Happy Father’s Day. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my dad or my father-in-law, who are both deceased.
My dad used to say, being a great husband was the hardest job he ever had – and the most rewarding. And being a great father was the second hardest job he ever had – and the second most rewarding.
With age, it is much easier to appreciate and understand the father figures in our life shouldn’t have to be perfect. Being a great father is a hard job.
Of course, I had two father figures I think were close to perfect. Today I’m going to write about John Wagenknecht.
He’s my favorite father-in-law. Of course, I only had one. I was his favorite son- in-law, too. Of course, he only had one son-in-law.
John was a farmer. The son of a farmer. The grandson of a farmer. John’s son Drew, also a farmer, lives in the house his great grandmother was born in. When your father-in-law is from farming folk, you get farmer wisdom.
We were talking about one of the recent Hollywood breakups, where two co-stars of a movie cheated on their spouses by having an affair. They then divorced their spouses, got married, and after a period of years also divorced each other.
John just shook his head. “Well, the grass often looks greener on the other side of the fence – but it has to be mowed too.”
John was a great story teller. You had to listen to the stories to find the nuggets of wisdom. Just once did he give me direct advice. It should have been life-changing advice, but my twenty-something brain decided I didn’t need his counsel.
A few short minutes before the wedding ceremony, my father-in-law put his arm around me and said, “Son, I figure I can call you that since it looks like you’re gonna make it. I have some advice for you.”
It was mid-afternoon in July, 90-degree weather. I was soaked with sweat in my tuxedo. I’m sure it was just the heat and not nerves. What was this man doing giving me advice just before the ceremony started? His arm around me didn’t help with the heat and sweat.
“Son, just say yes.” That was it. He looked at me. hoping I got the life lesson.
“What do you mean?” My brain was already a mess, and what in the heck was he trying to impart?
“If your wife says, do I look good in this dress, you say yes. If she says, would you like to have Italian tonight, you say yes.
“And, that’s all the advice about being married I’m ever going to give you.”
True to his word, he never gave any other direct advice, never criticized me in how I acted with his only daughter. Always remained my favorite father-in-law.
After a decade of being married, I said to him, “Remember giving me advice right before the marriage ceremony – just say yes?” He nodded.
“I think after ten years I finally understand. You meant that there are a thousand decisions my wife cares passionately about and which I might care about, but not as passionately as my wife. Just say yes.
“If I save the disagreements for the handful of decisions that I passionately care about, then our life and our marriage will be a lot happier.”
He smiled broadly and nodded. Finally, after ten years the simple lesson had sunk in. His favorite son-in-law had figured out the grass needs to be mowed, too, and just appreciated the helpful advice on exactly how.
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