DISCLAIMER: You might think I have given a very sweet and thoughtful title to this article. I would like to correct you from the outset. My wife likes to jokingly say that I should write an article about her and how great she is. That is my intention with this article, but my wife is definitely no fan of sappiness. Plus, she already wants to kill me for the attention that she knows this article will draw to her. But hey, I have got to have fun somehow. So, without further ado, I would like to tell you why I think my wife is beautiful—and why you, if you are a married man, should think the same about your wife.
I recently made a long overdue phone call to my grandfather. He now lives in assisted living; his strength, energy and abilities are not what they used to be. I imagine this has to be very difficult for a man who previously would not allow for his basically immobile shoulder to stop him from swimming, for a significant amount of time, using just one arm…daily. Nevertheless, he seemed to have been in good spirits and to have retained his sense of humor, though there was a discernable sadness in his voice. During our conversation, my grandfather told me something that I will never forget. A lover of poetry, he quoted a few lines of a poem to me, lines which he says remind him of my grandmother, who passed away less than two years ago. He had always said previously that they reminded him of his own mother. The lines of the poem by Fitz-Greene Halleck read thus:
“Green be the turf above thee, / Friend of my better days / None knew thee but to love thee / Nor named thee but to praise.”
What a man! Seriously. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandfather was moved to tell me this because of a profound inward experience of love and of the utmost respect for my grandmother. He is a class act. End of story. Needless to say, my grandfather’s words have been a cause of reflection for me. Surely, he knew my grandmother had flaws. I truly do not think that he had some highly idealized notion of her. Yet, he was still able to say, with honesty, that “anyone who knew her, just couldn’t say a bad word about her.” Being able to say this about a flawed and sinful human person is, in my view, one of the surest signs of true love. This begs the question, then, of what the nature of true love really is.
True love is a man being able to say of his wife: “My wife is beautiful!” This is true in the reverse as well, though admittedly I would probably cringe if my wife called me beautiful…
All jokes aside, do I really have any right to make such a claim? Surely, there is someone out there who has read this article and felt indignant because I have “sentimentalized love”. But is that person right? Have I not taken love—which includes emotion, but is certainly not limited to it—and reduced it to mere cliché statements and giddy feelings? This is a fair question; I will try to answer it as best I can.
In order to do so, I will have to return to the words of my grandfather in reference to my grandmother: “Anyone who knew her, just couldn’t say a bad word about her.”
Again, my grandmother was not perfect; my grandfather knew this. She, like all of us, could be impatient, short, melancholy, etc. Nonetheless, my grandfather’s claim about her can still be counted as honest. Why? As the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand tells us, many—in his view, maybe all—of a person’s vices should be understood as the backside of his or her virtues. So the other night, when my wife called me out—somewhat jarringly—for my consistent tendency to see things in a pessimistic light, there were two ways in which I could have viewed her comment.
On the one hand, I could have seen it as having come from a place of undue frustration and, for that reason alone, discredited it. This, to be sure, would not have been an objective way of judging the situation. On the other hand, I could have seen it for what it was. My wife saw my pessimistic attitude for what it is, named it for what it is, and rebuked me out a desire for my good. Sure, she may have acted a bit rashly, and her desire for my good may have been mixed with undue frustration. But that is not the point. The fact that my beautiful wife even got frustrated at all shows that she recognizes a standard that it is important for me to live up to, and that she wanted to help me to do just that. Plus, as St. Thomas Aquinas allegedly believed, “anger arises out of sadness.” My wife likely got frustrated because she was sad, sad because she knows that my pessimism makes me sad. If that is the case, her reaction came from a place of holy sadness—in a word, compassion.
Therefore, despite my wife’s faults and failings, how can I not say that she is beautiful? For even through her faults and failings, I see what is beautiful about her. Needless to say, I am with grandfather on this one. Anyone who knows my wife, just can’t say a bad word about her. If they do, they can rest assured that I will…forgive them? Yeah, that would probably be best. Violence does not usually solve much.
The moral of the story is this: we who are married Catholic men must constantly seek to see the good in our wives, and so to bring it out more fully and cause it to flourish. It can be easy to criticize too often and try always to take the moral high ground. This comes from pride and self –pity, and is the very opposite of manliness.