Sometimes my children like to play a macabre game, with one simple rule: create a list of things Mom can’t or won’t do (and therefore why John has to live forever).
This list includes:
- Turning on the cable (I can’t)
- Driving without WAZE (I really have no sense of direction)
- Answering the gate intercom (I truly don’t know how)
- Taking care of the car more than driving it (yes and no, but mostly no)
- Turning on the dishwasher (I don’t know, I never tried, but I don’t stack well)
- Unloading the dishwasher (no because I don’t really know where things go)
- Doing the wash, folding the laundry (John does it better)
- Grocery shopping (I have no idea where the stores are, except Ralph’s)
- Paying bills online (I have no clue)
- Going to Fed-Ex (I really have no clue)
- Driving on the 405…or the 10, 5, or PCH (LA drivers have a very casual relationship with rules)
I think you get the picture. I am the bad stereotype of a 1950s father. As my then teenage son once told me while we were outside playing lacrosse, “You are the dad I never had.” When I asked about being his mom, he said with no irony, “Oh, that’s John."
When I married John, we soon realized that, between the two of us, I was the one who loved work. He, while successful, did not. He really loved fixing up our house, and he taught himself to paint, paper, spackle, cut tile—you name it, John did it. A neighborhood boy once told his mother that, “for an old man, Mr. Berg sure works hard.” (Hard to believe John was 38 at the time.) In our home, John takes pride in his love of building and tinkering, and he possesses a passion for doing things right. He taught our children to take pride in their chores—to cut the lawn precisely, to use a level when hanging pictures, to think of ironing as an art form, and to measure when cooking. In a weak moment, he would agree that I’m a better cook (even though I view measuring as more of a suggestion, which drives him bonkers), but I don’t love it anymore, and he is surpassing me now that he has retired.
What I have modeled for our children is that working hard at a job you love is rewarding and exciting. I do not live for the weekend, as it would feel as though I was wishing away 5/7 of my life. John’s and my intersection of course is our love for one another and our complete and utter devotion to our children and now grandchildren.
Today, during my lunch break, I called a teacher at my former school who is quite ill with cancer. He told me that his greatest fear is leaving his wife and children. I listened and ached for him. I thought of our list and my child saying, “John, if you died Mom would be left reading her kindle by candle.” But truthfully, as a family we have learned resilience through tragedy, and we know that we would cope as we always have. We also know that our children have all the tools to survive without us, having learned different skills from us both. I know that I would fall back on my old pioneer self who moved my children across country, lived in army housing, and learned to fix my own appliances when necessary. But our lives have changed since then, and while John and I may have what some might see as an unusual partnership, it works for us, for our children, and for my advisees, who are deeply appreciative of John’s newfound baking skills.
Marlborough students certainly see how much they mean to me and how much I love being here, and John is equally and incredibly happy that he continues having a wife who wakes up every morning, thinking about our students and their education. Thank you for your partnership and for your wonderful daughters!