Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lessons Learned From The Other Half

My husband and I have some shared personality traits, but in most things, he is less outspoken and impulsive, and much more patient than I am.  He recently "flexed" those personality muscles to effect a significant change in the life of our community.

Seven plus years ago, we moved to a small rural town in the Southern U.S.  As an "import" to the South and as a newbie to small town culture, I found life in our new community less than appealing after the initial "honeymoon" period of getting settled in. I fully expected to say good-bye to my professional work life; my techy job skills were not obviously transferable to the agrarian-based economy of the area. Moreover, our county had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.  It was the unspoken social mores that took me by surprise; those I had to discover by missteps over time.

Shortly after we arrived, another married couple relocated to our town. The woman, who was a lawyer and became my friend, was as flabbergasted as I had been to find out that women were not allowed to join the local Rotary Club.  It is not that our local club had rewritten their bylaws to exclude women, but the influential men of the community, a generation older, were dead set against it.  Fears of allowing women to join took form as comments like: "If women are allowed into the club, they will take over!" or  "If women are members, they will do all the work, and the men won't do anything."

Many of the women in the community had no issue with the fact that women could not join the local Rotary Club; they reflected their husband's point of view or accepted it as a fact of life.  The local Rotary Club was (and continues to be) a tremendous asset to the community in more ways than I can recount.  Perhaps the good work that the club performed perpetuated the resistance to allow women to become members of the club.

To set the record straight...I have no issue with male-only organizations or female-only organizations, but I do take issue with a lack of integrity. I wanted the Rotary Club to own their male-only de-facto policy. Eventually, my lawyer-friend and I raised our concerns about the local club's exclusion of women to the highest level of National Rotary leadership.  A small party of local Rotarian leaders made their way to the national headquarters and, predictably, denied that women could not join the local Rotary Club. So that was that.  Nothing had changed.

Now, here comes the twist.  My husband joined this very same Rotary Club shortly after we moved here. It bothered me terribly that my husband belonged to a club, that not only allowed such discrimination but denied that it was occurring. My husband did not stand in my way of reporting the local club for their exclusion of women. Although he never once complained, my husband's life would have been easier had I not initiated the effort to allow women into the Rotary Club.  While he detested the pretense, my husband enjoyed many aspects of being in the club and was not about to relinquish his membership!  He instinctively knew that any man, who nominated a woman for membership, jeopardized his status in the club with the "old guard."

Eventually, I gave up trying to get my husband to leave the club and relegated my discontent to interjecting a few conversational barbs, here and there, when my friends and family came to visit. My lawyer friend relocated to an area where she found a more favorable culture to practice her legal profession as a woman.  This experience of "no women allowed" in the local Rotary Club encapsulated much sadness, disappointment, and loneliness that dogged me for my first five years living in this community.

Time passed...I planted lots of flowers and rose bushes. I started doing things that I enjoyed (like writing and teaching) despite making a minuscule fraction of my previous income.  In short, I adjusted. I am happy to report that I have grown to love my life here.

My husband understood this little town better than I did.  He should have, he grew up here although he had been gone for 25 years. He was taken aback by some of what he observed, too. We both felt as if we had stepped back in time by 20 or 30  years. He opined that once some of the "old guard" became less active in the Rotary Club, and the younger men were in leadership positions, then women would be allowed in. It was just a matter of time and, yes, patient waiting...his strength, my weakness.

Several weeks ago, unbeknownst to me, my husband privately nominated two women to join the local Rotary Club.  He felt that the current Rotary leadership was more receptive towards female membership.  The leadership team's primary concern was how some of the "old guard" might feel towards my husband when they inevitably found out that he had nominated the two women. After a week of deliberation, the leadership team made their momentous decision.

My husband waited until the two women were initiated into the club to share the news.  We were out of town on the big day when the local Rotary Club installed (pinned) their first female members.

This experience got me thinking about voicing injustice when it is clear that change is needed.   When we know that things are not right, we have to make a choice.  Do we rock the boat or do we wait for the currents to take us to the desired destination?  I am not sure that it is an either/or decision. Perhaps it is a both/and with the manner of how we raise our concerns being paramount.

The primary role of each spouse in a marriage is to lead the other spouse to sanctification, destination heaven. Each spouse is the emery board that helps file the rough edges of the other spouse, along with Grace and the Holy Spirit, to more closely conform to the image of Christ thereby reflecting the glory of God. Whether our spouse allows us a model-worthy window into their actualized virtue or an opportunity to deepen our virtue due to challenging circumstances of the marital relationship itself, they are a gift to us!

Suffice it to say, that I am very proud of my husband for his wisdom and patience.  I want to grow in his virtues.  He loves it when I tell him, "You were right!"  So I say here, "Mr. Daly, you were right!"

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