Social Media have added a new aspect to personal communications since this Roundup was written 50 years ago, on March 6, 1969, but it might be enjoyed by those who have come along since it first appeared as well as others who remember those “ancient” times that really haven’t changed that much.
There’s little wonder that parents can’t communicate with their children these days – they can’t even communicate with each other. Not that this is anything new; it’s just that along with women’s suffrage we’ve had a demand for bilateral verbalizing.
In the old days when the man spoke the wife and kids listened. They had to, because there was no verbal competition from radio or television, and no cars to get away from the house in. So the husband and father had things pretty much his own way.
But then women got the right to vote and it opened up a whole can of worms. Next she was riveting ship hulls, running neighborhood improvement associations and even running for Congress. This put an end to man’s monopoly of the home forum.
Those test-yourself quizzes that are popular in the Sunday supplements always score your marriage big on the ability of the husband and wife to communicate.
There are two parts to communication – sounding off and listening. Few people have trouble with the first one. It’s the second one that keeps marriage on edge and psychologists in business.
“My parents never listen to me,” wails the teenager who shuts himself in his room and turns the record player up to unbearable decibels. This is one of those chicken and egg problems – it’s hard to tell which situation came first.
At our house, it’s more of a problem of timing.
“You’re never home,” is the charge against me. This is not necessarily true. I sleep there practically every night, and often take my meals there. However, being “home” involves more than just eating and sleeping. It means undivided attention, without reading the newspaper or thinking about the business or working on next week’s editorials.
That doesn’t leave too much time. Meal times are out because they tend to be a three-way ping pong game. Everyone has his own bit to tell about. A solution to this may be to post the topic for the evening at breakfast and make all participants stick to the subject.
Mornings are out. There’s an unwritten rule that nobody is to engage in an attempt at intelligent conversation or anything involving the thinking process until after the first cup of coffee, and I don’t drink coffee. So a retreat behind the morning paper seems to be the best way to start the day right. Comments about particularly interesting news items are allowed, but the rules say that no return comment is required or to be anticipated. Anything can upset the delicate balance of peace which prevails over the household, such as “who hid my homework paper,” or “do you have to go out again tonight?” or “why didn’t you get the larger size box of cereal, it’s cheaper that way.”
This leaves the evenings when, by coincidence, everybody is at home. The other evening I was met with “there’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.” Curiosity overcame annoyance, and I made silent preparations to give my undivided attention. But we never made it that night because of the international ski competition that came on television five minutes later.
We got down to brass tacks that weekend however. The newspaper was suddenly batted out of my hands. “Let’s communicate,” was the order. Obviously, the situation was desperate, so I was all ears. “You never talk to me,” was the charge.
“What do you mean, I never talk to you. I talk to you all the time.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean REALLY talk to each other,” she said.
Well, that was all right with me. My only mistake was in saying what so many of my brethren say in this situation:
“What’ll we talk about?”
I snuck a look at the news article I had been in the middle of.
“All right, if that’s the way you want to be,” she said. “You never pay any attention to me.”
My sympathetic hand went out. Cold shoulder.
“What have I done?” I pleaded.
“It’s not what you’ve done, it’s what you don’t do. You’ve always got your nose in that goldarn paper.” (A note to millennials and later: Read that your goldarn cell phone or iPod.)
Well, ladies and gentlemen, if you think that the time has arrived for a happy ending or a simple answer, you’re wrong. Why should we be different than most of you?