When mom is upset, she cries and blames herself.  When dad's upset, he yells and puts the blame on other people.  Mom likes to watch movies and go to plays and read books.  Dad does NONE of those things. He has no hobbies.  Hobbies are expensive.  Mom likes to treat herself to restaurants and new clothes.  Dad never likes to spend money, even if he's spending it on something completely worthwhile.  They even LOOK different.  Mom is tan and blonde and HAWT.  Dad is tall and dignified and would look good only according to eighteenth century nobility standards.  

My darling Parents.
I think a lot of their differing personality traits stem from very different pasts.  My mom, Wendy, grew up in a very active church family in Provo stinking Utah.  Provo was a college town, an established urban metropolis.  My Grandpa Gardner, even though he has Alzheimer's, still manages to find the energy to tell my Grandma Gardner how wonderful she is.  Every day.  Mom had two older sisters and three younger brothers.  Grandma G was a pianist and taught mom the importance of music and performing arts.  Grandpa was a very smart and successful man.  He worked at the University of Utah, served on the State Legislature, and worked with experiments that led to today's modern development in rocket science and computers.  The Gardner family could afford comforts for their large family, like the newest computer modems (with punch cards!), a nice grand piano, and a big house.  Mom was surrounded by members of the church, got tons of dates all growing up, and got a chance to study abroad in Europe during her short secondary education.  I'm not going to say my mom's life was easy, but as you'll see shortly, her lifestyle was very different from my father's. 

My Father, Erik, grew up in Burnsville, Minnesota, one of very few members of the church in a much smaller school in a sprouting country-turning-suburb.  Dad came from a part-member family and had an older brother and two much younger sisters.  The Johnsons were a poorer family.  Grandpa Harlan worked in a small business, and for a while had to work two jobs to keep his family living in the same home they began in.   Grandma D. also worked really hard, kind of putting together a DIY home out of what they already had.  Dad learned quickly that he, himself, would have to put in a lot of effort in order to be successful.  He ended up getting a Master's Degree and joining the family business. Grandpa Harlan is Catholic.  Grandma Doro grew up in the church, but she herself was from a part-member family and took sort of an apathetic approach to governing her children's spiritual lives.  Dad and his older brother Ty sort of had to find testimonies on their own, and weren't given any support by their peers or parents. Grandma Doro and Grandpa Harlan are like the opposite of my Gardner Grandparents.  In my dad's teenage years, they ended up getting a divorce, and it was in no way pleasant for anyone. Even when it happens later on in a person's youth, the experience of divorce is one that can alter your life forever.

So, when two completely different worlds combine, there are bound to be some adjustments you have to make.  My Dad was a little put off by how outgoing and "Mormon" my mother is.  To this day, Dad still teases her about how she bursts into impromptu song and dance at the most unnecessary of moments. 

A big thing my Dad had to learn is that my mom is a Words Person.  She expects to be TOLD -- not just SHOWN -- how much she is loved.  Remember, Grandpa Gardner was a words guy.  He tells everyone how much he loves my Grandma and how proud he is of his kids.  Dad isn't much of a words guy.  Grandpa Harlan wasn't a words guy.  Harlan showed his love by going out and working as a school janitor for a second evening job to provide for his family.  I'm sure Grandpa loved his kids, even with the divorce and everything, but he just wasn't the mushy-"I-love-you"-type.  So Dad learned not to rely on that kind of communication.  When he met my mom, he had to CONSCIOUSLY RESOLVE to tell her he loved her every day, because he found out very quickly that it was something she was used to.  And it wasn't just words.  Mom likes gifts.  She likes getting jewelry, flowers, fancy restaurant dates, and vacations to all places tropical.  I'm positive that my father thinks those things are a complete waste of money, but because he loves her, he uses his precious, hard-earned money to her stuff like that all the time. (My favorite gift: A trip for her to see Daughtry in concert last summer.  The card said, "Dear Wendy, please find someone else to go to this concert with you. Love Erik.") 

In my own childhood, I remember often thinking that my father didn't love me.  He didn't ever give me a lot of praise or verbal affirmation, and he often had trouble communicating his feelings to me in a "loving" way when he was disappointed with me.  He also wasn't home as much as I probably would have liked.  BUT, now that I'm older, I can see all of the things my Dad HAS done for me because he loves me.  He's worked hard, sacrificed a lot of time and money, and he's stepped quite a bit out of his comfort zone to give me the praise and verbal affection that I so greatly desire.  I've learned from my Dad that we need to be aware of ALL of the things our family does for us, even if they aren't what we find obvious.

I'm sure mom feels it too.  Sometimes I would come home and the house would be a mess.  I remember seeing my mother, almost in tears, hurrying to try and get dinner made while at the same time trying to tidy up the kitchen.  "Please help clean up!" she would say.  "I don't want your Dad to come home from work tonight to such a messy house!"  You see, while my Mom is a words person, she is NOT as much of a service person.  She must make a CONSCIOUS EFFORT to do things for my Dad that he would appreciate. Things like cleaning the house, making dinner, and not spending too much money when she goes to Target Some of those things are outside her comfort zone, but she does them anyway because she loves her husband. 

I'm a lot like my mother.  I like words and gifts and quality time.  I always thought that I would want to only date guys who would satisfy those needs.  Guys who would express their feelings verbally all the time, guys who would be as emotionally charged as I am and express their passions the same way I do.  Some of the men I've dated have showered me with praise, given me wonderful gifts, and have invested a great deal of time on me.  But others, including my current boyfriend, don't speak those love languages as well.  My boyfriend is wonderful.  He's so humble and patient and accepting of me.  He reminds me a lot of my Dad.  He, too, is quiet, reserved, and careful.  There are days when I get frustrated at him because he doesn't express his feelings for me in those specific ways that I particularly appreciate.  But then I remember the things he DOES do.  He puts off homework for me all the time.  He asks for my advice.  He listens to me.  He buys me Slurpees. And he, like my father, has done a lot of stepping out of his comfort zone.  He's holds my hand in public.  He  tells me what's on his mind.  And he's learning about my needs and he's changing for them.  No doubt, we'll have a few periods in our relationship where we will disagree and we'll have to explain each other's expectations, but we've already been through enough for me to feel like this, too, shall pass.  

I've always liked this picture.  Check out that girl's socks. 

I think about my parents' relationship a lot, now that I'm dating myself.  I know not every couple is going to be exactly the same, but I do feel like my parents have taught me correct principles of patience, understanding, and sacrifice.  Despite what the fairy tales say, love ain't a picnic.  There is a ton of work involved.  They say opposites attract, and it's true some couples seem like opposites.  But really, if you think about it, there's always going to be something "opposite" about the person you are dating.  No one is exactly like you.  No one is exactly like your spouse, either.  And that's okay.  In fact, it's probably very helpful.  If you both have exactly the same "love language" and expectations, you aren't really learning anything new about each other.  What if my boyfriend and I were both only service people, who never really expressed affection verbally, or even expected the other to do it.  One day, if I get married and have a child, that child will have his own personality and agency.  Maybe HE'LL need verbal attention.  If anything, my differences from my boyfriend teach me how to show love in a variety of ways.  That's valuable.  

I have a theory:  Love is a willingness to put one's needs and desires first.  Love of yourself is a willingness to put your wants, as well as your needs, in the foreground, while love of others requires you to forsake some of those wants and maybe even rethink and adjust your needs.  A healthy relationship involves love of yourself as well as love of your partner.  Your partner must also love you as well as him/herself.  Ideal love is a balance of these four different states of feeling between two people.  When looking for a spouse, it is important to consider if you both can even come close to maintaining that balance with each other.  My parents have it down to an art, and they set a high standard for me to pursue.  I have faith that I can do it. 

Listening to:  My dear Women's Chorus singing a version of "True Colors."
Things going on today:  Break the Fast, doing ALL the homework.
Blessings:  ...........................................tampons.......................................... (forgive me.)
Learned:  Captain Kirk was on the original series of Star Trek.  Picard was on the Next Generation Series.  I can feel myself getting nerdier by the minute.  

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