Oh, Al. Oh, Tipper. Why? Why? Why? Why’d you go and split up after 40 years? You’re an institution! You’re a couple held up to us as a forever-in-love, forever-meant-to-be pair. You created that image for us, and we bought it. Tipper, those adoring blue eyes just above that turned up tip of a nose were always cast upward at your handsome husband, and you seemed to really mean it. Al, that kiss you planted on your pert wife on worldwide television at the 2000 political convention made women world-over do a sharp intake. And those four attractive children. How can it be?
They say they’ve grown apart, and, yes, that does happen. Far be it from me to begin to speak to what is meant in their case by growing apart. I only know from observation and experience that it can happen in a marriage despite the best of intentions, and it doesn’t have to be terminal. It certainly happens in friendships and in families when you find yourselves pulled in different directions at times. Then you ultimately find your way back to each other and start all over again.
Let me speak here and now on behalf of my husband and his forbearance. I want to give him credit for weathering the ebb and flow with me. When he married me, I was not passionate about the plight of animals and the environment, nor was I crazy in love with dogs, organic food and healthy eating. There were plenty, let me tell you, plenty of times, when he wondered which of us was nuttier: he for having missed any early indicators of my new persona or me, for turning into someone far different from the woman he’d married. Ebb and flow, ebb and flow, and we’re still here.
He made me a little nutty once in a while, particularly when he went from being just a Sunday afternoon NASCAR fan to wanting his own succession of oval track racecars and vintage vehicles. This is the trick about those things: what you do is spend a lot of money on them, then sell them for less than that and go out and buy the next one. I wondered what Appalachian cave he might have crawled out of. It took some ebbing and flowing on my part to learn to accept this heretofore unknown persona. And we’re still here.
When a starter marriage breaks up rather quickly, it‘s sad but easy to chalk up, in many cases, to intemperate emotions and short-sighted vision. You hope that the next time, those parties will enter into a relationship better prepared for the ebbs and flows.
It’s the long-time marriages that break up that are sadder to me. You’re often left to wonder if it was all a sham and how long they might have lived within the carefully crafted image of a convivial couple. What could be so bad after 40 years that you choose to part ways? Al and Tipper say it’s not an affair. At this point, they’re entering the last third of their lives, and I can’t think of a better time to have a partner.
Go figure. How can Hil and Bill have lasted and Tipper and Al can’t make it? I’ll have to give it to the Clintons. After an initial rosy pairing of two brainy types in an ambitious marriage, their union suffered the most humiliating of storms and endless betrayals. Talk about ebbs and flows! She had plenty of cause to leave, but they seem to have forged an alliance as unshakable as Mount Rushmore. You gotta hand it to ’em.
My own beloved parents, Jack and Barbara, were married almost 65 years before my dad passed on. There must have been ebbs and flows, but they kept them to ourselves, unlike our tell-all generation. They were the two stone pillars hoisting the roof over our family, unshakeable and immovable.
I’d surely like to have seen Al and Tipper make it that far. Their unexpected split gives me pause. Did Al’s new role on the world stage after leaving the White House and losing the election-by-chad to George Bush not wear well with Tipper? Was he gone too often to far-away conferences on global warming to keep the home fires burning? We’ll not know, nor should we.
All this tells me is that it’s wiser to expect changes to occur than to believe that nothing ever will. It’s a human condition to seek or try to create a place where everything seems stable and controlled. Not. We’re deluding ourselves to think we can ever get all the ducks in a row and they’ll never stray. Change is about the only thing we can really count on. It’s sad, however, when it comes in human terms.
Barbara Morgan is a resident of Covington. Her column appears on Fridays.