Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Meal: Salad (finally!)….with deep fried Ahi (sigh…still in the south)
Music: “Don’t Use my Broken Heart” by Leona Nass
Atlanta is described as the ‘melting pot of the south’, a blend of culture and class that no other southern city can rival. Atlanta is also called ‘Hotlanta’ by the younger crowd. I was never sure if this was due to the heat from the midtown clubs or the sun, but as sweat dripped into my red cowboy boots while walking to my happy hour meeting, I suspected it was the latter.
I met Joanne over salads and white wine in a trendy part of northern Atlanta called Vinings. Joanne was a friend of a friend, with whom I “needed to speak with due to her ability to inspire.” She came to me impeccably dressed, seemingly immune from the humidity, and held out a polished southern hand to greet me with. I tried to replicate her grace as we sat down at a Vinings restaurant patio to enjoy our afternoon conversation.
Joanne grew up in northern Illinois as the youngest for four children. Unlike her siblings who wavered in and out of higher education and romantic pursuits, Joanne later went on to earn a PhD and have a supportive marriage. “When you are the youngest you spend a lot of time watching others, recognizing patterns, learning from mistakes, and seek to create a different path for yourself,” said Joanne
“My mother was a loving woman, but one with little self esteem,” she said. “She didn’t believe she was worthy of love. She didn’t leave her first husband until he turned a gun on her, and I would say that she stayed with her second husband, my biological father, far too long as well.”
I asked Joanne what the issues were with her father. “Well, in the first place my mother and father didn’t really love each other, which is a terrible thing to say but it was true. She got pregnant with my older brother, they were catholic, and so marriage was the really the only choice they had.” Sadly, Joanne said her relationship with her father was equally uninspiring. Joanne longed to have the father daughter relationship she saw on television; playing softball in the backyard, getting help with homework, but “that was not the case, he was too inwardly focused and too removed from the family.” He was removed except for when it came to Joanne’s half sister, a “complete knockout” from her mother’s first relationship. “My sister came to me and said that he had been molesting her.” At first Joanne didn’t want to believe her step-sister. Admitting that your biological father was capable of something like that would be admitting that you had a monster in your DNA. But when her father finally admitted it himself, the horror became a reality that tore the family apart.
Joanne watched her siblings spin out of control; they lost interest in the world and made one bad mistake after another. “I didn’t want to be like that,” she said. “When you are dealt a bad hand of cards you can either accept it and let it define you, or you can work hard to overcome it and get a new one!” At 17 Joanne made a list of life goals for herself:
- I want to get a PhD
- I want to run a marathon
- I want to be able to take care of my mother in retirement
However, as Joanne made strides against her list, knocking one goal out at a time, she realized there was one other critical thing she had to do in order to move forward. “I had to learn forgiveness. “ After the PhD was earned and the marathon completed, Joanne decided to find the courage and love in her heart required to forgive her father. After years of a strained relationship she finally called him. At first he wouldn’t accept the call but Joanne tried and tried again until she could reach him. “I told him I loved him and there was more to define him than what he did.” I asked her how she was able to do this. “We have to forgive,” she said looking at me with determined eyes. ”If all you do is hate then it just ends up hurting you.“
I could tell by her fierce eyes that Joanne is a woman who lives with intent and will not let life defeat her. Everything has a purpose; there is a list for every day.
Joanne had also made a list for the characteristics of a man she wanted in a relationship. It was 2 ½ pages long. Perhaps the length was discouraging, as she didn’t adhere to it for a long while. “Oh before I met Marty (her current husband) I was a train wreck when it came to dating.” She laughs remembering her escapades. Joanne said that she would seek out the one missing trait from her prior relationship, focus on it, and fail to notice all the other things that were equally necessary. First there was the perfect college boyfriend….until he cheated on her with three different woman. Then there was the sweet trustworthy man. The trustworthy man was perfect on paper. “He was solid, driven, dependable and I thought he was the man I needed to marry and so we became engaged. But I realized that we were just platonic, not passionate; I didn’t want to have his babies!” And so Joanne broke off the engagement and pursued passion. She landed ‘a total hottie,’ a bohemian artist that played guitar. “But although he was attractive, he led this hippie casual lifestyle. He wasn’t classy.”
Class led Joanne to a European man of distinction. “He took me to fine dinners and lovely retreats. But then I realized that he would do all these wonderful things only if it was convenient for him. He couldn’t be bothered to visit my mother with me.“ In fact the European didn’t like Joanne to have any say over the relationship at all. “Once I put my arm around him at a social gathering and he told me to take it off because it looked like I was in charge.”
Joanne finally met Marty, a tall grey haired man eleven years older, through her softball and ski team. “At first I thought he was too old, but there was this spark,” she said. After a game the team would go out for drinks together and Joanne would catch him staring at her. “Typically this would have been creepy,” she said, “but there was nothing creepy about Marty.” Joanne describes how she fell for her husband, unable to hold back a smile. He was kind and hardworking, he ‘just lit up the room’, and unlike other men seemed in awe of Joanne’s independence. “He always cheered me on and was supportive of my career decisions. He knew I wanted him to be with me, I didn’t need him to be with me.” According to Joanne, Marty had every characteristic on her long 2 ½ page list except three. “Well, doesn’t sing or play the guitar,” she laments. “And he doesn’t go to the gym everyday either.” But he does seem to meet the more substantial qualifications. One of Marty’s best features is his ability to be a great father. He adores their child Amy, and is giving her the relationship that Joanne never had with her own father. And he supports Joanne’s third goal of taking care of her mother. She currently lives with them in their large house in Atlanta. “I am not with Marty just because we have mortgage and a child together, I am with him because he is just cool!”
Joanne claims she has been successful in life due to her determination for a different future. However, I think it is also due to her capacity to love, to love without need, to love without expectation, and to love without judgment.
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you finally live
-Hafez, poet (1315-1390)