Parenting, Marriage, and Wonka's Lie

RL_WONKA.png

 - Andy & Marcy Soper

I once heard Dan Allender, founder of the Seattle School for Counseling and Theology, say that there were times he believed he would have gotten a divorce except he didn’t want to have to pay a lawyer. 

Smart guy.

Marcy and I have been married for just under 12 years, though we’ve known each other since we were too young to ride in the front seat. There are few – if any – secrets we have from each other. We have four kids, two cars, two mortgages, a dog named Fred and a cat named Mr. Future. We are – like so many others – settled. Since I was just a child, this was all I ever wanted.

Willy Wonka said, ‘Remember what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he ever wanted … he lived happily ever after.’

Then again, Willy Wonka did a lot of LSD.

Now that we’re comfortably acquainted, I can tell you everything I know about marriage and parenting. It will be a bit like telling you that I’ve driven a car for sixteen years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want me to fix yours. 

Early in our marriage, Marcy and I would argue over one central issue (and you’ll have to take my word for this as Marcy may or may not believe this was not the dominant problem)– our marriage was not like the books she’d read growing up. I am not the ‘sweep-you-off-your-feet’ kind of guy and she desperately wanted to be swept. If only I could have been Drake, dashing and romantic, we could have been so happy to be broke and together while she washed our tattered clothing on my washboard abs. Instead, we were just broke and together – a fine place to be when you’re 20-years-old. 

These fights were complicated. Marcy grew up in a no-yelling environment. Evidently, grudges are easier to hold than a sustained angry tone. I, however, was taught that all problems are solved by screaming until you start to laugh (or cry). Screaming not working? Try throwing something breakable … feel better? Of course, you do! 

So, Marcy would hold grudges and I would scream. This went on until Marcy figured something out. Something that would change the course of our marriage – screaming is fun. However, being a newbie to the game, she hadn’t learned that once you scream, you can’t hold a grudge. I hadn’t learned that screaming only gets the energy out, but doesn’t actually solve much. 

The only thing that could fix our dysfunction, of course, was to have children. 

Lots of them. 

In rapid succession. 

Enter Weezie, Frankie, Rocco, and Veda. Each of these babies carries a distinct trait from one of their parents. For example, Louise can melt the paint with her sustained, bemoaned wailing for even the simplest slight. Aww … Daddy’s little girl. Or, take three-year-old Veda’s little gem that she dropped on me the other night when I leaned in to kiss her good night.

‘No smooches, Dad. You put me on too many time outs.’ 

It was as if Marcy had been shrunken down and given tiny, accurate claws capable of pulling my heart out through my chest. 

They grow up so fast.

However quickly the time passes, it passes to the rhythm that Marcy and I have set. While my beat has been described as a series of binges and purges, Marcy works to a metronome that allows her to swing gradually. Fights arrive when we think they will. Respite follows. Months of 100-hour workweeks give way to weeks of contemplation and conversations between Marcy and I. This works less so as a cycle, but more a spiral – winding it’s way forward.

Embedded in the spiral is a commitment. Not a commitment to keep ‘date night’ holy or to never go to bed angry (as I fear I might never sleep), but to a partnership that functions because we desire the bond. It should be made clear that functionality does not connote roboticism. Our family is built on wild expression and stern will. In our world, ‘love’ is not defined by destiny, fate or even biology, but by choice. We will ourselves to each other even when we can’t look in each other’s direction.

I told Marcy recently that I think we could have survived and thrived in an arranged marriage. Twelve years ago, she would have been horrified by that statement. Now, she understands my bumbling compliment as a deep, romantic commentary. My children see this play out. While we don’t openly degrade each other in front of the kids, they see us struggle. They ask questions in the midst of that disagreement. More than that, they see us come back to each other. 

Embrace. 

Apologize. 

Choose each other. 

They experiment with war and compassion, finding their own way to choose each other.

We would love to be able to give you a list of protocol to make it all work. I would be happy to do this, but I don’t believe most of you would take my advice that the soundest parental advice I’ve ever given to my daughters is, ‘Hit him back.’ 

Let me just suggest one idea, then. We’ve found health and struggle in the name God uses with Moses in the wilderness, ‘I am Becoming what I am Becoming.’ Our commitment and looping spiral have a course and purpose. Our commitment is made new in the choosing and the bonds created move us toward something wild and familiar. In moments (or months) of struggle, our ‘becoming’ may be hazy, but clarity and motion comes. 

Soper Fam.jpg

Andy Soper is the Project Coordinator of the Manasseh Project. After earning a Master’s Degree in Popular Culture from Bowling Green State University, he taught at BGSU and Cornerstone University before beginning work with abused and neglected children in both Residential and Community Programs at Wedgwood Christian Services. He currently develops programming to address the commercial sexual exploitation of minors.