October 11, 2015

Marriage in 31 Flavors

My wife Joyce and I celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary on February 10. This anniversary is more special than the 25th or the 30th, not only because it means that I have had one more wonderful year of marriage, but because of what the number “31” symbolizes about our marriage.

Baskin & Robbins has gotten the public to patronize its stores because it has offered 31 different flavors of ice cream. The 31 flavors attempts to capture the full range of the public’s potentially diverse tastes for ice cream. In addition, many flavors come and go over time. So the 31 flavors reflect both diverse and changing preferences. Baskin & Robbins has stayed in business because it consistently has reinvented and recombined flavors to appeal to new generations of ice cream lovers.

Because we are so near Valentine’s Day, there have been many articles about successful marriages. Couples attribute the longevity of their marriages to compatibility of values and interests, the ability to resolve differences, the ability to create space for each of them to grow and develop, and a variety of other explanations.

For my wife Joyce and me, the explanation lies in the “31 flavor” metaphor, both in the diversity of the interests we have pursued, the number and range of friendships we have had, and the frequency with which we have reinvented ourselves.

In 1979, right after getting married, we took our first big step, moving to the East Coast, and each getting new jobs. In 1981, we took another radical step, selling our Darien home, moving to New York City, and, within two years, having Joyce leave her law career behind and become a real estate professional.

In 1986, we become parents for the first time, and, after our second child was born, moved back to Connecticut in 1990. Joyce encouraged me to expand beyond law to human resources, and then, in 1993, to leave both staff jobs behind and become an operating division President. That decision paved the way for me to become Chairman and CEO in January, 1997.

Probably the most pleasant surprise in both our lives has been the way Joyce caused our children’s passions to take us into worlds we never would have explored on our own. Our older son was attracted to the performing arts as early as age 10, and, today, is an aspiring screenplay writer in Los Angeles, after having graduated from the University of Southern California. I could not have imagined the degree to which we have learned so much about the film, TV, and theater and stand-up comedy industries because of him. I have seen linkages between entertainment and political and social advocacy that would have never been obvious to me. We have a large and growing group of friends in California because of him.

Our younger son took us into the worlds of town and school sports and Boy Scouts, but also drew us into the wonderful subculture of both scholastic and professional chess. We met some of the best and most famous chess players in the world, and took him all over the United States and to six different countries to play chess. More recently, as he became an online seller of books, consumer electronic items, and other odds and ends, we learned a great deal about the world of online commerce, including the use of online auctions for charitable fund-raising.

Our daughter took us into the worlds of Mandarin Chinese, music, and, more recently, science research. She also studied Spanish and Arabic along the way. While I studied piano for 10 years as a child, seeing our daughter do one of her first public performances as a harpist at age 12 at the Stamford Visiting Nurses and Hospice Care Tree of Life ceremony over four years ago was more pleasing than anything I personally accomplished as a musician. The two of us had our own wonderful shared experience over many years skiing every February in Vail and building relationships with family and both new and old friends in Colorado. Today, she has gotten me very interested in neurological research because of our shared interest in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.

I cannot even begin to fathom how many worlds into which Joyce has taken me. Her passions for education reform, for scouting, for children’s environmental health, for providing social services for troubled families, and, more recently, for the Westport Country Playhouse and for women’s health issues have also taken me into worlds I would not have touched on my own. She also connected with both the University of Southern California and, more recently, Cornell University (where our second son is a student) in ways that I never would done.

Our lives have had stresses and even tragedies, including the loss of a son at birth in 1989, but we have had the most blessed marriage because we have each recognized that marriage is not a static institution, but one in which each partner has to evolve and in which the relationship needs to be reinvented in some way almost every day. Neither of us has ever taken for granted what we have had, and, therefore, we have been pleasantly surprised by what each phase of our lives has brought us.

This has been a wonderful set of life experiences for us, and the celebration of an anniversary has been a great time to step back and savor our marriage.