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A Father's Journal > Columns > A Father's Journal Index

Marriage Part 2: Hope Over Experience
by Forrest Seymour

On remarriage:
"It was the triumph of hope over experience." ~Samuel Johnson, 1770

"Women try their luck; men risk theirs." ~Oscar Wilde, 1891

There were two national events late in this long summer which threaten the smooth implementation of our wedding; the Northwest Airline's pilots' strike, and President Clinton's personal and political travails. As it turned out, the pilots' strike, which would close down its hub airport in Minneapolis, the home to much of my family, would hold off until after our important event. The Clinton and Starr Show, however, was not so thoughtful.

Just days before our wedding, as we sewed flowers on dresses and giggled over the immensity of our undertaking, Clinton went on TV and gave his now infamous four minute first apology. These days we only get PBS TV in our house; it's the only station that makes in through the airwaves into our hinterland, so I usually miss the video on these major media events. But this time they carried it.

I liked this speech, his brief contriteness, and underlying anger. I'd be angry, too. And that's the thing. I know I'd be angry because, when I was in a similar situation, I was. I have sympathy for and interest in Clinton's predicament because I'm an adulterer, too. Recovered, of course, but I've been there. Strange times to be reminded of in the days just pre to our nuptials, but, as I said, Clinton's trials imposed themselves on our celebration.

I think a lot of people feel very personal and visceral reactions to the details of Clinton's infidelities because they hit so close to home. A lot of us know a lot about adultery. Even if we haven't personally been in a relationship in which adultery by one party or the other has figured, we have probably known someone who has. Adultery is, after all, very popular: It sells. Look at the content of our drama. From the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to the multiplex, adultery is everywhere. Even if we claim it is immoral, we certainly seem to like to watch, if not do. And then there is the "Lusting in the Heart" factor elucidated by another U.S. President. Some of us, men and women, may be more than just a little jealous of Bill and/or Monica. Come on, be honest . . .

My adultery is old news now. It ended a past marriage, and I made sure to tell Nancy all about it on our first date, a sort of full disclosure warranty. It is not a place I want to go back to, but I am aware of how seductive it can be, especially when one's life has the outer trappings of success. Sometimes the inner stuff doesn't come along with those trappings, and some part of us seeks to sabotage this static imbalance.

Despite the seductiveness of the daily developments in this saga, however, I am proud to say that our wedding was able to rise above the Clinton's woes. In fact I forgot clean about these events as the tidal wave of family and friends began to arrive. We went into this wedding intending to involve as many friends in as many ways as we could, to ask for help, to foster community. I think we only partly understood the significance of what we'd unleashed.

At about 8 pm the night before our wedding, after months of planning, and several days of last minute work, the details began to pile up. Several important tasks were still undone, and a car, full of friends and their kids, had just died twenty miles out of town. Nancy and I sat on our porch, lit by the twinkle of decorative white lights, while friends and family milled about in the aftermath of a barbecue. In our hands were clip-boards full of lists, and the stranded friends on the phone.

I supposed the rising panic in my voice might have been the first thing to tip off those near us that something was amiss. Whatever the mechanism, the Calvary arrived. A neighbor volunteered to collect up the stranded friends. A cousin pulled out his notebook and began to take tasks off our lists. Friends and family lined up for instructions.

It was a monumental task, this wedding; had we known we might have done it otherwise. Now that it is done, I'd have it no other way. We literally could not have done it as we did without the help of a hundred and fifty people. And when those people came together to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and usher us into legal marriage, it was a high higher than any substance I've ever ingested, any thrill I've ever known, any activity, illegal or immoral, I've ever engaged in. Despite the cynicism I brought to this event early on, given the difficult ends to so many marriages I've been in or around, my marriage to Nancy was the peak of my life, bar none.

I'd like to add to Johnson's quip that remarriage suggests the triumph of hope over experience, that this triumph is one to be savored. It can be a long way up from the aftermath of adultery. Once one gets there, it is well worth enjoying for a while.

Wilde, not quite so sanguine about remarriage, himself lost a struggle not unlike Clinton's, when he hoped the the courts and public would not harshly judge him and his sex life based on laws he saw as puritanical, hypocritical and unjust. Clinton seems to similarly feel that he ought not be judged harshly for not conforming to standards which I would certainly agree are puritanical and hypocritical. He apparently expected the media and public to turn the same blind eye to his improprieties that it did 35 years ago to JFK's, which were, according to Kennedy's friend and relative Gore Vidal, far more seedy.

But this is the '90s. The baby-boomers who cut their political teeth on Vietnam and Nixon, are in ascension. Their faith in the trustworthiness of politicians is shaky at best. They have few illusions about a President's fidelity, both political and personal, but they want to believe he's in control of both himself and events. We've gotten used to our Presidents' men spinning daily public affairs into a comfortable blindfold. We don't want surprises, just prosperity, or what now passes for prosperity. Remember, it's the economy, stupid. Well, the economy has stumbled, and Clinton has lost control of the media. For these sins, not those against his God, he will probably have to resign.

For Clinton personally, he need not be so resigned. I think the anger he showed in that first apology suggests he knows he deserves better than he's getting. Of course he does; we all do. But it is tricky to get it. Obviously being the U.S. President may not be quite as satisfying as he thought it might be. Success often is not. This is probably one of those illusions the public doesn't want to let go of but that Clinton is making us face.

Clinton is in a unique position to demonstrate what it means to grow and learn. The lessons he has ahead, however, may be more frightening than he cares to face. I think his colleagues in Washington, and much of the public, would prefer not to face them as well. That's why they say, just resign. But my feeling today is that if I can find the hope to cleanse the wounds of my experience, then Clinton can too. I think it would be invaluable for us as a nation to watch a man do so.

We all know that marriage can be an unexpectedly twisted road. The Clintons' just took a very public sharp curve. For myself, I'm glad to be back on this road, with a partner I love, more aware than ever of its pitfalls and pleasures.

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