by Steve Clem on April 16, 2013

For Nile and Grady . . . please wait until you’re 18 to read this. That being said:

Boys, 24 years ago tonight, I finally had the guts (okay, I’m not going to talk down to you . . . balls) to ask your mother out.

I noticed her the second or third week of school. She came to visit my student advisor (our assigned babysitter on our dorm floor — but in my particular case, we had the “cool” babysitter). He wasn’t around, so she came and asked me if she could borrow a pen to write a note to him. Her dimples kicked my ass the minute I saw her. I’m a sucker for dimples. There are many people in this world who can confirm this.

I spent the next seven and a half months admiring her from afar. She had a boyfriend. And I was shy. We had a few interactions. There was the time I was doing laundry at the same time she was. This was a few months before I ended up finally mustering the courage to ask her out. She asked me a question about mixing colors and whites, and I assumed she was hitting on me. Because why the hell wouldn’t a college student know how to do their own laundry? I’d been doing my own laundry since I was ten years old.

Turns out, in hindsight, she really just was stupid about laundry — but I digress. (Sidenote to both of you: you are best served to do your own laundry. Just trust me on this.)

So back to the night, 24 years ago. I was on a first date. With another woman. She was a great person. I was actually very impressed with everything about her as a person. I thought it would be a great first date. And let me explain to my fellow Grinnell College students . . . by “date,” I mean, “I met her at her dorm and we walked together to a keg party on south campus.” That’s as close to “date” as it got.

Now, I must also confess that this was an insane night for not just me, but for all my college buddies, mi hermanos. The following things happened to undisclosed college friends on this night:

  • One got beat up by three “townies.” Those are local kids who hated the “rich, spoiled, liberal college students.” This particular friend was none of those things then. But he’s one of the three now.
  • Another got so intoxicated that he passed out and got the dreaded permanent marker “Mike Tyson” face-paint treatment.
  • Two other friends decided to borrow the car of the face-paint guy to take a trip to Marshalltown, Iowa. Because everyone knows nothing can cheer you up like Marshalltown, Iowa.
  • Another friend, upset about the one who was jumped by the townies, had to be restrained for hours, then ended up leaving a present on the bathroom floor of our dorm.
  • And me? I met your mother.

The date I was on was not going that well. We both found ourselves talking to other people at the parties we went to.

Your mom was at one of the parties. I didn’t say anything. But I did notice her there.

A few hours later, I was at The Bar. Yes, that’s a proper name. That’s the name of the bar we hung out in college. The Bar. I still, somewhere in a dusty box, have an original The Bar baseball cap. Covered with beer stains and paint stains. Don’t ask.

Anyway. My date and I were not doing well. I blame myself, mostly. But that’s neither here nor there. I was talking to my student advisor/SA/babysitter. He was drunk (he’s the one mentioned above who ended up being Mike Tyson-ed). I was asking him about your mom. He got sick of me asking and walked over to her. Well . . . staggered, mostly. And he told her, before falling over, “Go out with Steve before I kill him. He’s been obsessed with you.”

The door was open, and I had to do something. So I asked her about her opinion on abortion. Yes. That was the first question I asked her. And you might be surprised by my opinion at the time. I was 18.

We ended up promising to go out on a date. Again, Grinnell peeps, I use this term loosely. Our first date was playing racquetball at the PEC.

We dated through college. She went off to graduate school, but not without first becoming engaged to me because of her parents’ old-fashioned Catholicism, and because I heard a radio ad for great deals on engagement rings at a jewelry store in Des Moines.

I think we both took our vows seriously. But I think we were too young to know what they really meant. So we stumbled through life together, and then suddenly the two of you were there. It made life much more meaningful, but also way more complex. You’ll understand that statement someday.

And we found that our differences outnumbered our similarities.

You may not both be old enough to remember every detail, but I know from the last seven years that you do know that there’s less tension in your life since your mom and dad removed themselves from the same household.

But please hear me when I tell you this. I cherish the day I met her. Your mother. Because I would not ever have the pleasure to know you, my mini-mes, without her. And you’d never breathe a breath without the two of us meeting. Everything does happen for a reason. And it’s never black and white.

It’s shades of grey.

And the brightness you two bring to my life exceeds any blackness that came along in my lifetime.

Your mom and I will always love you.

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON and is a contributing editor of The Spleen.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann Lind April 17, 2013 at 1:31 am

Here, Here Clemmy… Words of wisdom for young men. Kudos to you for being a stand up guy, remembering the good, the bad and the ugly (sometimes the ugly being ourselves)


Steve Clem May 3, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Thanks, Ann. So true about the ugly sometimes being in ourselves.


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