Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Frugality, sharing food and fatherhood

My wife Jackie is frugal and she likes to share food.

Last Christmas as we made our way out East to visit her family we stopped in Amish country to get some grub. It was as if Jackie was inspired by the bearded and buggy-whipped Puritans. I was amazed as we stood in line at the local Wendy's and watched her calculate utility costs. She automatically determined the value equation of a fast-food super-sized soft-drink convincing me that one extra-large Diet Coke shared would be worth more than two large drinks or a medium-sized soft-drink and a large soft-drink; or an extra-large soft-drink and any other sized soft-drink; or two small soft drinks (please feel free to fill in the potential combinations yourself). And since neither of us drink soft-drinks all that often we should be able to overlook the cost to our enjoyment the lack of variety a shared Extra-Large brings.

I balked at her logic but felt silly arguing for my own soda-pop while surrounded by families wearing sack-cloth, head-scarves and sincere Quaker piety. I surrendered and to my surprise wasn't hindered by swapping a straw over burgers. Plus sharing an extra-large limited our soda-pop intake therefore eliminating too many pee-stops during the last leg of our car trip. Jackie informed me that maximizing our hydration while minimizing bladder discomfort was one of the factors she considered when suggesting the shared extra-large.

She's not frugal because she's cheap or because she enjoys calculating the derivative benefits of marginal cost curves. She enjoys sharing because to do so can amplify a simple pleasure and make it an event.

When reading the above back to Jackie she said that she, "sounds like a crazy person." And to some extent she is. She employs reason in a world of self-gratification not to simply gratify herself but to extend her boundaries to include others.

On our first date at a local breakfast place here in Chicago Jackie suggested that I order the "Bliss Cakes" and she would order the egg special. This would ensure that we could enjoy a breakfast made up of both sweet and savory flavors. We wouldn't get bored.

Her desire to share is an odd behavior to me because I come from a family of six that occupied a three bedroom bungalow in a Detroit working class neighborhood. We were a surly group chilled by the long shadow of Irish alcoholic resentment. My brother used to bite himself on the arm and go running to my Mom blaming me for the abuse so that he could win her favor and gain some modest (albeit undeserved) affection. She'd give him a treat while I received punishment. I wonder still if his self-mutilation was designed for his pleasure or my pain. I'm still not sure which one he valued more.

Jackie's free-handed generosity and the practical joy it brings was felt with full effect during a recent lay-off I experienced. She responded to my shame and depression with a willingness to organize our finances and reassured me that home-cooked meals and Netflix movie nights would be luxuries that would warm her heart. She never once denied me my fears or guilt or anxieties and she shared my confusion and hurt. Her frugal nature mined the now-shrunken assets we had and made me mindful of the value found in living life with gratitude and integrity. And when my depression seemed critical she shared with me her love and hope to help me understand I can escape the long-shadow of my disappointing child-hood and find new life in sharing prayers and feelings.

A good friend of mine once asked me after my first marriage crumbled if I would want to be married again. I said to him that I wasn't sure. The freedom of not having to deal with another's selfishness was a tempting and enjoyable pleasure. I secretly felt the tug of my broken home and thought to myself, "marriage is a trap." My friend seemed confused and asked if I wanted to be a father. I said to him that being a father demands that I find someone I can share life with. He agreed but didn't understand that my response wasn't so much a pre-requisite but a cynical riddle I posited as proof that marriage wasn't possible. I thought then that a life shared is not a reality because the sacrifices it demands would interfere with one's expectations and therefore become complicated and competitive. Eventually a relationship would always tend towards my brother's principle of self-harm to gain short term pleasure.

All this was before Jackie. I fell in love with her because I watched how she continually made space for the hurting and harmed. Her willingness to speak truth into people's self-deception with a kindness that demanded nothing was a wonder I delighted and delight in. She is a believer in Jesus Christ but unlike the many Christians I know who seek the justice of a vengeful theology, she embodies the Savior as He drew circles in the dirt and challenged the theology of the self-righteous by positing, "whoever is without sin, cast the first stone."

I still live in the long-shadow of a child-hood remembered for scarcity and pain but recently have come to trust the value found in frugality and sharing food. Jackie and I are talking about starting a family. This is something I never would have considered two years ago but fatherhood seems possible knowing that I have escaped the riddle of my own cynicism and found someone I truly can share life with.


liana said...

Damn good writing,and sharing,and FEELING. Love you ol'friend.


Icarus Falls said...

WOW...thanks for sharing Chuck

dutcherdvm said...

Wow. Just...wow. It has been so long since the days at MSU. I had to look at your photos to make sure I had the right Chuck O'Connor. After reading this I am overwhelmed with happiness for you. It is clear to me that back when we were friends I had really only scratched the surface of who you really were behind your cynical, self-deprecating style. But believe me when I tell you that I always knew there was something more underneath. You and Jackie are truly blessed and I couldn't be more excited for you both, especially as you venture toward parenthood. Chuck as a dad...sounds pretty dang cool to me.