Letters to My Children

I know, I know, this is a very long post but please bear with me.  I promise, if you stick with me, you will find it amusing and eye-opening.

Every once in a while you meet someone you immediately bond with.  You find them funny, intelligent and warm.  Normally, you would have this new friend come over for dinner.  You would make plans to get the families together for game nights and cook outs. That is what you would normally do but my friend and I have never met face to face.  We met via the internet.  He is not a blogger but, lawd, can he write!  I meet him through Facebook of all places.  He is not a complete stranger.  He went to school with my husband.  I believe he was a year or two behind him but this is a tiny school and everyone knows everyone.   We became friends through Farmville and a couple of other FB games.  It did not take long before I friended his wife and his beautiful daughter.  Through Facebook I read about his grandkids, his amazing son, parents and a couple of goofy dogs.

Soon we were FB chatting and emailing.  Like most friend we talked about a variety of subjects our jobs, our town, our hobbies and, of course, our families.  I went through a couple of really rough patches and he was there trying to pick up the pieces hundreds of miles away.  An internet friend who I had never met face to face was putting himself out there for me to lean on.  Now that is a friend.

One thing he did was send me letters.  These letters were intended for his grown children but they related to my struggles.  I was spellbound.  I could not get enough.  Soon I forgot all about me and started thinking how wonderful these letters would be in a coffee table book. This is a book of inspiration. These were life lessons at its best from a tough yet gentle father.  I asked him why he wrote these letters.  He said all the men in his family passed away just as their children we reaching or just beginning their adulthood.  If this legacy of early retirement continued, he wanted to make sure he could leave them a piece of his wisdom. When he wrote these letters he never intended them to be published  for the world to see. He only wanted to help his children  navigate through a tough world without him to lean on.  You can defiantly tell who his audience is when reading his words.  Wow, what a man and a dear, dear friend.

He has a book deal brewing but has consented to write or let me have a couple that may or may not be included in the deal.  Since he is working with a publisher, I am only going to blog a couple of stories on my Monday post.  This book takes his children on a journey through issue they may have with working with people, his own childhood memories, the  love he has cultivated for his family and friends, and he sometimes bring us uncontrollable laughter during these lessons of wisdom.  Whatever he brings to the table it is with a sometimes humorous and always in a loving manner.

I hope you enjoy reading “Letters to my Children” by Tony Oliver

This is Tony and his grandson.

I am merely a guest there

In the second Jurassic Park movie, one of the scientists came to the conclusion that they had accidentally expanded the perceived territory of the T-Rex, and as a result, it would now feel the need to defend its new territory.

That was bad news for them, but it is good news for us, because it explains an age-old problem we have as couples…our perceived territories and our need to defend them.

Your mom never tires of being amazed when I expect to be noticed for helping around the house.  For thirty years now she has thanklessly, endlessly and pretty much anonymously done everything required to keep the household running.  As a result, she looks at me like I just grew a third eye when I want a pat on the back for washing a load of jeans.

For years we wondered why it mattered so much to me that she knows I am contributing.  I whole-heartedly dispute that it is evidence of brain damage, and thankfully the dinosaur illustration in the movie really made it easier to explain.  We each have our perceived domains, and we do not compete for who is in control in those specific areas.

I think most guys perceive that most of the house is “her” domain because she wants control over what happens in the house.  If you don’t believe me, let a guy bring something from “his shop” and leave it somewhere in “her house”.  Whether it is a chainsaw, or a welder, or whatever; it will be treated as an invader…something that does not belong.  The drilling questions, the sarcasm and chilly responses will not end until the invader is removed and returned to “his” domain.

I think that in most homes, men are little more than a guest.  As a result, we don’t feel responsible for its day-to-day operations.  Think about it.  If I showed up with a new couch for the living room without including your mom on the decision, she would be miffed.  When, out of the blue, she shows up with a new entertainment center, I am expected to be thankful and appreciative.  Her domain.  If I walked in to where she is doing laundry and told her she is not using the correct soap, she would look at me like I just climbed off a space ship.  Her domain.

If I were to decide to take apart something greasy, and do so right in the middle of the living room floor… Her domain.  In my shop, I can take something apart and leave it there until I decide to move it.  She could care less.  That is my domain.  The living room is not. Any room in which she is perfectly comfortable haranguing me for making a mess is not my domain.  I am merely a guest there.

If I don’t load the dishwasher correctly?  Her domain. If I don’t dry the clothes on the correct setting?  Her domain.  If I have the wrong pan for cooking something? You get the idea.

It is further illustrated by putting the shoe on the other foot.  Imagine that she went out into the wood shop when I wasn’t around (my domain) and swept the floor and emptied all the trash.  Now, do you think she wouldn’t be expecting me to at least notice and to thank her?  I have news for you, if she cleaned my shop and I failed to notice and to thank her profusely, it would never happen again.  The reality is that she would be just like me when I do occasionally make the bed.  She would expect me to notice and to express my appreciation that she went above and beyond her responsibility and did something for me in my domain.

It also explains another conundrum.

She has wondered out loud for years how I could walk by a full trashcan and not notice that it needs to be emptied.  Yeah, yeah…again with the brain damage.  If she points it out to me, I am happy to deal with it.  But unless she says something, I don’t even notice.  Not my domain.

In my defense, imagine going to a bathroom at a sports venue and after you wash your hands you go to discard the paper towels, but the trashcan is overflowing. Do you think, “hmm…somebody needs to empty that!” or do you think, “hmmm… I should empty that!”

Of course you don’t think you personally need to empty that, because this isn’t your domain.  You are simply a visitor there.  You don’t control anything.  You have no say in how things are handled.  You feel no responsibility for how well things are done.

That is exactly how I feel in your mom’s domain.  I don’t purposely shun emptying the trash, it simply doesn’t occur to me because it is not in my domain, and therefore not on my radar.  I am a visitor in the kitchen.  I have no control and feel no responsibility.  Ask for my help and I am happy to help, but you have to ask; it is not natural for me to notice things outside of my area of responsibility.

If we were to agree that the kitchen trash becomes my domain, then that is different.  Let me take ownership of it, and it will be on my radar.  But, if it is my domain, I will have to be free to do it how and when I want.  I might even want to buy a different trashcan.  My domain.  Or switch to a different kind of trash bag.  My domain.   I might want to take it out when it is only ¾ full…or maybe my style will be to overfill it and smash everything down until it is difficult to empty…but if I am not free to do it my way, then it still isn’t my domain and I won’t own it.  I won’t feel responsible.

A friend once told me of the strange way that her husband washed the dishes.  He would fill the whole sink with soapy water and wash everything.  Then, with the clean dishes still in the sink, he would drain the soapy water and refill it with clean water.  He would do that several times until the rinse water was clear.  I had to admit; I had never heard of dishes being done that way.

She stated that when they were newlywed, her mother warned her to not say a word.  My friend’s mom very wisely explained that he should be left alone to do the dishes as he pleased, lest she end up washing the dishes herself.  30 years had gone by he was still washing the dishes every day.  He does it his own way. He owns it.  It is a credit to her and her mother for being wise enough to understand how this worked and letting it play out.  She gladly let him have dominion over the dirty dishes.  He was the boss, he did it his way, and he owned it.

Upon hearing this one of her co-workers blurted out “That is stupid.  If he were my husband I’d tell him how it should be done.”  We asked her, though, and sure enough, her husband never washed the dishes.  She would never relinquish control and he was happy to let her keep it.  I’m betting he never helped with the laundry or making the bed either…just a hunch.

Once you understand the concept of perceived domains, you and your spouse can use it to your advantage instead of endlessly ridiculing or resenting each other when things don’t go as expected.

It doesn’t mean that you won’t still have issues…there will be some tasks that neither of you want to own.   There will be other areas where you both want dominion and you will have conflicts over control.  You will have to be mature enough to work through those issues, but for all of the other areas, especially as they relate to doing things around the house, if you will recognize the concept of letting each have their own domain, it will be easier to cooperate and not leave one or the other with an unfair share of the load.

Then, maybe – just maybe – she will quit implying that you rode the “short bus” to school every time you feel inclined to leave the vacuum cleaner out…just so that she’ll notice that you’ve vacuumed.

Next Monday

Yeah Right!  Opposites fight!

p.s. I look forward to seeing your comments on this post, as with all my post.  However, this one is dear to my heart and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.  As I stated earlier, Tony does not have a blog so I have asked him to reply to any comments on this post.

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47 thoughts on “Letters to My Children

  1. My husband has the trash domain, but he still doesn’t see it when it’s towering with garbage. And now I understand why he leaves the vacuum cleaner out on the rare occasion that he vacuums. Forget about the Venus/Mars gender explanation…Tony Oliver has it nailed.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Tony. It’s amazing that the sexes can create long term relationships, isn’t it? I’ve been very fortunate to have had two husbands who love to cook. And Now Husband actually cleans up after himself, as well. He refers to the kitches as “his,” and I told him he’s welcome to it.

    • You are lucky indeed! From time to time I have tried assuming temporary authority over the kitchen but every time I found myself deferring to the real expert…and my reign in the kitchen never makes it through a whole meal.

  3. I am single, responsible for all in my “domain”. You can bet your rear-end I’d love to have someone take over parts of the domain, but at this stage in my life, I think I would still be miffed if it wasn’t done my way. LOL

    What a great letter! I am glad to hear they will be published, I think that is fantastic! He sounds like a great dad too.

  4. OH MY! Blinded by the light…

    Tony, thank you so much for this valuable insight. We are moving out of our house of 18 years and this is going to be very helpful. I will not give advice on how to pack up the garage lest it become my domain. *shutter*

  5. Tony, you are very observant. What great advice. But some domains are harder to give up then others. I love it when my hubbie helps with the laundry, but I don’t like it when some of my stuff goes in the dryer. : (

    But still, after watching my mom criticize my dad whenever he stepped into her domain, I observed my mother ended up doing everything herself, so I know what you say is true.

    Good luck with the book. It sounds like a good one!

    Thanks, Birdie, for sharing with us.

    • “Thank you” Lynne. The jeans and my work clothes are my domain. On occasion I will do white clothes or towels, but everything else is off limits to me…and I’m good with that! :o)

  6. I wonder how a “Husband” label or “Kid 1, 2, and 3” labels would work on things. It might help them remember which things were their domains. Actually it might help me remember too. I think that is half the problem, I assign domains and then take them over later to do them the “right” way. 😉

  7. How wonderful! I hope the book is a best seller and, more importantly, inspires others to do the same. I still have all the letters my husband wrote to me before he died, even from when we were both kids.

    About domains: I think there’s a lot to be said for being dirt poor and sharing a very small space, at least in the beginning. My husband was always building something or modifying something and had stuff spread out all over the floor, right where a little blind girl would be most likely to step on it. I ended up getting just as interested in it as he was, and it was a lot easier to convince him to help me clean up if I helped him make the mess!

    • Thank you! Sounds like you had a precious relationship! My wife and I can identify. We were teenage sweethearts and married very young. We raised each other, and did so on an extremely modest budget…so I can relate. Thanks for your interest in my writing.

  8. Congrats to a dear man. I hope that book is published soon. My husband retired very early and when I decide to clean house, which isn’t terribly often, he “helps”. He vacuums. The middle. He does not know there is a behind or under. I know in my heart of hearts that if I mention those locations, he will never again shove that vacuum. So, I’m grateful for a tidy middle. Sometimes I get after the under and behind but only long after he has finished his vacuuming. I do love that man.

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