When you travel as much as I do, going to Tampa is the equivalent of going to your office across town. Years ago, when I traveled only a few times a year, I'd make big preparations for my departure. Now, instead of keeping my garment bag in the attic, it hangs in the middle of our closet. Departures have become frustratingly routine.
Once, someone asked my wife, Lisa, where I was working that week. She had to admit she couldn't remember what state I was in. And sometimes it's not until I board a plane that I realize we didn't take time to hug each other before I headed out.
When I'm on the road, I crave familiarity. I eat at the same chain restaurants I find close to home. I stay in the same chain of hotels. That way I know where the belt hook is in the closet, what the shampoo and soap will smell like, and that I'll have an instant hot water faucet over the sink.
It's when I'm in these familiar surroundings on the road that I'm free to think about Lisa-in a way I can't back home. At home, I'm rushing from work to fixing things to helping with the kids and, finally, to bed. On the road there's more time to think, to remember why I'm married to this woman and, frequently, to realize where I'm falling short. Instead of wondering why I can't find any clean socks, I wonder why I don't take the kids out more often to give Lisa an afternoon of quiet. Instead of becoming frustrated at finding the gas tank on empty whenever I use Lisa's car, I remind myself to make sure I fill it before I leave town again.
Some of my travels take me near the homes of friends, and that sends my thoughts hurtling back to Lisa. Not long ago, I watched one of my friends cuddle with his youngest child on the couch. My friend and his wife homeschool their children, and I found myself talking freely with them about curriculum. Yet, for some reason, I have failed to have that same discussion with my wife.
Sometimes I wish I could be as good a husband as I try to be a guest. I always wipe a friend's sink when I'm finished using it, but Lisa can't get me to wipe down the shower stall at home. I can logically prove to her that it takes more time, in aggregate, to wipe it down every day than to let it stay wet and clean it with scum-busting spray every two weeks. But I'd never attempt such a discussion with a friend.
Yes, I'm always a wonderful husband-at a distance. One time, when I was staying in New Hampshire, I wrote Lisa a letter about what I was feeling. It was in the autumn-my favorite season-and the chestnut-colored leaves all around reminded me of the color of my wife's hair. I knew I'd be home before the letter would arrive, so I stuffed it in my briefcase. When I got back, I felt silly handing Lisa a letter. After all, why couldn't I just say what I felt?
But I gave her the letter anyway, and Lisa cried when she read it. Trying to explain what I had felt on the trip wouldn't have been the same simply because the emotions would have changed by the time I returned home. After 12 years of marriage, I know feelings matter to my wife. She wants to know exactly what made me think of her hair as I walked through the autumn trees in New England.
It never fails that as a business trip draws to a close, my one consuming thought is, "I want to do better when I get home." Yet, more often than not, those good intentions collide with the reality of "getting things done" at home.
When I walk through the door, I notice the window screen still needs to be fixed and the outside light bulb is still burned out. The kids are in their pajamas, ready for bed. Lisa is dressed casually, looking like a tired single mom. It's hard to not feel like an intruder.
I slowly feel my good intentions give way to another overriding reality—how tired I am. It's been said that weariness makes cowards of men, but it also makes Archie Bunkers of well-meaning husbands.
The selfless husband I become in my mind, the husband on the business trips who makes Lisa's dreams come true, never quite makes it home. I want to tell Lisa just how much I missed her, how good it feels to be holding her again. But my tongue, tired from talking with others, is reluctant to start moving again.
I realize with a sigh I'm not going to be the husband I wanted to be-not entirely. Yet I know for certain that tomorrow I will start wiping down the shower. And I'll go through the Christmas catalogues with Lisa before she has to ask again. I'll even sit down and pore over the curriculum books with her.
That's because I've been reminded that this home, with its dripping faucets and aging carpets, with its kids who sometimes argue and a mom who gets exhausted, beats any lonely hotel room I've ever stayed in.
Gary Thomas is the author of Sacred Pathways (Thomas Nelson). He lives in Manassas, Virginia, with his wife and three children.
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