Tag Archives: marriage

The Hidden Side of the Hero: Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain, Military Marriage

fannychamberlain1

Fannie and Joshua Chamberlain (Dale Gallon) 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The past few days I have posted articles from my still untitled text on the Battle of Gettysburg dealing with the lives of three of the men who were immortalized during the battle of Little Round Top. Today is A follow up to those articles dealing with an American icon with feet of clay. The impact of war on those who go to war and the loved ones that they return to is often incredibly difficult, I know from experience. I am lucky, first I survived war, then I at least until now have survived its aftermath, finally, I have a wife who survived it with me and in spite of all the trauma our marriage not only survived but has become better. I hope that you appreciate this account of the post-war life of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day.

After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither Joshua nor Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend.  The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.”  [1]

When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter” [2] and who had returned home, but it was not to be. Army life had given him a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his professors. A prediction that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” [3] Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience. [4] In his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:

“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” [5]

In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:

“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” [6]

Chamberlain set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. However, the marriage continued to suffer and Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.” [7]  Eventually Chamberlain returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. [8]

He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike, but he returned with bitterness towards some in the Union who he did not believe cared for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than:

Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism- those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” [9]

Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory and be with his former comrades was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.” [10] The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.

These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war, suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.” [11] Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [12] Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.” [13] His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” [14]

By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie threatened him with divorce and was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as Fannie’s:

“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” [15]

The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” [16]

His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” [17]This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.” [18] The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.” [19] Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt her over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.” [20] The anguished widower wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.” [21] He was alone.

Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.

Sadly, the story of the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war and struggles to readjust to civilian life. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of soldiers as well as their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.

The Battle for Little Round Top which is so legendary in our collective history and myth was in the end something more than a decisive engagement in a decisive battle. It was something greater and larger than that, it is the terribly heart wrenching story of ordinary, yet heroic men like Vincent, Chamberlain and O’Rorke and their families who on that day were changed forever. As Chamberlain, ever the romantic, spoke about that day when dedicating the Maine Monument in 1888; about the men who fought that day and what they accomplished:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [22]

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.282

[2] Ibid. Smith Fanny and Joshua p.182

[3] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180

[4] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260

[5] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua pp.178-179

[6] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.181

[7] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.

[8] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.245

[9] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180 It is interesting to note that Chamberlain’s commentary is directed at Northerners who were even just a few years after the war were glorifying Confederate leader’s exploits. Chamberlain instead directs the attention of his audience, and those covering the speech to the atrocities committed at the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864 and to the hellish conditions at the Andersonville and Belle Isle prisoner of war camps run by the Confederacy.

[10] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.203

[11] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.289

[12] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.259

[13] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.288

[14] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.285

[15] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.268

[16] Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

[17] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.227

[18] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.297

[19] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.290

[20] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.290

[21] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond PPP.342-343

[22] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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The Immigrant Hero: Colonel Paddy O’Rorke at Little Round Top

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The Irish Regular: Paddy O’Rorke

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another of my articles from one of my yet to be published books on the Battle of Gettysburg.

To Vincent’s right another hero emerged, Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke; the young 27 year old Colonel of the 140th New York. O’Rorke was born in County Cavan, Ireland in 1836. His family immigrated to the United States, settling in Rochester, New York during the great wave of Irish immigration between 1838 and 1844. There the young O’Rorke worked hard to overcome the societal prejudices against Irish Catholics. After he completed his secondary education, he worked as a marble cutter before obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1857.  He was the only foreign born member of his class at the academy from which he graduated first in his class in 1861. “Aggressive and bold, there was also something that implied gentility and tenderness…Beneath the mettle of a young professional soldier was a romantic heart that could croon a ballad before wielding the sword.” [1] O’Rorke married his childhood, schoolmate, fellow parishioner and childhood sweetheart, Clarissa Wadsworth Bishop, in the summer of 1862 and shortly thereafter accepted a commission as colonel of the 140th New York Infantry.

At Gettysburg, O’Rorke was with Weed’s brigade when Gouverneur Warren found him as he attempted to get any available troops to the summit of Little Round Top. When Warren found O’Rorke, who had been one of his students at West Point, he ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [2] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him, Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [3]O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following behind them.

The 140th New York’s entrance onto the summit of Little Round Top must have been dramatic. Dressed in new Zouave uniforms that they had been issued in early June “the men were “jaunty but tattered” in baggy blue trousers, red jackets, and fezzes.” [4] O’Rorke’s New Yorkers entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan, which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand. O’Rorke did not even take time to form his men for battle but drew his sword and yelled, “Down this way boys!” [5] His troops responded magnificently slamming into the surprised Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [6]

O’Rorke’s troops smashed into the surging Rebel ranks, stopping the Confederate assault in its tracks and taking over two-hundred prisoners. As O’Rorke “valiantly led his men into battle, surging down the hill toward the shelf of rock so recently vacated by the right wing of the 16th Michigan, he paused for a moment to cheer his men on and wave them forward. When he did, he was struck in the neck by an enemy bullet….O’Rorke, killed instantly slumped to the ground.” [7]But his regiment “had the initiative now. More and more men piled into a sloppy line, firing as fast as they could reload. Their dramatic appearance breathed renewed life into the other Union regiments on the hill, which now picked up their firing rates.” [8] The gallant young Irish colonel was dead, but he and his regiment had saved Vincent’s right flank. The regiment had suffered fearfully, “with 183 men killed or wounded, but they had managed to throw back the Texans. The adjutant of the 140th estimated that they came within sixty seconds of losing the top of the hill.” [9] O’Rorke’s soldiers were enraged by the death of their beloved colonel and picked out the Confederate who had killed him. One of the soldiers wrote “that was Johnny’s last shot, for a number of Companies A and G fired instantly.” It was said that this particular Johnny was hit, by actual count, seventeen times.” [10]Now led by company commanders the 140th stayed in the fight and solidified and extended the Federal line in conjunction with the rest of Weed’s brigade to their right.

The actions of Chamberlain’s, Vincent’s, and O’Rorke’s soldiers shattered Hood’s division. “Casualties among the Alabamians, Texans, and Georgians approached or exceeded 2,000. In the Texas Brigade commander Robertson had been wounded, three regimental commanders had fallen killed or wounded, and nearly all of the field officers lay on the ground.” [11]

The badly wounded Strong Vincent was taken to a field hospital at the Weikert farm where he lingered for five days before succumbing to his wounds. In the yard lay the body of Paddy O’Rorke whose regiment had saved his brigade’s right flank. Vincent knew that he was dying and he requested that a message be sent to Elizabeth for her to come to Gettysburg. It did not reach her in time. Though he suffered severe pain he bravely tried not to show it. Eventually he became so weak that he could no longer speak. “On July 7, a telegram from President Lincoln, commissioning Vincent a brigadier general, was read to him, but he could not acknowledge whether he understood that the president had promoted him for bravery in the line of duty.” [12] He died later that day and his body was transported home to Erie for burial. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice, who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death, memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that he lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country. “[13]

Rice would be killed during the Battle of the Wilderness just ten months later. Vincent’s wife Elizabeth never married again and was taken in by the Vincent family. Vincent’s younger brother became an Episcopal Priest and Bishop and later provided a home for her. She became a tireless worker in the church working with charitable work for young women and children. This led to an interest in sacred art and she wrote two books: Mary, the Mother of Jesus and The Madonna in Legend and in Art. She also translated Delitzch’s Behold the Man and A Day in Capernaum from the German. [14]Elizabeth Vincent passed away in April 1914 and was buried beside her husband and daughter.

After the battle, as the army looked to replace the casualties in the ranks of senior leadership and “when Colonel Rice, in charge of 3rd Brigade after Vincent fell, was promoted to brigadier general and given another command” the new division commander Major General Charles Griffin, “insisted on having Chamberlain, for the 3rd Brigade.” [15]

Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, once during the siege of Petersburg the wound was so severe that his survival was in doubt and General Ulysses S. Grant promoted him on the spot. It was the only promotion that Grant gave on the field of battle. Grant wrote:

“He had been several times recommended for a brigadier-generalcy for gallant and meritorious conduct. On this occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot, and forwarded a copy of my order to the War Department, asking that my act might be confirmed without any delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious officer received partial justice at the hands of his government, which he had served so faithfully and so well.” [16]

He recovered from the wound, and was promoted to Major General commanding a division and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of John Gordon’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. When he did he ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. It was an act that helped spur a spirit of reconciliation in many of his former Confederate opponents.

To be continued…

Notes 

[1] LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 pp.61-62

[2] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[3] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[4] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[5] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[6] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[7] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.154

[8] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[9] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[10] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.294

[11] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.260

[12] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.207

[13] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.86

[14] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious pp.87-88

[15] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.115

[16] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion pp.134-135

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Celebrating 35 Years of Marriage to the Kindest, Sweetest, Prettiest Person I’ve Ever Met In My Life…

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty-five years ago today I married the love of my life and despite many stupid and thoughtless actions we are still married and probably happier than we have ever been. We have been spending the weekend with dear friends and the combined 12 Papillon dogs we have. It has been very nice, relaxing and fun.

It has also been a time for me to recharge my batteries because when we return home tomorrow I will have much to do at work as well as at home as we start to repair and renovate our home after the flooding event we experienced. By then we should hopefully have the insurance settlement to allow us to do what we need after the initial contractor provided by the insurance company wanted thousands of dollars more than the estimate they provided to do what we asked. Today we will go to dinner and celebrate at a restaurant that I like in D.C., but I digress…

We got married just six days after I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Three of the men I was commissioned with were in the wedding and I am still in contact with a number of others. We had met almost five years before at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California. I fell in love with her that night.

Our marriage has been a long strange trip, not that there is anything wrong with that. Military life, separations due to deployments and war have been part of our life. Judy has had to endure more than I can imagine to stay with me all these years. She is simply the best. She is creative, talented, kind, resourceful, considerate, and amazingly patient. I have seen her go out of her way to be kind and giving to people just because that’s who she is.

Honestly I fell in love with her the day that we met. When I first asked her on a date a few months later I was so nervous that she thought I was going to ask her to marry me. I loved her and wanted to marry her but I could barely stammer out “would you like to go to a movie?” Thankfully she said yes, otherwise I would have never gotten to the whole marriage thing.

When I think of her I think of what Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, said to Andie McDowell in that movie:

I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you… something happened to me. I never told you but… I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.

I still do. So to the most amazing and talented woman in the world, I love you, even more than I did that night we first met.

So to all,of our friends, and to all thank you for being a part of our lives.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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How to Screw up a Wedding Anniversary

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

There are times that I can be a complete idiot and Sunday was one of them.

On Sunday I posted a short article in praise of my wife Judy for our 34th anniversary. I meant every word of it, but my actions over the course of the week hurt her. It was not physical abuse, but it was as harmful as any physical abuse could have been. It was a combination of not listening, not paying attention, and not thinking about how even little things matter.

I had a football coach who told me that was the little things that mattered. he talked about not making stupid plays or taking stupid penalties, about making blocks and hitting the right hole, holding on to the ball, and tackling well, not trying to be the hero making big plays. Sunday, I blew apart our anniversary by not taking care of the little things.

But another coach taught me something else about the importance of actions and how in reality they speak louder than words.  When I complained about not getting playing time he told me that he “couldn’t hear me.”  So I complained  louder, and he simply said “I can’t hear you.” I got upset and raised my voice and he looked up and said “your actions on the practice field speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.” I thought I had learned that lesson a long time ago, obviously I didn’t, for on Sunday my actions, though unintentional, were deafening and very hurtful to Judy.

If you are a good husband the one thing you must do above all other things is listen, care, and pay attention to your wife. I guess the same is true for wives and how they treat their husbands. These may be considered “little things.” They are not expensive presents, they cost nothing, but they mean more than anything in a relationship. Sadly, there are times that I don’t do them well and last week was one that I wish I could get back. Mind you Judy is not one to complain, she doesn’t hound me about little things, and she gives me a lot of grace.

My lack of attentiveness to her needs over the week frustrated, angered, and hurt her, and that culminated on Sunday just when I thought I was going to get it right; instead I took what should have been an easy win for both of us and screwed it up beyond belief.

What brought things on was that we met a number of friends at our local hang out to celebrate our anniversary. Rather than sitting by her I went and sat with the guy I normally hang out with on Sundays, three seats down from her. Instead of just visiting for a few minutes and then going back to her I stayed next to him. She appeared to be having a nice conversation with another friend so I just didn’t think about how she perceived my action. I was so unobservant that it took a text from her telling me that she was angry and wanted to leave for me to understand what I had done; I had taken her out and then ignored her. As I replayed the events in my mind throughout what turned into a sleepless night they only made me look worse.

I am going to do what I can to get this back and do what is right. I had a drill sergeant tell me “there are attaboys and there are aww shits; and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” This was a big aww shit moment.

When we got home a lot of people were congratulating us on Facebook and Judy was upset. She told me that I should write about how badly I screwed things up and hurt her. I did on it and I am doing it here. One thing about social media it is very easy to sell the positive things about yourself. It’s a great way to market an image true or not. I am beyond needing to craft an image that makes me look like a great husband when the same day I did something shitty to the woman who committed her life to me thirty-four years ago. It hasn’t been easy for her at all, especially because we have been separated for close to 13 of those years, mostly due to my military service. Then there were the years after Iraq where she had to deal with my PTSD shit and emotional ups and downs. Then of course there were the times when I had jobs that while I may have been home I hardly saw her, and lastly there were the many times that I did stupid stuff like I did Sunday.

One thing that I have been learning over the past number of years is to be as transparent and honest as I can be about whom I am and what I believe. This includes being open about something like this. I don’t expect to be admired for it because what I did to Judy was pretty shitty. For me it serves as one more way to let her know that I got the message. Likewise it’s to let people who follow me on this site especially men to do better than I did when it comes to caring for their wives. If admitting my screw up helps allows someone to learn from my dumbassery without doing it themselves then maybe a good seed will be planted.

My inattentiveness and lack of regard for her Sunday was shameful. I know better than this and it would have been so easy to do this one right. But I didn’t. I know that she loves me and that she would do anything for me, and I do love her, but I really screwed this one up bad. I am going to do some things to try to make things better, but the onus is on me to start doing the little things and listening better. She deserves that much from me.

Have a great day and pray for me a dumbass,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The First Time I Met You Something Happened to Me: In Praise of My Wife of 34 Years


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today just a short post to let you know that I am still married to the most amazing woman in the world. Today marks the 34th anniversary of our weddings and we have now known each other for almost 39 years. We got married just six days after I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Three of the men I was commissioned with were in the wedding and I am still in contact with a number of others.

Our marriage has been a long strange trip, not that there is anything wrong with that. Military life, separations due to deployments and war have been part of our life. Judy has had to endure more than I can imagine to stay with me all these years. She is simply the best. She is creative, talented, kind, resourceful, considerate, and amazingly patient. I have seen her go out of her way to be kind and giving to people just because that’s who she is.

Honestly I fell in love with her the day that we met. When I first asked her on a date a few months later I was so nervous that she thought I was going to ask her to marry me. I loved her and wanted to marry her but I could barely stammer out “would you like to go to a movie?” Thankfully she said yes, otherwise I would have never gotten to the whole marriage thing.

When I think of her I think of what Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, said to Andie McDowell in that movie:

I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you… something happened to me. I never told you but… I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.

I still do. So to the most amazing woman in the world, I love you, even more than I did that night we first met.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Valentine’s Day Reflection: “the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life”

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am one of the luckiest men that I know. If you need some God talk, also one of the most blessed people that I know. I do guess that I am blessed, but I just cringe at the way that to be blessed has for so many people become another part of the vocabulary of religious mumbo-jumbo that passes for faith now days. Most of the time that I see it the words “blessed” is used for the ungodly amounts of material stuff that clutters our lives. I actually have plenty of stuff, especially when it comes to the “3 B’s”: Books, Baseball, and Beer.

But while I do consider myself blessed, it’s not for those things; it is for one person who I have had the privilege of spending most of my life with, my wife Judy.

Since I am not a fan of Calvinism with its often absurd views of God’s Providence, I consider myself lucky to even know her, much less to have known her for almost 39 years and having spent 33 of those years married, without her either divorcing or murdering me in my sleep, either of which probably would have been ruled justified in the court system at any number of points in our marriage.

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1980 

I met her my first year at San Joaquin Delta College, in Stockton, California. We went to rival high schools and she was a year ahead of me. When I met her I feel in love. I think it took her longer to fall in love with me, but honestly, for me it was love at first sight and I’ve never looked back.

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Judy has stood by me through almost 36 years in the military and most of those were not easy. I did a quick count and we have spent over 13 years apart due to my work, and that doesn’t count all the times where we were together when I was in the reserves and working in civilian hospitals where the hours that I worked were so odd that I seldom saw her for 3 years, nor four years of seminary where I was a full time student and worked more than full time, nor when I was home working on yet another master’s degree, and let’s not even mention the time that I spend researching and writing my books.

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Then there has been my ongoing battle with the effects of PTSD and mild TBI. Thankfully I am doing a lot better, but from 2008 until 2014 I was pretty unbearable.

Likewise, I am an introvert who can become so focused on what I’m doing that I ignore her. I have done that all too often throughout our marriage. But, that being said, over the past couple of years since I came back from three years of a geographic bachelor tour while serving at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, we have reconnected. I think that part of that was caused when she was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer last year. She got through it, and so far remains cancer free, but it hit me hard because it brought me to the realization that I could lose her, and that I want the rest of our life together to be better than it ever was. She is my best friend, she knows me better than anyone, and I tell her things that I can tell no one else. I love coming home to her.

She is a remarkable woman. On Groundhog Day I watched, as is my custom, the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. It is one of my favorites. But when I watched it this time I was struck by something that Murray’s character tells her, because it pretty much sums up the way that I feel about Judy.

I think you’re the kindest, sweetest, prettiest person I’ve ever met in my life. I’ve never seen anyone that’s nicer to people than you are. The first time I saw you… something happened to me. I never told you but… I knew that I wanted to hold you as hard as I could. I don’t deserve someone like you. But if I ever could, I swear I would love you for the rest of my life.

She is all that, and more. I am so lucky to have her in my life and cannot imagine life without her. We never had kids, but we have each other, our dogs, and some really good friends.

In 1979, the year we started dating the group Dr. Hook released a single called Years from Now. When I first heard it back then on American Top Forty and bought the 45 at Tower Records in Stockton, I knew it summed up how I would always feel about her.

So please, have a great Valentine’s Day with whoever you love.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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33 Years of Marriage: Finding that One Special Person You Want to Annoy the Rest of Your Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Mark Twain, a wise man if there ever was such, wrote “After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.” Truthfully I think that he was absolutely correct.

Yesterday, Judy and I celebrated our thirty-third wedding anniversary with many friends at our local version of the Cheers bar, the Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant in Virginia Beach. It was a wonderful time and I cannot have imagined a better way to spend it than with the people who came out, as well as those who wanted to but were unable to attend.


But it really is hard to imagine that we have been married thirty-three years, and that we have known each other for close to thirty-eight years. It is really amazing to think that this has been the case, I for one never really expected to fall in love but I did, in spite of my less than idealistic realism and the fact that I can be such a pain in the ass, as Judy can well attest. I think that the comedienne, Rita Rudner said it quite well, “I love being married. It’s so great to find that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of you life,”  or as I like to put it, live to love, love to annoy. Truthfully, I am surprised at times that Judy has not found reason to kill me off, in fact there are a number of times that I am sure that any jury would have ruled my murder justifiable homicide, but I digress…

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The fact is that in our thirty-three years of marriage we have weathered some incredibly difficult times that many good people in loving marriages do not survive. Marriage is a difficult thing, yes it is about love, but even more than that it it about friendship, and a commitment to make things work. Marriage is a bit like politics and diplomacy, it involves compromise and commitment in order to ensure that war does not break out. Love is certainly a part, and forgiveness, an absolute necessity, but it really does come down to friendship. As Mark Twain noted, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.” It took us nearly a third of a century, but in spite of all, I think that we have found it.

Have a great day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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