We buried my Dad yesterday. 91 years old, one of thirteen children that included five boys who each pastored churches in five different denominations — one of them my father. There was not a big crowd at the funeral home or the cemetery, primarily because he is the second to last of those thirteen to die.
He lived the last 45 or so years of his life in a small town on the Texas gulfcoast. His wife (not my mother) died of cancer three years ago. Dad adopted her son at age five. My older brother (who was gone and in the Navy when the divorce happened) and I were both left out of the family loop when he left in 1969. That pretty much turned into his divorce from me, too. We never had much to say to each other after that. I tried for years to push that door of relationship open. But even though he talked to me, he never unlocked the door.
I made a pact then: I would use what happened in our family — specifically what happened between him and me — as my life road map. I resolved with God that I would learn from the mistakes I lived through and live my life as a husband and father 180 degrees from his path. From the beginning I resolved that no matter what, divorce would never be an option for me. Whatever came after marriage would be resolved without divorce.
There is no absolute regarding staying together in marriage. I understand that. There are horrible situations for which divorce is the only real option. But I firmly believe that in most cases, divorce can be avoided. How? I think almost all couples today enter their marriages keeping divorce as an option, “if” it doesn’t work out. That mindset is responsible for far more divorces than we probably know.
Think about it: a young man and a young woman fall in love, date, get engaged, and then get married. Of course at that point few couples contemplate the “what if” — what if it doesn’t work out? And when it happens, because they have allowed the alternative to “working things out” remain in their hearts and minds, they often take what they think is the easy way out: divorce.
Those reading this that have been through a divorce know that it is just the beginning of problems. In trying to avoid controversy by not considering the “what if” and discussing the “what if” with their partner before entering that marriage, and further keeping divorce as an option all along, they allow the easiest escape from the problems to takeover, and divorce. The problem is, divorce is seldom really the easy way out.
I’m 63, almost 64. I was sixteen when my parents divorced. It hurts me to this day. I fight anger about it every day. I fight the guilt every day that I may have been at least partially at fault for their failed marriage. After all, I had serious medical issues that negatively impacted our family for five or so years before they split. And when they divorced, I felt relief because the horrible fighting stopped immediately when Dad left, and the tension level at home went to zero. I did not know what was ahead.
Through the years I have miraculously found ways to deal with the pain and anger. Several years ago it was revealed to me that I had unfairly held tremendous anger for him that turned partially to disdain and even to hatred. I was convicted for my anger. I called and asked him to forgive me for my un-forgiveness and anger towards him. It blew him away. But it felt like a thousand pound weight was removed from my chest. And then I realized: everything I was dealing with for all those years was about relationship.
Relationship takes at least two to exist and function. And like anything in life that cannot act alone, when one of the parts that are critical to functioning fails, it not only causes the other parts that depend on it for function to fail, it destroys the system in which all those parts exist and function. And one part cannot make the whole entity work. It takes all those parts working together. The same is true for relationships.
In my marriage and as the father of three children and grandfather to six, I determined I would turn what happened in my family around in exactly the opposite direction. I have not been perfect in my function as a husband and father. I have made many mistakes as have my wife, my children, and grandchildren. But in each failure because I have determined no failure would be allowed to destroy the function, (and my wife, children, and grandchildren feel the same) we have not given in to take the easy way out — we fix what is broken together, and move forward together.
Fortunately my Dad learned that after leaving in 1969. He moved to south Texas, fell in love and married, adopted a son, and lived until last Friday pouring his life (full of previous mistakes and subsequent knowledge) into family #2. And things turned out much better for him in the second half than the first half.
The moral of this story: “it ain’t over until it’s over.” Losing an argument, a disagreement, or a battle doesn’t make one a loser. Quitting makes one a loser. And in relationships, remember it always takes at least two. So quitting means at least two end up losing.
I’ve adopted this principle and put in practice in not only my family, but in my business. I started my company 25 years ago. When we grew and needed a formal Employee manual, I demanded to write one part and let the lawyers write the rest. That part I wrote? “Dispute Resolution.” It has always been mandatory that if any two employees find themselves in dispute, the responsibility for resolution rests on both. They MUST one-on-one (behind closed doors) discuss the dispute and make an effort to find a solution. If that fails they are to bring an immediate supervisor in to work for resolution with them. If that fails, it comes to Management. In 25 years and probably a total of several thousand employees, only twice can I recall this process did not work. (the divorce in those cases was termination)
Let’s face it: our lives are comprised by people who happen to chiefly be our friends and family members. Aren’t those two environments the perfect place to model dispute resolution? And doesn’t it make good sense to do our best to work through and resolve disputes while preserving all the time, effort, and energy we have invested in those relationships?
“Anything Worth Having is Worth Hurting For.” That’s the title of a song my brother wrote. And it’s so true. When it comes to relationships of all kinds, I echo Jim Valvano from his famous speech when he said, “Don’t give up. Don’t you ever give up.” If a relationship is important enough for us to get into, it’s important enough to fight for.