Dinner Conversations: “Goodbye, Earle”

Let’s be clear, I am NOT a family therapist (that’s my Mom). I teach teachers and families classroom and life-skills. I hope that a little nugget reaches the right person at just the right time. When it does, I’m simultaneously thrilled and humbled. That is just what happened when a teacher approached me after a workshop. She called her story “Goodbye, Earle.”

“Darla” thanked me for advice I had given at a previous conference she had attended. She said she had tried it on her husband, and it had worked! I panicked, thinking, “What did I say? Is he all right? Am I an accomplice?!” It seems she was at her wits end. For 17 years he was late for dinner. He didn’t call or apologize, and she didn’t even like to cook! Every night she and the kids waited for him to join them, then they’d fight through every cold meal. It was miserable.

“You said if what we‘re doing day after day isn’t working, we could choose to react differently, so I did.” Still holding my breath, I planned to search for his obituary as soon as I left. “One night, I decided I wouldn’t get mad anymore. I didn’t tell anyone about my plan. I kept dinner warm and didn’t call the kids until I heard him in the drive.” When she served dinner that night it was the first hot meal they’d shared in 17 years! Exhaling (only a little), I choked out, “So, how did that go?”

“It was great! I smiled the whole time.” Had to ask, “Why do you call this story ‘Goodbye, Earle?’” She laughed. “The kids were a little cautious, but HE was terrified. Took him a good 10 minutes before he ate. See, ‘cause I wasn’t mad, he was just sure I’d poisoned his food!” “I hadn’t, of course [big sigh of relief], but we’ve been happier ever since.”