- Growing up
- Build myself back up
- Prepare for new life
- Find the right person for the Family
- God’s blessing
- A humble and Open Heart
- Be kind to the “Extended family”
- Repair the relationship with kids
- Most effective way of resolving conflicts
1. Growing up
I was born in a pretty normal and loving family in Taiwan. Being the only boy in the family, I may be a bit spoiled. Therefore, I always believe that a bit too much love won’t hurt.
I was married to 嘉 when I was 22. She was my first girl friend, we knew each other since we were 20, and we had a pretty good marriage. We were each other’s best friend. After my military service, we came to the US for graduate school. I then started working as engineer in EE and Computer Science field. We have a son and a daughter, Bao and Mei. My life has been smooth, simple and happy.
My father is extremely smart, capable, humorous, and proud. He was a bit like老爺 at home. He had a successful career. He work hard and play hard. He is analytical, and belief in人定勝天. Think religion is for the weak. He was my role model until I was 40. Just like my father, I was very career minded, frequently worked 60 hour week, and climbed up the corporate ladder and became engineering director. Then, I got a wake up call. I was demoted, and eventually got laid off.
2. Build myself backup
At that time, I was seeking some help from a career counselor. I started to realize my problems: I ignored people relationship. I need to be humble, and be a better listener, … I didn’t realize what he taught me were all in the Bible. However, that will take many more years, another crisis and an angel.
嘉 was a wonderful wife and mother; unfortunately she passed away suddenly due to a very unusual illness. 嘉sudden departure was a huge blow to me. I cried like a baby for couple days. My life was suddenly out of balance. I really didn’t know how to function. I went through the mourning following process:
- With the help of many great friends, we had a very warm and touching funeral and a celebration of life party. She was beautiful till last day. I was convinced that God loved her very much, and pitied her, so she was only sick for 3 months, and was never in terrible pains. She had a wonderful and happy life with many great friends. This was an extremely important process. I wrapped up our life together in these events. Put all her pictures in a photo album. Took that back home to Taiwan, visited all her friends and family, said good bye.
- Seeking help from psychologist.
- Rearranging living arrangements: Right after the funeral, I gave all her clothes to my sisters, and donated the rest. I move to the smallest bedroom, and turned my master bed room into an indoor golf driving range.
These were a bit un-traditional, but I do feel at peace with the way I handled the situation.
3. Prepare for new life
Since I always have my wife as my closest friend and soul mate, I miss the companionship a lot. I also got a bit too much male hormone in my body. To avoid being tempted into a sinful life, I realize that I should find a new wife. When 嘉 was slipping away, she told me that it is ok for me get remarried, however I MUST find someone who will be nice to our daughter Mei, who was only 14 at that time.
After I found peace with my late wife and was ready to move on, I did need to resolve couple issues before I meet any new person. For example,
Clothes and Photo on the wall: Properly taking care of her clothes and photos … is quite important to my children. If I don’t deal with these issues before I met the new person, my kids will put the blame on the new person. “It is all because of you, my dad is forgetting my mom”.
Property: I also needed to take care of this way before I met any new person. Otherwise, it would be emotionally unfair to the new person. It will be interpreted as “I don’t trust you, so I did this and that arrange on the property.” In my case, we set up a trust, so at least half of the property belongs to the kids, no matter what type of new marriage I am going to form.
4. Find the right person for the Family
At this stage, my top priority is Mei. Since she is only 14, I must find a person that she is ok with. Otherwise, I should wait after she went to college. Actually, my original plan was to date but not get re-married until Mei went to college. I even had a bet with her. I told her that I won’t have girl friend, as long as she won’t have boy friend. I guessed I lost that bet, I clearly don’t know myself well enough.
After several months, an office colleague asked me if I like to meet a girl friend of hers. When I grew up, my best friend was my oldest sister. She was extremely intelligent. So, I always look for someone who can have deep intellectual conversation with me. My late wife definitely fit that profile, she got 2 masters and 1 Ph.D degree and was extremely intelligent. So when my friend told me 玲玲 went to 清華University at age 16, I was ready to meet her. The bonus point is that she had a son Gui, who was 6. I had two kids on my own, and I am realistic to know that if I find someone without kid, I will have to fulfill her desire to be a mother, and I will need to find someone with kids, otherwise I would have to deal with diapers and … for next 10 years. Of course, she also added 玲玲 is beautiful. Well, that won’t hurt.
We had a blind date. If you ask 玲玲, it was more like an interview. I know myself too well to know that I had better keep a cool head. I fall in love easily. Just like the first time, I married the first girl friend again
Other than the obvious, she is smart, intelligent, and beautiful. What really attracted me was her attitude toward her ex-husband. She has no bitterness toward him at all. She truly forgave him. She truly forgave herself. She took her share of the responsibility. Not until later did I find out this is what “Christianity” is about.
玲玲 is a mother, and extremely mature, so she got along with my two kids very well. She invited us over for a BBQ, and cooked for us. One time she saw Mei looking lonely, so she took Mei to her mom’s grave. They became friends quickly.
Gui went to China to see his dad that summer, so I didn’t meet Gui until a month later. He is an amazing kid; I think he has the highest EQ among all the kids I know. I always told 玲玲 that just like the movie “Jerry McGuire”. It is because of Gui I married her. Well, it may be a bit of a stretch. However, I don’t think 玲玲 minded my version of the story.
5. God’s blessing
I am a very logical person. It is hard for me to accept any religion. 嘉’s passing made me more humble and more vulnerable. I started to realize my limitation.
I didn’t know then that 玲玲 was the angel God put beside me. 玲玲 has brought many people to God. I am one of them. Soon after I met her, I started to realize that many of her qualities came from knowing Christ. When 玲玲 went to church, and asked me to join her. At first I said “no”, she didn’t get upset, just went by herself. She is smart enough to give me the time and space. I needed her company so much that the next time she asked me, I went along. Week after week, I embraced Christ as my personal savior as well. Since I saw what God has done to her life, I told myself I want that too.
6. A Humble and Open Heart
Our traditional education system hasn’t really prepared us to be good fathers, nor good husbands. Just think about the 16 to 20 years of schooling. How many of them are teaching us to be a person that pleases God. Look at your book shelf, how many books are helping you grow into a good father, good husband.
God want us to be humble. To behave like Christ requires a lot of learning.
Two years after we got married, 玲玲 and I went to a “Family Vacation camp” organized by 家新. Just like many other men, I was reluctant to go. However, we got so much out of this camp that we ended up going for 9 years in a row and counting...
I also learned a lot by joining a Chinese Christian brother’s book study club. We have studied 8 books now:
- From Success to Significance
- Your Best Day Now
- Seven Seasons of the Man in the Mirror
- 5 Love Languages
- Purpose Driven Life
- Victory Over Darkness
- Mere Christianity
- Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
All these books are helping us become better people, and become like Christ. This is the foundation of becoming a good father and good husband.
7. Be Kind to the extended family
玲玲 is a wonderful wife. Many times I felt so thankful that I wanted to do something for her. The first clue is to use her primary love language. The book “5 Love Languages” is a must-read book. In her case, she feels love mostly by “Words of Affirmation”. I need to get into a habit of praising her as often as I can. The other thing I can do is to love her extended family, e.g., her mom and her son. The amazing thing is that they become “My mom and my son” once we form a strong bond. Gradually, I no longer do nice things for them to please 玲玲; I do it because I love them with or without 玲玲. I guess many good Christians have done similar things to please God. Later on, it becomes part of us, we no longer do it to “Please” anyone, but because Christ lives inside us, it becomes part of us.
We had the wisdom from day one to know who should be “黑臉/ 白臉”. 玲玲 and I will take the responsibility to discipline our blood related kids. (黑臉). We also give each other opportunities to “Please” the step kids (白臉).
Since, Gui has been with me since age 6, and it has been 11 years. Only starting 1 year ago, I felt more comfortable to discipline Gui. Sometimes it is necessary to discipline your step kids, but proceed with great caution. It is so much safer to let the “Blood parent” to be the “黑臉”. Step parent’s job is so simple, just love them.
Just like 玲玲 had no bitterness toward her ex-husband. I also learned to like him. I always say good words about him in front of Gui. I also say good things about him in front of other people whether Gui is there or not. I want Gui to grow up with confidence and feel loved. I once asked Gui how he would describe himself or what he feels is special about him. He said that he is blessed with two set of parents, all four of them love him very much. I also see him transform from a shy person to an outgoing, confident person. He also recently accepted Christ as his personal savior (I often took him to English sermon on Sundays; this is our 1 on 1 time). I felt proud that I contribute to his growth, and that we have become great friends. I truly felt he is just like my own son, even though we have different last name. Sometimes people know him first and think we have the same last name, so they will call me 謝先生, I will just say 不謝不謝!
Normally, I will be upfront and tell people that he is my step son. Both Gui and I are comfortable with this. If we truly believe that he is blessed with 4 loving parents then why not be upfront and share the good news.
8. Repair the relationship
I got remarried only 14 months after 嘉 passed away. Even though 玲玲 has been a fantastic mother, it was still a bit too soon for Mei to adjust to the new family. Imagine how she felt after just losing her mother, she suddenly had to face:
Moving to a new home
Entering a new high school
Having a new mother
Having a new brother: no longer being the baby in the family
Having to share her father with someone else
It is just too much too fast. Her grades dropped, she was not happy. For about 2 years, she had a really hard time. However, we did work it out. She became happy and her grades went up, she became a very responsible person. She now has a wonderful relationship with 玲玲, Gui and I.
One of the most important things I did is to shoulder the responsibility myself. Not involve 玲玲 in any of the bitter situations. I apologized to Mei and asked for her forgiveness. If I can do it over, I would slow down a bit, and give Mei more time to transition.
Again, I cannot say enough about how great 玲玲 is with the kids. One winter the whole family went to Tahoe for skiing. We were stuck in the snow storm for 10 hours. At one point we would have to wait in the middle of the highway for 6 hours. Needless to say for girls, it was a challenge to go to bathroom. Mei just couldn’t do it. 玲玲 was patient and kind, took Mei along and showed her how to do it, and made her relax and know that it is ok to go …
9. Most effective way of resolving conflicts
Blended family has more issues that can cause conflicts than first marriage. However, most of the conflicts are the same old problems, which keep on coming back over and over again. Since the conflicts are very predictable, it is possible to address them before it happens.
We put a lot of our energy and thoughts on resolving most of conflicts before it happened. There were 4 principles to make this works: Communication, Learning, Priority, and Strategic.
Communication: When we first met, we spent a lot of focus on building trust, and encouraged each other to share feelings. When we are willing to speak up about our true feelings, the other person cannot criticize it at that moment. Once we felt safe to communicate, then we can identify and work on our conflicts.
Learning: Communication, resolving conflict, deposit… are learned skills. We attended so many work shops, retreats… Gradually, it became part of us. The best work shop for this type of learning is MER恩愛夫妻營. If you think how much time you spent on learning physics or chemistry, and how much are they benefit you today, vs. how much time you spent time on learning communication, resolving conflict, and how much it could benefit you. You will understand what I mean here.
Priority: We both put our family ahead of our career. For example, I didn’t take the sales leader job in Asia. We decided to have simpler life style, and 玲玲 willing to give up her career by staying home. Once we have the priority straight, it automatically avoided many conflicts.
Strategic: If problem, keep on coming back, you should think if there is a better to resolve it all together. For example, we didn’t nag our children that they should not spend too much on computer games, browsing the web site… Instead, we set up a family study room, and put all our computers in the same room. Don’t know how much conflict this has avoided.
After we did these 4 things, conflict may still happen. For example, we had a dispute on how much money we should give to a relative. Luckily, we are very good at communication, so after discuss this and then we found out the key issue is not the dollar amount, it is the process and it is who should do the giving. Once we identify the root cause, this conflict never happens again. There are indeed some conflicts, but we always have good communication. We are willing to discuss it to understand it and then try to resolve it. Sometime it is more important to me than 玲玲, she will let me have my way. On other issues, I will let her make the choice.
Of course, this still won’t solve all the issues. Typically, we will give each time and space to have a cool down period. However, we have the strong bond of love and God. We do trust each other meant well, either we had some misunderstanding or we will try to brainstorm to find a win win solution. Or at least win and no lose solution.
I am not making a blended family seem easy to work out. However 玲玲 and I can both say that:
A blended family with God can be more successful than the first marriage without God.