In 1985 during my second year of law school, I met a breathtaking woman named Jennifer Granholm and doggedly pursued a first date at which she steered our conversation into surprisingly deep waters, bombarding me with question about children, politics and my life’s goals. She had more career drive than any woman I’d ever met, yet she was equally comfortable with my own oversized goals including my dream of running for governor.
Three months later I proposed. John MacInnes, a 35 year-old priest counseling us for marriage asked me: “Dan, what happens if the Party comes to Jennifer, and says, ‘you’re a lawyer, you’re smart, you work hard, and it’s time for a woman; we need you to run.’ How would you feel?” I said I imagined I’d be little confused, jealous, maybe even resentful, but if she felt “called to it,” I’d be 100% behind her.
Fr. MacInnes was prophetic. Jennifer’s career took off like a dragster and my career was thrust into the back seat. She became governor, and I became the full-time lead parent of three.
Twenty-five years later some see us as a kind of new and “model” marriage. I find that idea embarrassing, for we are a work in progress. But we have learned a lot and here are six key lessons:
1. Locate your shared North Star and don’t lose sight of it. For us the North Star is our faith. When things got tough – and they were brutally tough when everything was going wrong for Michigan, our kids were in adolescent splendor, and my career felt like it was in first gear if not neutral – we turned to our values and faith. That kept us together. What values will hold you together? They must align, and you must stick to them.
2. Men: Accept equal footing. Jennifer flat-out told me she would not take my name, and her career would be as important as mine. Today, men’s tenacious commitment to equality is more important than it was in 1985, because research shows that for the first time, young women bring career aspirations into marriage that are as ambitious as men’s. Reality has replaced theory: men are foolish to assume they come first.
3. Men: Take pride in your partner and partnership. Although there were times I deeply wished I was the one at the helm of government, I always felt enormous pride in Jennifer’s work. It’s hard for an ambitious man (or woman) to take that backseat. I chose to accept Jen’s greatness which gave me an expanded sense of self. It sure ain’t John Wayne, but it’s strengthened both of us.
4. Women: appreciate your husband’s role and sacrifice. Jennifer empathized with me for what I gave up. I work hard to be a good dad, and she values that work and effort. She included me, gave me credit, and took pride in my work, just as I took pride in her courageous public leadership. She treated my contribution as equally valuable to her own.
5. Men: Get out of the “male box” of the fictitious “real man.” I wiggled and thrashed my way out of the male box, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I wasn’t Mr. Mom. I was me, fully a man, who happened to lead at home. I braided hair, made mediocre lunches, and dropped everything for doctor appointments, school issues, or late-night adolescent mess-ups. I got to take our kids to and from school, to see practices as well as games, and to enjoy the little triumphs that active parents do. I got softer, kinder, a little sillier, and a lot happier than I believed a man was allowed to be.
6. Love feasts on learning. Middle age brings new challenges as we launch our children, shift careers and rediscover who we are. I am the one now advocating hard conversations, with the honesty and vulnerability that I believe is vital to keep our relationship alive. And that is the last lesson: for love to endure, learning must go with it, step for step.
The world beyond my parents’ world of rigid gender roles requires work and adaptation, but I for one would never go back.
What about you: Do you think any of these lessons could be applied to your life?