Klavan On The Culture

The Long Valentine's Day

I’ve been asked to repost this essay from several years back — still true:

Somewhere in the courts of celestial justice, an error was made in my favor and I got to marry Ellen. She was hitchhiking in Berkeley, California when I saw her first. Slender, movie star beautiful, nearly six feet tall. I was walking back from classes to fetch my car and I remember thinking, Look at that gorgeous Amazon! I started running for the garage, hoping to start my ancient Dodge and get to her before someone else picked her up. I had to drive around the corner to reach her, and I went so fast I clipped the sidewalk. The minute she climbed aboard, I had the odd sensation that all the jigsaw pieces of the world had quietly snapped together. I drove her home and we talked for hours.

That was over thirty years ago. What followed has been a marriage so passionate and adoring that I’m the only old married man I know who is envied by young single guys. We’ve had exactly one serious argument, twenty years past, in a moment of crisis and exhaustion. The experts say it’s wrong not to argue. But Ellen wakes up smiling every morning and I rush home to see her every night so we somehow manage to live with the disapproval of the experts.

We are frequently asked what our secret is. My wife says, laughing, “Never say no to sex.” I say, laughing, “Marry Ellen.” More seriously, we did make a conscious decision to ignore the diktats of feminism. I don’t prescribe this necessarily: to each his own. But Ellen made me the king of our household and the captain of our lives, and it worked for us. A female dinner guest was once so appalled by the way Ellen treats me, she burst out, “You cook and clean for him and serve him. What does he do?” Ellen smiled and simply opened her hands to indicate the roof over our heads and the food on our table and the happy, well-mannered children at our sides, and the guest fell silent.

Which is only to say: she made a man of me, and in gratitude, I made her happiness my northern star. I made sure she could stay home to take care of the kids and keep house when it was time for that and that she could go to grad school and to work when that time came. I tried to live up to her clearly overblown impression of my good qualities. I was faithful to her, which was sometimes hard.

But in truth, I don’t know why we got the happily-ever-after. It was a gift. Over the years, we’ve seen more than a few good marriages go under. We’ve seen husbands and wives do and say such terrible things to each other, children so scarred and battered by divorce and casual cruelty and simple inattention, that we have sometimes clung fearfully to each other in our bed at night like orphans in a storm.

It took us a long time to understand how blessed we were and from whom such blessings flow. The understanding made us even happier and more grateful, but it also forced humility on us. If we could claim no credit for what made our union good, we could lay no blame on others whose unions went bad. We have been poor and rich together, crazy and sane, mournful and joyous, and I can think of half a hundred times we might have gone down the wrong road or, even worse, failed to turn back and find the right one. If we fared well, it wasn’t because we were wise. It certainly wasn’t because I was wise. It was only, I think, that the power of what we felt for each other schooled us to trust in love. Love over money, love over politics, love over fashion and philosophies of life: our love and, in our love, God’s love, over all.

Ellen and I came of age in a generation that often denigrated the strength and integrity of manhood, the tenderness and generosity of femininity and — I won’t say the sanctity, but the deep worthiness of marriage between the two. We didn’t have many examples to draw from. But I had one.

My father and I disagreed on just about everything and were sometimes at daggers drawn, but his steadfast love for and kindness toward my mother were a great gift to me. Shortly before he died near the age of 80, I told him so. He was a comedian by profession and by nature, and he joked, “I’m still chasing your mother around the room— but very slowly.”

I would be glad to be able to make that joke to my son thirty years from now. Even slowly. I would be very glad.

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