Final Thoughts On Same-Sex Marriage, And America

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling has America talking.  It’s one of those events that can’t help but cause people of all persuasions and perspectives to stop and reflect — not so much on the relative merit of the Supreme Court’s opinion as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, but rather on the fascinating, shifting, never-set-in-stone course of public opinion in our country.

In many recent conversations with friends, people have shaken their heads in wonderment at the speed with which people in the country have accepted the concept of same-sex relationships and, ultimately, same-sex marriage.  It’s hard to think of any other issue, during my lifetime, where prevailing public opinion seems to have shifted more rapidly.  Millennials have had a lot to do with this change.  At a recent dinner party, one of our friends was relating a conversation she had with her Millennial son about sexual orientation, and he said:  “Mom, to us it’s like being left-handed.”  I thought that was a really interesting — and encouraging — perspective.

On another level, the issue of same-sex marriage shows that, in America, if you wait long enough and pay attention, you’ll notice that things often come full circle.

Those of us who lived through the ’60s and ’70s remember that the avant garde, liberal position in those days was that marriage was passe.  Some people advocated free love and “open relationships” and argued that true commitment couldn’t really be based on a mere piece of paper, others derided marriage as a quaint throwback to the outdated notions of prior generations that could only stifle personal expression, still others pointed to the increasing divorce statistics and argued that the realities of the modern world meant that old-fashioned marriage simply could not work in the fast-paced modern world.  Of course, those arguments didn’t stop most of us from getting married, anyway.

During the ’60s and ’70s who would have predicted that, decades later, the issue of the right to engage in a legal marriage, in all of its get a license from a public agency, say your vows in front of the world, traditional glory, would be at the very forefront of the social change agenda?

The Call Home

 When I’m on the road for business, there is one unvarying element of my travel routine:  the call home.  I’m like ET that way.  In fact, it’s usually two calls home — one when I get to my hotel room and drop my bags off,  and then another when I’m back in the room for good and ready to turn in for the night.
Why two calls?  The first one is easy to explain.  When I’m traveling, I just want Kish to know where I am.  So, I’ll call and remind her of the name of my hotel and give her my assigned room number.  In the age of cell phones, this is probably pointless — who wants to hassle with a hotel switchboard when you can call somebody directly? — but it still makes me feel good that she knows where I am.

The second call has a deeper, less rational purpose.  Business travel is weird.  You’re alone in an unknown hotel room, with all of its alien sights and sounds.  Hearing the familiar voice of a loved one just makes the strange room feel less strange. 

Curiously, too, the more mundane the conversation, the greater the degree of emotional comfort that is imparted.  I don’t need to be entertained by some abstract discussion about a recent Supreme Court decision or the latest episode of a hot TV show.  Fill my ear with talk about the HVAC systems guy’s comments about what we need to do to our ducts, however, and I’ll be a happy camper.  Those are the conversations that make me feel like we’re at home, talking on the sofa about the events of the day.  It’s exactly the kind of comforting mental image that helps me to slip into slumberland. 

Haus und Garten

Today is the 56th annual German Village Haus und Garten Tour.  Thousands of visitors will be trekking through German Village for the event, which raises money for the preservation and education programs of the German Village Society.  If you haven’t got your tickets yet, you can buy them today for $25.

IMG_5924The headquarters for the event, the German Village Meeting House, is less than a block from our new place.  The street next to the Meeting House is blocked off, lights have been strung up, and tents have been erected for the guests, and last night there was a kick-off event that sent music wafting over our neighborhood.

This will be the first Tour we’ve experienced since we moved to German Village.  Here’s an admittedly selfish thought:  will the Haus und Garten Tour be as personally disruptive as the various New Albany events, like the New Albany Walking Classic, that used to block off our North of Woods neighborhood and complicate our lives at our old house?  I’m hoping we can at least get in our car and drive away if we need to.  If so, we can live with the Tour.

The Value Of Marriage

I’ve long supported same-sex marriage because I think marriage is a great institution.  It has made my life immeasurably better — so why shouldn’t every couple have the opportunity to enjoy its timeless benefits?  I simply don’t understand the objection to couples who want to legally declare and formalize their fidelity to each other.

I was therefore struck by the fact that Justice Kennedy’s majority decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, where the Court held that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to legally marry their partner, extols the value of marriage.  In fact, the opinion concludes with a ringing endorsement of the core, intrinsic value of marriage:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I am thrilled for my same-sex friends, and happy for every couple that will now have the ability to explore and revel in the wonders of a happy marriage.

Solving Family Mysteries, One Keystroke At A Time

It’s a legendary family story.  When Grandma and Grandpa Neal traveled to Ireland in the ’70s, they decided to take a carriage ride.  As the grizzled Irish driver was struggling to help my grandmother — a portly woman — into the carriage, he muttered: “You’re beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer!”

Grandma, who had a wonderful sense of humor, thought it was one of the funniest comments ever — so of course we grandkids did, too.  But the driver’s jibe had an air of mystery and an almost lyrical quality that stuck with me.  A heifer was a cow, or course, but what, precisely, was a Mullingar heifer?

In those days, it would have taken forever to find out.  I suppose I could have gone to the reference section of the library, spoken to a severe-looking woman who probably would have been suspicious of my purported interest in Irish cattle, and with her assistance possibly located a massive book about bovine breeds that was available only in the library of the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine.  It was too much work to satisfy a bit of idle curiosity, obviously, so I didn’t even try.

But then the internet was invented!  (Thanks, Al Gore!)  So when I was thinking with a chuckle of the Irishman’s comment the other day, I entered “Mullingar heifer” into the little box on Google, and lo and behold, I not only found pictures of the mysterious creature, one of which I’ve now posted here, but also learned that “beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer” is a traditional Irish colloquialism typically used in connection with ladies with stout legs.  The latter discovery was a bit of a letdown, because for years I had been giving the Irish driver credit for coming up with a deft, original witticism.

Now that I’ve solved that decades-old mystery, it’s time to find the true origins of Mom’s exhortation to “put a little elbow grease into it!”

Thinking About Dad

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking about Dad.  My guess is that most of the fathers out there will think, at some point today, about the man who played that role in their lives and who provided the personal examples, good and bad, of how to be a Dad.

I say good and bad because there aren’t many perfect Dads outside the black-and-white world of ’50s TV sitcoms.  Dad wasn’t a perfect father, and neither am I.  We all approach the job differently, drawing on our own experiences, aspirations, and fears, and we all make lots of mistakes that we beat ourselves up about.

webnerfamilyphoto3But here is the thing:  the missed baseball game or the seemingly unfair discipline or the harsh comment tend to fall away over time, sent skittering down the memory hole, and the perspective changes forever when you personally tackle the tough, infinitely challenging job of being a Dad.  When you understand how easily parenting blunders can be made, those blunders tend to be forgiven, and a big picture emerges that is a lot more balanced.

My Dad has been gone for many years, and when I think of him now I think mostly of his attitude.  Kish and I often quote, with a chuckle, two of Dad’s favorite sayings — “finding your niche” and “doing your own thing” — that Dad inevitably used, after first clearing his throat with a rumble, when he was told of a child’s decision to follow an unconventional life or career path.  It was a remarkably easygoing attitude for a man who experienced the Great Depression as a child and who was himself highly motivated to achieve traditional financial success, but Dad really meant it. I always appreciated that approach, and I’ve come to appreciate it even more as the years have passed.

There are deeper elements to that attitude, when you think about it.  It is rooted in trust and confidence and understanding:  trust that his kids would eventually find our way to a good and fulfilling life, confidence that he and Mom gave us a sufficient grounding in appropriate behavior that we wouldn’t end up in a biker gang, and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all path to happiness.  It is a liberating attitude, too, for both parent and child.  The parent isn’t frazzled by constant worry about whether their child will measure up to their own definition of personal success, and the child isn’t burdened by the ever-present specter of parental disapproval about this decision, or that.

Thanks, Dad, for that lesson — and Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there.

UJ B-Day

On the east coast, at least, it is my older brother’s birthday. The eternally youthful UJ is 59 today. He was born in 1956, just before Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected. next year he will be 60. 60!

I tried to find a picture of Jim to post with this, but I was unsuccessful. Rather than pictures of UG, my Google search uncovered pictures of a camel,

A camel? Ah, well. Happy 59th, UJ!