SPEVAK: Qualities of a good marriage, as practiced for 61 years

john.spevak@gmail.comDecember 13, 2013 

Marriage has been in the news frequently in the last few years. It has been re-defined, expanded, challenged, defended and re-examined.

One way to explore the topic of marriage, today or any time, is to look at marriages that have worked. I have one to suggest: the marriage of Bob and Genny Figel.

Most of my readers haven’t heard of this couple, so I’ll provide a little background. Genny and Bob have been my aunt and uncle since 1971, when I married into the extended Figel family. I’ve seen them up close off and on for more than four decades.

They are not a typical couple. For one thing they have 10 children, all whom are now college graduates and out on their own.

For another, Genny has been a lifelong Democrat; Bob a lifelong Republican. And they and their family have lived in many different places, including Pittsburg, Sacramento, San Jose, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Upland.

This year they celebrated their 61st anniversary. What has made this atypical pair such a good married couple? I’d like to suggest several qualities of their marriage that I think would help any marriage – typical or atypical – succeed:

• Tolerance and understanding: Though they differed in many ways, Bob and Genny respected each other’s opinions and viewpoints.

Yes, they had some lively debates, especially about politics. But they distinguished the debate from the debater. They would discuss contrasting ideas often and at length, but they didn’t take their political and other differences personally.

• A sense of humor: Genny and Bob have had a wonderful ability to laugh, at life and at themselves. They made it a point to laugh with, but not at, others; and they have passed on their sense of humor to their children.

• Hospitality: Bob and Genny have consistently made visitors welcome, including relatives, friends and acquaintances stopping by.

• Caring: Genny and Bob have been cheerfully willing to help other people, whether a neighbor down the street, a fellow parishioner across town or someone in a parking lot needing a jump-start.

• Work ethic: Both Bob and Genny worked hard, and they expected their kids to do the same. They made sure the older children helped the younger ones. And, at least when I was around, none of the kids whined or grumbled.

All ten children understood the need to pitch in, and they seemed to have fun along the way, talking and laughing as they prepared dinner or washed dishes.

• High expectations: Genny and Bob set high standards for themselves and their kids. All of the children, from a young age, understood they were expected to attend college, and all of them did. Along the way their parents encouraged and helped them. Genny, for example, was a master at typing college applications and scholarship forms.

• Faith: Bob and Genny have had a strong faith in God throughout their lives. They didn’t make a big display of their religion, but it was clear to their children how important faith was to their family.

• Fun: Both Bob and Genny enjoyed life and, along with their children, had fun. They’d often take their kids on picnics to parks, and they enjoyed sharing with each other an evening glass of wine at home.

Yes, those qualities made for a successful marriage and helped them through their later years when their health declined. Bob, who had been so strong and independent, needed full-time care at home, but both he and Genny faced this challenge with a positive spirit.

It was a surprise when Genny died first, three months ago. But it wasn’t surprising when Bob died two months later; they were so closely linked, in this life and now in the next.

Their legacy includes ten independent children who have successfully pursued careers in fields like engineering, teaching, planning, writing and law.

Their children have, in turn, followed their parents’ approach to life: live fully and care deeply.

Bob and Genny’s spirit will indeed live on for many generations, in their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yes, I’d say theirs was a good example of what a marriage should be.

Comments on the writing of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged and can be sent to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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