Aussies spend $3.6 billion a year in legal fees to divorce their partner they once announced as the love of their life and promised eternal love to. Marrying someone is a beautiful thing, until it gets ugly. Is there ever the right time to get married? The old man married too young, so said his mother at the time. He was 22 going on to be 42 in a short time.
“You’ll be tied down forever,” said the mother.
“When the kids come, you won’t have any more holidays,” said a friend.
“You haven’t yet seen the world!” proclaimed a sibling.
“There are so many fish in the sea,” advised another friend.
Nobody had a positive word to say. The best effort came from his dad. He said nothing. Phone calls were expensive back in the day. He was finishing a uni course in Sydney and home was in Penang. He rarely rang home and those at home never called. Silence meant tacit approval. That was good enough for the scrawny bloke with a tropical tan. A poor student who had basically a set of clothes and one hand-me-down jacket in his wardrobe, he didn’t ask for financial support from home and therefore received none. He had found his true love and it was no one’s business to say aye or nay. His bride did say no to him though. But, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, he said the only thing he knew at the time to sway her. The three words that won her over. I love you. So simple it made total sense to him. Some of his friends in school had described him as a simple boy. One of them even named him Simon. So, in their eyes, he was a simpleton, a fool, an idiot. He didn’t care what people thought of him. He joined them in the fun and rattled off the nursery rhyme. The idiot wasn’t aware of simple Simon’s misfortunes and his wife Margery’s cruelty.
Simple Simon met a pieman
Going to the fair
Says Simple Simon to the pieman
Let me taste your ware.
After they graduated from uni, they went to Singapore after accepting a job offer from a relative. But the simple man sensed that the offer wasn’t genuine and the local manager wasn’t welcoming. Silly man that he was, he ought to have understood that he was seen as a threat to the manager. Instead of playing the corporate game of stabbing each other to get to the top, he got out instead. He didn’t like Singapore. He didn’t like office politics and Sydney’s freedom and independence beckoned him to go back.
So, they went back to Sydney and promptly got married without a care in the world. Both were graduates in commerce but neither of them cared about the real world. It didn’t matter that the interest rate was 15% and rising quickly. It didn’t matter that inflation was close to double digits. Surprisingly, despite the economic downturn, both secured good employment quickly. His annual salary as a trainee accountant at the Commercial Bank was $6,700. Hers was $200 more. She enjoyed that fact more than the extra money.
I love you. That was enough to tie the knot. He was too young, they said. A greenhorn, still wet behind his ears, a nasty bitch at the bank said. A racist, the young blonde woman showed her dislike for him and tried to make his hours at work miserable. So, having left Singapore to avoid office politics, he faced the same in Sydney very quickly. The idiot should have realised that’s human nature. The ugly side of humans. The truth be told, he was wet behind the ears. He never sat the ‘love of his life’ down to discuss the serious matter of marriage and life together – for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. The idiot did not contemplate that they could be worse off or be poorer or fall ill.
He didn’t even think about kids or how many they could afford. The kids came quickly, too quickly for him to plan. Her biggest worry at the time was to be like her mum, infertile. Instead, she was like a bunny but not of the Playboy variety. First son popped out eleven months after he popped the question of marriage. They had three kids in three years. You haven’t yet seen the world! You’re tied down forever! How many kids they should have was never discussed. How many kids could they afford was never considered. Reckless and irresponsible, words he would use today on his sons, should they do what he did. But, they aren’t like him. The twins are closing in on forty but there are no signs of any of them getting married.
There was zero discussion about who should be the primary carer for their kids. She had the bigger income yet it was she who sacrificed her career to bring up their kids. Back then the world was still unfair to men, who were deemed to assume the role of bread-winner. Who will make bread and do the cooking? Who will wash the nappies? Such questions were simply not asked. For him, it was akin to asking who should breast-feed the kids.
She did not consider the awkward but hugely important matter of their in-laws. For him, it was inconsequential since she was a ‘single child’ in her family. She was adopted by her mother who had remarried. She had a stepsister and a stepbrother but all three were adopted and were not close. For her, she was a ‘single child’ and she looked forward to belonging to a large family with many people to love her. The children in his family numbered eight strong, and she was to understand later when one by one, the majority of them would settle in Australia and that ‘strong’ did not mean many in numbers. His siblings were mostly strongly opinionated and strong in sibling rivalry.
Although he was educated in a Christian Brothers school, his upbringing was Confucian at home. Essentially, the main values were filial piety, respect for hierarchy, and duty and virtues of the superior man. She did not consider that his parents were placed at the top of the family tree and she was to later confuse his love and respect for his parents as loving her less. So, as ridiculous as it may sound, every couple contemplating marriage should ask themselves how often they would want to visit their parents. During the Bronze Age, there were few musical instruments, yet Confucius’ teachings did briefly mention music and the importance of music in one’s life, such as bringing pleasure and spiritual harmony. For the idiot, the one thing growing up at home was the availability of music. Their rediffusion set was always blaring music, Cantonese songs during the day for the workers in their laundry shop and English ones in the evening after they had left. Music was to shape his life and hers too in unimaginable ways. Their children would eventually bring them to a different world, a world of music that would open their minds and hearts to a higher spiritual joy. Music even brought them to the green room of Carnegie Hall where the simple man did the simple thing and remained tongue tied standing face to face, a yard opposite Olivia Newton-John, a siren to him in his younger days.
I live my daydreams in music
I see my life in terms of music
and music was the driving force
My discovery was the result of musical perceptionAlbert Einstein
The topic of money never came up for the young couple. Both were like-minded in lifestyle – they weren’t spendthrifts and both cared little about material wants and did not keep abreast with changing fashions. Most matters were left unspoken, as if they were skilled in telepathy. Maybe it was unnecessary to discuss money matters. A family of five soon became a family of seven when her parents migrated to live with them, comforted in their old age that their bet was a good one – the child they adopted turned out alright – and they had a winner in her to rely on for the remainder of their lives. She did very well, always made do with the one income he brought home. So, the question of whether they should pool their incomes or have separate bank accounts never came up. What was his was theirs. Wool comes from the sheep’s back. 羊毛出在羊身上. If they bought each other presents, the money came from the one bank account so it was easier that they did not take part in the consumerism trap.
Her wisdom was there for him to see. She didn’t care about driving around for the best buys – her time was more precious and businesses needed to make money. She didn’t pick the best fruits in the grocery store – others deserved them too or maybe she knew the unblemished ones were sprayed with more chemicals.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal.
She encouraged him to go for anything he aspired to. He had a very good paying job but she never stopped him from pursuing his dreams, even to the extent of giving up his executive role as a financial controller to start his own business. The risk reward ratio should have deterred him and since it did not, the number of dependents in his family ought to have. But, the idiot risked everything and blindly walked into a life sentence of hard labour and long struggles to build a retail chain that ultimately collapsed. He took comfort from what to him was one of Marcus Aurelius’ best ideas, that there’s nothing wrong with being wrong. He wasn’t ashamed of being wrong and was always quick to change his mind if proven that there was a better way. So, he closed all the shops one by one, and made himself unpopular with those that had betted their money to invest in his dream.
She didn’t think they could last two years as a couple. They were alike in many ways but they were different in those that mattered. She needed to be welcomed or accepted by his family but he told her they didn’t matter. She needed him to stand up for her when they hurt her but he told her they didn’t matter and those that didn’t matter couldn’t hurt them. She needed to be right but he told her it was ok to be wrong. Some of his siblings were awful to her without intent because they were simply awful. Like day and night, they were opposites that could not match. She needed him to be her hero but he didn’t see a need to be a hero. So, over time, he lost his shine and she lost her knight in shining armour. But, what is ours that is truly ours? Not even our own body, since a virus can ravage it. Not even our wealth, for that can be taken from us or taxed away. Not even our money, for that can be inflated to zero. Not even our own house, for that can be burned down. Our mind is what is truly ours, so said Marcus Aurelius. Let us treat it right and let no one abuse it.
“Our problems are really minute,” he said to her. Look at what we have. A pleasant house with a pleasant garden in a pleasant suburb. There is peace and serenity in their neighbourhood unlike war-torn zones such as Bakhmut and Khartoum. We don’t know hunger and we don’t know fear. What falls on us is rain and not missiles. What blows on us is the gully wind and not fists of the enemy. What is there for us to worry about? What problems are killing us?
“Wait a minute,” she said.
“It is minute.”