Saturday, March 8, 2014

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How My Wife Helped Me To Not Be White Trash



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I was chatting on the phone with Dave, an old friend I hadn’t spoken with for about ten years. He mentioned that his youngest son was going to college. I remembered his son as a chubby little boy around seven years old who used to show up to my bike races. Dave mentioned that he asked his son if he remembered me, and he replied, “Was he the guy with the long bleached hair and tattoos that swore all the time?” And Dave replied, “Yes. That was him.”

Then Dave said to me, “We're all really proud of the changes you’ve made in your life. You’ve come a long ways from the white trash kid I knew ten years ago.”

It’s not too often that I get this kind of before and after glimpse into my life. But I suppose Dave was right. I have changed a lot in ten years, and I feel confident that those changes are for the better. But I don’t think I would’ve successfully made any of those changes were it not for Mel’s gentle nagging.

She trained me, and I suppose many men might feel that me saying this makes me a pansy, and perhaps I am, but take a look at the above before and after shot. 

Clearly I have come a long ways. 

Before I met Mel I worked full time at a hardware store and was trying to get a job as a prison guard. Most of my paychecks were spent on tattoos, mountain bikes, and adult entertainment. Now I have two graduate degrees and work at a major research university.

So what am I trying to say? Listen to your wife. She might turn you into something you can both be proud of. But if this photo and testimonial isn’t enough, here is a list.


1.    Supported my educational pursuits: When I first started college at age 22, I didn’t know how to type and I’d never read a novel. I hand wrote all of my papers during my first semester of college, and then Mel typed them. However, my spelling was so poor, and my handwriting so confused, that she couldn’t read my writing. We spent a lot of late nights with Mel at the computer, and me sitting next to her, reading my paper out loud while she typed. Last week I was published in the New York Times.

2.     Encouraged me to dress better: When Mel and I met, I was still coming out of a shameful JNCO jeans phase. I tended to wear ill-fitting pants with huge legs that were frayed at the bottom, had holes in the crotch, and burrito stains above the knees.  I owned only offensive black t-shirts from punk shows, (shirts that said things like, “Kill a cop for rock and roll.”) and I was known to take off my shirt whenever possible. Mel started by hemming my pants and encouraging me to buy shirts of different colors. Then we moved into clean pants that fit. It was a long up hill battle, I assure you, but now I mostly wear slacks and shirts with a collar. I do have mixed feeling about this, however. Few things make you feel old like slacks and a collared shirt.

3.    Shamed me into not using bad language: So… I have a strong mouth. I developed it in my youth. My father had a metal shop in our back yard, and I think I picked it up by listening to his workers. Anyway, when Mel and I met, I used the f-word as for all parts of the English language. Over the years, Mel has made it very clear that using that kind of language is not acceptable. At least not around her, and I can say that it has turned the tide… well outside of when I get frustrated while working on things around the house, and when my students don’t do their assignments and I wind up calling a classroom of college freshman a bunch of lazy f&*kers. I also tend to use what I call, “Soft swears.” These are the little swear words such as, hell, damn, and fart. Obviously I still have a lot to work on in this area, but I will say that I have shown vast improvement.

4.    Insisted that I shut the door when using the restroom: I feel that this doesn’t need much explanation. I used to… now I don’t.

5.     Helped me to understand that giving people the finger was an inappropriate greeting: Man, did I think it was funny to give my friends the finger! I don’t fully understand why I thought this was so funny, but I did. Mel has a way of convincing me to stop doing embarrassing things through a combination of compassion, withholding sex, the silent treatment, and moments where she just stares at me, her soft eyes never blinking, her face a mix of irritation and understanding that seems to say, I will break you. It’s a clever mix that works every time. This technique really helped me to understand what I was doing was embarrassing.

6.    Mocked me for letting my ass hang from my pants: So… yea… I’m guilty of not properly wearing my pants. It all started in the 90s (Many of my stories begin this way). Mel began with mocking me, “I can see your butt crack, and it’s not sexy.”  Then she started trying to pull down my pants each time my butt crack made an appearance. And eventually, she started to drop things into my butt crack (cubes of ice for example). Sadly, it took years of her doing this before I started to wear a belt and pay attention to where my pants were before I bent over. But I am happy to say that my ass stays in much more than ever before. I have to assume that the world is grateful.

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley