Our Semi-Retired Columnist on 40 Years of Marriage, Kids, and the Occasional Mistake

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Our columnist and his wife still have no eye on their son eating cake nearly 30 years later.

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Photo Illustration: Employee; dream time (1)

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My wife is watching old family videos, picking out the best moments for the digital version.

It should be a happy time, and it mostly is. However, I’ve already gotten into trouble for what I blurred out almost three decades ago.

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In one scene, our youngest son is eating a cake with blue icing at a raucous family party, and he’s slathering it all over the furniture. My wife, who was busy shooting for the film, pointed it out to me.

I thought he was a little kid, and when little kids eat they leave the food, and we’ll clean it up later. “therefore?” I replied in front of his entire family.

It was the wrong response then, and it’s still the wrong response. Clarissa got angry again after watching the video. She called over to tell me how angry she was.

“Surely there must be a statute of limitations,” I told him.

Clarissa didn’t say a word. She raised her fist with a fixed finger to make her point, and walked away. Translation: There is no statute of limitations for some crimes, and I committed one of them.

The good news is that the sentence was brief. Clarissa soon forgave my long ago offense.

Being married can feel like watching the same movie over and over. In our case, it’s a movie that I still enjoy watching. But two people cannot occupy the same house for four decades and sometimes annoy each other.

And so the secret of a successful marriage is not without struggles. It is he who rises above struggles, one who finds moments of joy to balance the painful moments, that persist through thick and thin.

Clarissa and I got married in November 1981 in a small church in the mountains above San Diego. We were 24 years old, and we made a total of $22,000 in one year. I was a reporter for a daily newspaper in the California desert. She was the photographer in the same paper.

We didn’t have a plan. Yes, we both wanted to work for the big newspapers one day, and Clarissa hoped to go back to college someday. And we both wanted to have children, but not for many years. We thought we had time to sort things out.

Then Clarissa became pregnant with our first son, and our world shifted on its axis. We were parents after nine months of marriage. A small creature depended on us. While my high school and college friends hadn’t yet settled on a spouse or career, I had a family to support. Soon, there were three children.

It’s been a blur since 40 years. It seems as if only yesterday we left our eldest son in kindergarten. He just turned 39 years old.

It was as if just yesterday our daughter was reading story books to her younger brother in our bed. Now he is a software engineer working on thorny topics like machine learning.

Our lives were too busy to think about all this until recently.

Now, in semi-retirement, I can write a column that considers our time together. And Clarissa sits upstairs, editing videos that capture events from long ago.

And when sometimes, she sees me saying something that irritated her years ago, she gets irritated again.

Part of me finds this unfair. And part of me feels it quite fitting that the ups and downs in a 40-year relationship, the mistakes too, should be remembered.

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