His & Hers: Feeling pressure and love

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Husband-and-wife journalists Bob Miller and Callie Clark Miller use this space to offer their views on everyday issues.

SHE SAID

It's funny how your priorities change when you have children. I recently thought about all sorts of great stuff I'd love to buy with the birthday money my family gave me. It soon dawned on me that none of it was actually for me.

So I set out to a local clothing store, intent on buying a new outfit -- something I haven't indulged in since Dawson was born. Folks at work can attest to how ratty my clothes have become. It's pathetic.

I walked out of the store with a new summer wardrobe -- for Dawson.

He's going to look so cute in it, especially standing next to mommy in her sweats and T-shirt. Bob and I celebrated several milestones this week: our sixth Valentine's Day together, my 27th birthday, the date Bob proposed and our fourth wedding anniversary.

I spent weeks picking out what I was going to wear on that first Valentine's Day together in 2003 (a dinner theater experience that we won't repeat any time soon). This Valentine's Day, I'll probably put on my flannel pajamas at 6 p.m., that is, if I bother getting out of them that morning. But as long as I have my boys, it'll be a great day regardless of what I'm wearing.

HE SAID

"Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a bar of soap and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down to the nub. I used to think it would take 600 years to tunnel under the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than 20. Oh, Andy loved geology. I guess it appealed to his meticulous nature. An ice age here, million years of mountain building there. Geology is the study of pressure and time. That's all it takes really, pressure. And time."

-- The Shawshank Redemption

When I began thinking about this column, the one that coincided with February's Big Four, I began to think of pressure and time.

I won't lie to you. There have been times I've thought of my marriage as a prison, thinking about ways to escape. I joke with Callie all the time that I'm going to hit the road to Mexico. There have been times, I'm sure, that Callie has thought that tunneling into a river of sewage would have been preferable to staying married to me.

But that's not what this column is about, not really.

It's about pressure. And time.

When I met Callie, I was a divorced man and a father, a rather lonely soul. The pressure came from the empty spaces that filled my house when my son wasn't there. I had dated a couple of times, but I was discontent. I pressured myself in the years between my divorce and my second marriage to get into good physical shape and perform my job well, hoping to attract a nice young woman to accept my faults and baggage. Trying to find someone was hard.

Then I met Callie.

She kept considerable distance at first, and we didn't have that romantic movie chemistry. But Callie was, well, cool. I felt a pressure to try to be cool myself. I was a complete idiot. As we started dating, the pressure changed again. After a while, I no longer felt a need to impress her. I felt a self-imposed pressure to make her happy. The fact that I could run a mile in a little over six minutes, lifted weights and played basketball might have impressed her to some small degree, but it didn't make her happy. What made Callie happy was spending time with me.

The days felt like seconds, the months like weeks. We worked through some major issues. Even so, we loved each other's company and we finally married Feb. 11, 2005.

Time started slowing down a bit, and the pressures changed. I no longer felt a pressure to make my wife happy. I felt a pressure to keep her happy. Our deep conversations turned into casual talks that turned into what seemed like only a few words a day.

An ice age here, million years of mountain building there.

I still feel that pressure today, to keep Callie interested in this blubbery heap of a man. One of the best things about our marriage is that Callie won't let me get too complacent. We still have long talks from time to time, assessing where we're at and what we need to do to improve our relationship.

We have more of those talks now that we're parents. Our relationship has taken a back seat as we face the pressures of parenthood.

In years gone by, February's Big Four sent me into a panic. Fancy dinners, overnight outings, sentimental gifts ... what could I do different? There's little pressure like that these days. Now the pressure IS time. Our children demand our time and love. There aren't enough seconds in the day.

In the years upcoming, Callie and I will have different pressures. Stress does not go away with age. Parents will have to be buried, our bones will become brittle. But we will laugh and love. Pressure cannot break that bond.

The years with Callie will be time well spent.

Callie Clark Miller is the flannelled special publications managing editor for the Southeast Missourian. Bob Miller is Southeast Missourian managing editor. He would never make it to Mexico. Reach them at cmiller@semissourian.com and bmiller@semissourian.com.

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