Archive for the ‘forgiveness’ Category

Why Do Men Cheat?

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Because they can.

How’s that?

It seems that some of you have been wondering why I haven’t commented on the one story that in my neck of the woods managed to supplant the death of Michael Jackson  this past weekend. And that’s the murder of retired NFL star Steve McNair, married, father of four, by his 20 year old mistress

It’s not because I haven’t kept up with the story that I’ve haven’t brought it up on the blog. Hey, I’m a married woman. Stories of cheating husbands make you sit up and pay attention whether you want to or not. But if you’re one of the two readers who’ve wondered, the answer is simple. I’m not an ambulance chaser. If I chased down every story with tawdry details about yet another married man caught having an affair I wouldn’t be able to blog about anything else. Besides, this isn’t a gossip blog. A blogger who tries to stick with religious and moral dilemmas (mostly) has only so much moral capital to throw around. And I try to expend my limited share where it’s needed the most. Adultery speaks for itself.

But since the other blogpiece I’ve been working on isn’t coming together, and since our appetite for the salicious is still whet after a week of feasting on Michael Jackson’s remains, why not offer a comment or two on what there is to learn from McNair’s tragic end?

Permit me a disclaimer. Like the prophet Paul I write not as a prophet nor as a minister in this blogpost. Not even as a woman of faith necessarily. I write here as a thinking woman who happens to be married.

For those like me who don’t follow football, McNair retired famed NFL player was found murdered in his Nashville condo this past weekend, two shots to the head and two in the chest. His 20 year old girlfriend was sprawled out dead at his feet, one shot to the head, the gun underneath her body on the floor. Officials have all but ruled the deaths a murder-suicide.

McNair retired a year ago from professional football after 13 seasons in the NFL. He was a three times Bowl pick (whatever that means). He played nine seasons as quarterback for the Tennessean Titans before being traded in 2006 to the the Ravens in Baltimore where he retired in 2008. McNair was found dead this past weekend in his Nashville condo,  Black sports fans were especially proud of the fact that McNair, a graduate of Alcorn State, was one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history who was drafted in the first round out of historically black colleges and universities. Friends remember him as a kind and generous sort of fellow. (But as we see with MJ’s death these things get redacted a lot in death.) It’s just a shame that the man died because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. It’s a shame that in addition to his accomplishments on the field he will be remembered off the field as a man who was killed by his mistress who was a high school drop-out.

Did I mention that McNair’s wife of 12 years, Mechelle, mother of the four sons he leaves behind, had no idea about her husband’s affair?
But then the wife is always the last to know. Or, so they say. Another one of those posthumous redactions, I suppose.

definitionof adultery

To the question. Why do men cheat?

Because it’s easy to do. Because it’s one of the privileges that come with patriarchy. Because men claim to need more sex than their wives are willing to put out. (As one man put it, “Men are always thinking about sex: they’re either thinking about the last time they had sex, or thinking about the next they’re gonna have sex.”) Translated: Men cheat because they can’t help themselves. Men cheat because there are women out there who don’t think twice about sleeping with married men. Men cheat because they crave the affirmation and the boost to their ego. Men cheat because of the adrenaline rush they get from sneaking around and getting away with something they’re not supposed to do. Take your pick.

Lots of men do not cheat on their wives (or significant others). Many, many, many do, or so it seems. Especially men who are public figures.

That is, butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. And lots of politicians too. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Sen. David Vitter, R-La., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., one-time Democratic presidential hopefuls John Edwards and Gary Hart, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, ex-Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-DC Mayor Marion Barry, current New York Gov. David Paterson, former President Bill Clinton.

And, oh yeah, there are the preachers.

You’re probably asking, “Do married women cheat?” Of course they do. But that’s not the question on the table.

If I were writing as a minister (which I’m not, mind you) I would probably quote Scripture to bring men to their senses. But the Bible, at least the part written by men, doesn’t say  that adultery is a sin. Not when it’s men doing it. Let me be more specific. Not when it’s a married man having an affair with an unmarried woman. It’s only an affair when he’s having an affair with another man’s wife. As for what the Bible has to say about when a married woman has an affair. Stone her . Whether her lover is married or not. Stone her to death.

Lots of men cheat and never end up having to pay publicly. In times past there were politicians, presidents even, who tipped out and didn’t pay publicly, John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt are two that come to mind.

It’s a different world now. Ours is a public that goes into a feeding frenzy at the opportunity to download stories of marital affairs, review videos of extramarital trysts,  listen in to tape conversations, read text messages and email between clandestine loves, click to examine a mistress’s dress with his DNA still on it. Technology has developed in the public an insatiable appetite for scandal, an appetite that media is only too eager to feed.

Which makes it all the more unfathomable why men, especially men who are famous, tempt fate by cheating on their wives. But they do. Despite living in a fish bowl men like Governor Sanford of South Carolina, you would think, would resist flying the coup and running off to Argentina to see his mistress. But he didn’t.

You would certainly think that adulterers would know that there is no such thing as free extra meal. Eventually the bill comes due. Somebody will pay for those text messages and  hotel bills. And I promise you, it won’t be just you – and your mistress. It will be your family. Especially your wife whose every tear or stoic expression and dress size will end up being parsed by a public that’s dying to know how much she knew, when she knew, what’s wrong with her that she couldn’t keep her man at home, and why does she stay(a topic I’ve addressed before). And then there’s the children, the poor children. The greatest victims of it all. How will the way their father died impact the lives of Steve McNair’s sons as they grow up? Heaven help them.

Moreover, you would think that the fear of disease, public humiliation, losing your job ruining your family life, hurting your wife, damaging your children, and undermining your life’s work would be a deterrent to men who cheat. Not.

So, why do men cheat? Because it’s worth the risk. Or so says the part of the brain that’s responsible for the blood rushing to the penis.

What’s a wife to do? Get a life. Have a plan. And stay on speaking terms with God.

But remember, I’m blogging not as prophet here today, but as a thinking woman who happens to be married.

How Could She?

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

I understand what made Silda Spitzer come out twice this week and stand next to her husband Eliot and watch as he confessed-without-confessing to engaging in sexual liaisons with prostitutes and ultimately offer his resignation as governor of New York. What I don’t understand is why other women don’t understand.

“How could she?” asked two young women who cornered me at church last night.

I sympathize with Silda Spitzer. So does every other thinking woman, I’m sure, who sat this week watching Silda’s aggrieved, ashen countenance alternating between looking up at Eliot and staring down at the floor. But that hasn’t stopped any of us from pondering, pointing fingers, debating among ourselves, cringing, shaking our heads, and yelling at our television sets.

Clobber him. Tell him where to get off. Refuse to go out and stand next him. Dump him. Grab the mike and say something. Anything

SpitzersWhy do smart women continue to let themselves play the role of “stand by your man” to men who drag them down in public shame? Cookie Johnson. Effie Barry. Hillary Clinton. Dina McGreevy. Vanessa Bryant. Carlita Kilpatrick. Haven’t women come further than this script? The betrayed wife. The cuckolded wife. The “girl, all yo’ business is in the streets” wife? Why would you stand next to a jerk who’s zipper happy ways puts you on display before a snickering, finger-pointing, titillated public?

Like I said, I understand. Kinda sorta, anyway.

I can come up with twelve reasons why Silda did what she did.

But first let me take my cue from the apostle Paul and make a disclaimer. I now know why when he was asked by the church at Corinth to comment on some thorny sex, divorce, and family matters that had cropped up in the congregation, Paul prefaced his remarks by saying, “I have no word from the Lord on this,  but I’ll give you my advice…” Sometimes there are no theological or biblical precedents for the mess we find ourselves in. Common sense, mother-wit, wisdom, experience, and following your gut are your only guide.

So here is my take on some of the things that went through Silda’s mind. I don’t write as a minister, a blogger, or a biblical scholar. Today I write as a woman and a wife.

  1. You stood gazing proudly up at him at his inauguration into office, it’s only right to stand by him (even if you have to gaze down at the floor) as he tenders his resignation in ignominy.
  2. You enjoyed the perks that came with his office and that accrued with his success, you show up and share in the humiliation and shame that come with his downfall.
  3. You do it for the children’s sake who, if they are old enough, are somewhere wondering what’s going to happen to the family. Never mind that they’ll grow up and have questions later. You’re the mother and you know that no matter what they say tomorrow, what children want most right now to know in a family crisis is  “are we going to be alright?” By coming out on stage and standing next to  their father, you’re trying to communicate “yes sweetie, we’ll be alright.” Tomorrow you’ll tell them the truth.
  4. You stand at his side, even though  you haven’t completely sorted through in your own head whether you’re leaving or staying, because afterall he is the governor, the president, the mayor, a sports icon. Women married to blue collar men can afford to up and leave . Women married to high-achieving men need a plan.
  5. You can go out there because you are not in shock. You’re pissed. You’re embarrassed. You’re shattered inside. But you are not in shock. The woman in shock is at home completely undone. You knew all along. You knew he had a problem. You knew he wasn’t taking care of business at home. You thought he would come to his senses on his own. But he didn’t. And a tiny part of you gets a bit of satisfaction watching him squirm, sweat, stutter, and get taken to the wood-shed for his arrogance.
  6. You stand next to him because, as crazy as it sounds, you still love him. I know. It’s crazy.
  7. You play the role of the supportive wife in this setting because marriage is a constant act of negotiating and renegotiating the contract . A smart woman figures out early that no matter how much money and education she brings into the marriage, in a patriarchal society there are some incontrovertible privileges  that come with being the male in the marriage.  You put on your game face in crises like these as a way of saying, “You owe me turkey.”
  8. You stand before the camera and listen to him apologize and ask for forgiveness because, quite frankly, you’ve never seen the jackass so shaken and not-in-control in all the years of your marriage. And you weren’t going to miss this moment for anything.
  9. You stand beside your philandering husband as he tenders his resignation for the same reason a mother shows up at the trial of a son who’s accused of murder, which is the same reason a daughter agrees to play nursemaid to a dying father she never really knew as he lay in a hospice bed, which is the same reason an aunt co-signs for a nephew knowing full well that he’s never going to pay her back. Because he’s family.
  10. You stand by him because somewhere along the way you were prepared for this moment. You mother trained you well. Your mentor warned you. Your grandmother modeled grace under fire. You’ve been preparing for this moment for years.
  11. You stand by him because you understand the price of power.
  12. You stand by him because next to being livid at him you are incensed at his enemies, and you’ll be damned if you give them the satisfaction of imagining you somewhere in your housecoat, shriveled and pitiful, crying with your hair all over your head. “Give me one of those damn little pills that make you feel better than you look,” you say to your assistant as you get ready to go out and play the biggest role of your life.

Finally, I said that I understand why Silda came out and stood next to Eliot. I didn’t say that I could do it myself. But I do understand. 

Now why men cheat on their wives, that’s another discussion.

Through The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Monday, July 23rd, 2007

I take my wig off today to Tammy Faye who died this weekend from cancer. The story of the rise and fall of her ministry, tied as it was to her former husband Jim Bakker, is one I’ve often used over the years as a case-study for women who attend my leadership seminars. Whenever I want to talk to women about what it means to live in a man’s shadow, why it’s important to own your own gifts as a woman, and what it takes to rebuild your ministry and career after a divorce or public downfall, I have turned to the example of Tammy Faye. For those of you who only know her as the cherubic faced, mascara clad other half of the couple at the heart of the PTL scandal, go out and buy the fascinating documentary of her rise and climb back into the spotlight, Through the Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Love her or hate her that Tammy Faye was one gutsy broad. What otherwise vain woman do you know knowing that her death was only hours away, looking ghoulishly emaciated and barely able to talk, would ask to show her face on national television? But that’s what Tammy Faye did. After battling cancer for 11 years and eventually losing, she asked her friend Larry King last week for the opportunity to appear on his show to say goodbye to her fans and friends one last time. She would die a few days later. To see the clip last Thursday of her appearance on “Larry King Live” was to cringe. Dressed in red, Tammy Faye was barely recognizable but for her signature darkly made up eyes, make-up which for years had made her the butt of jokes on late night talk shows. But you had to admire Tammy Faye as she looked into the camera and struggled gallantly to speak and to swallow for the last time before everyone. She was hours away from dying and knew it. But Tammy Faye was determined to go out on her own terms. She was down to only 65 pounds, which King rightly said had to be at the moment all heart.

The initials PTL (”Praise the Lord” ministry) have come to stand for all that was wrong with televangelism, namely scandals of the sex and money kind. Jim Bakker’s transgression with former church secretary Jessica Hahn ended in scandal and a prison sentence, the end of the $100 million dollar empire he and his wife had built together, as well as the end, ostensibly, of Tammy Faye’s career in the spotlight. But the woman was resilient, even if she was also a bit sad. To watch the documentary of her struggle to resurrect herself from her husband’s ruins and reinvent herself is both heartening and heartbreaking. You have to admire the woman’s determination to extract herself from her ex-husband’s shadow and build a life for herself based on her own talents; you have to admire her resilience and indomitable faith in God despite one rejection after another; and finally you have to admire her refusal to show bitterness toward those she felt ultimately responsible for PTL’s demise (namely Jerry Falwell). You would be wise to recognize also Tammy Faye’s life as a cautionary tale to every woman who’s ever devoted herself to her husband’s vision –in the name of the Lord.

I can’t say that I admired Tammy Faye. I didn’t. But I did and do have a lot of respect for the woman – despite all the shaking of the head I did whenever I saw her on television. I always stopped whatever I was doing around the house to observe her. Behind the pounds of make-up, the frothy, air-brain image of Christian faith and femininity she frequently exuded, there was something about Tammy Faye that I recognized. Even in her last interview there on “Larry King Live” where she sat a shell of her former self. Decimated by inoperable cancer. Confident that she was going straight to heaven upon death. Caricature of a caricature. “I know that woman,” I would say everytime I saw her. I’ve seen her before. That woman hiding behind the mask. That will. That steely determination. That fire. The insatiable need to be loved. That simple faith.

Oprah: Poor Girl, Rich Girl

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

For those of us who have had moments when we’ve fantasized about what it must be like to have Oprah’s millions, we got our answer this week.

It is great to be a wealthy icon, I suppose, but it’s also lonely and perilous.

If you’ve been keeping up with the news you know that Oprah’s dad, Vernon Winfrey, has been withholding an important bit of news, namely he’s writing a tell-all book about his famous daughter.

Oprah is quoted saying that she laughed when one of her assistants said, “The Daily News is calling. They say they heard your father is writing a book about you.” Oprah replied, “That’s impossible. I can assure them it’s not true.” But then Oprah’s sister said, “I think you should call your father.” “I called him and it turned out he is writing a book. The worst part of it was him saying, ‘I meant to tell you I’ve been working on it.” Oprah was understandably upset. After all, she’d just seen her father a few months ago when he accompanied her on one her trips to Africa. Asked point blank how she felt about the fact that her father was writing a book about her, Winfrey replied. “I won’t say ‘devastated,’ but I was stunned. The last person in the world to be doing a book about me is Vernon Winfrey,” she added. “The last person.”

It’s that last sentence that makes me hurt for Oprah, and I’m not one who keeps up with her shows nor her change of hairstyles. I feel her pain when she says that her father was the last person she expected this from.

Oprah was devastated alright. But she’s old enough and smart enough now to know that there are some truths you keep to yourself. Learning from others that your father is writing about you has to feel like a blow to the solar plexus. It’s enough to leave a woman staring for hours out her penthouse window with tears running down her cheeks. You know now that you are really alone. For a price, everyone will tell what they know about you– even if you’ve told it already.

What is it like to be an uber-rich, mega-celebrity like Oprah Winfrey? It means that you can’t trust anyone to protect you, not even your own father.

Should Oprah forgive her father? Is that possible in a situation like this? Perhaps it is for some folks. But forgiveness is not the only path to resolution, I don’t think.

Sometimes in our struggles with the hurts and betrayal we suffer, it’s enough to understand what made folks behave as they did and do what they did to us. Understanding. There’s, admittedly, sadness in understanding, a sadness in coming to grips with the fact that people are not who you hoped they were and needed them to be. But with the passing of time, it’s a sadness that’s no longer tinged with anger. Which comes close enough to forgiveness.