The Threshold of Goneness
Hunting and fishing have been lifelong hobbies for me that I have mostly shared with other male friends. As a younger man, I often asked my girlfriends if they wanted to go hunting with me, but only one, Jen, took me up on my offer.
At the time, I was living in Minnesota, and we went ruffed grouse hunting. She didn’t hunt but was willing to walk along and keep me company. Soon after we started walking through the Aspen forest, I spotted a ruffed grouse. It took flight, I fired, and it fell to the ground.
Naturally, I was proud of my wing shooting skills in the dense woods, but when I brought back the grouse for Jen to see, she broke out in tears. The hunt was over, but thankfully our romance blossomed and we were married soon after.
We moved to central Missouri to begin our lives together. I continued to hunt and fish while Jen developed other outdoor interests, including competition horse riding. My weekend trips away from home during the fall were tolerated, but as our family began to grow I could sense tension building with my absences.
Early in our married lives, it was my habit each year to open the hunting seasons with a muzzleloading deer hunt to northeastern Missouri. Then I would open the duck season with a trip to Audrain County, followed by the opening of the Missouri quail season to Mercer County. After that, I was off to west central Kansas for the opening day of the pheasant season. I cooled off the following weekend with a firearms deer hunt to northern Missouri. Mop-up involved several duck and quail hunts to round out the month of November and early December.
One year, as I was leaving for the firearms deer hunting portion of my fall hunting schedule, I noticed Jen standing on the back porch of the house holding the hands of our two very young sons. Jen was expecting our third son in about three months. There were tears streaming down her cheeks as I rolled out of the driveway. My “Little Voice,” naturally, popped up in the back of my mind and was screaming at me to stop, warning me I would be sorry if I didn’t.
Ah yes, my “Little Voice,” a stoic, subconscious do-gooder, never interested in a little fun, who was always trying to warn me of impending disaster and save me from myself.
During my adolescence, my “Little Voice” was constantly screaming at me in disapproval of my decision processes and behavior. It told me many times that if I had
just listened better, we would be routine guests on the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and there would be a lot less groveling on my part to make up for poor choices. This day was no different.
The hunter in me was driving, so needless to say, it was pedal to metal. Three days later, upon my return, there were issues. Things had changed drastically.
We began with a “Level III” lecture. These are massive, painful events lasting three days. They begin with 24 hours of the silent treatment. Then there are 24 hours of stern, serious expressions of discontent, copious tears, ample references to unrelated past events (to document a pattern of unacceptable behavior), quotes of support and warning from her mother, and shameless, serious groveling on my part. Then there are an additional 24 hours of silent treatment.
During this most recent unpleasant three-day event, the “Threshold of Goneness” was thoroughly defined and articulated. My absences for hunting and fishing trips would have an upper limit. I argued long and hard that trips associated for official work duties should not be included in the Threshold. But Jen explained that gone was gone, the reason was unimportant.
We also came up with the “Point System,” basically an earn-a-trip concept. This usually involved me slaving feverishly on home improvement and horse facility projects to earn away-time for hunting and fishing. The first full year of the Point System resulted in our house being featured in a national magazine specializing in old home restorations. Jen was thrilled, but the preparations almost killed me.
As you can imagine, I was generally dissatisfied with the Point System. Points were hard to accumulate and peeled off way too easily. A late rules change resulted in behavioral transgressions on my part being assessed against the point total, much to the delight of my “Little Voice.” To make matters worse, bad behavior by my sons was also deducted from my goneness points, since Jen claimed that my sons’ behavior was influenced by, and related to, my own.
But eventually I learned to manage the Threshold carefully. I taught my sons basic home improvement skills like sanding drywall so they could make their own contribution to the point total. They were instructed on digging post holes and building fences to relieve Jen of routine horse chores, an interest of her own that required full family participation.
I quickly learned that taking my sons on hunting and fishing trips provided Jen with mini-vacations, relieving her of certain motherhood responsibilities for a time. She fell into the habit of taking a winter vacation with her mother to Florida, which I converted to extra points.
Recently we took a two-week trip to Florida so she could take horseback riding lessons from special instructors. I shamelessly exploited this commitment on my time and have added numerous hunting trips that have nearly returned me to the pre-Threshold golden years.
I also discovered that sending flowers to Jen’s workplace soothed the pain and inconvenience associated with my absences, especially for the longer trips. It took me some time to find the right florist who would deliver the flowers and walk them through the area where she worked for others to see. This has become such a tradition that her co-workers know that with the arrival of flowers, the hunting season has begun.
Since Jen’s co-workers rarely receive flowers, she takes extra pleasure in these deliveries. I supplement them with a few others throughout the year, just to keep her co-workers jealous of the attention. They speak highly of me, although I have never met most of them, and their favorable words to Jen help my overall goneness point total.
My sons are grown and moved out of the house now. I have to manage the Threshold differently. Jen used to look forward to me taking the boys hunting or fishing so she could have some quiet time at home. Now she tells me that she is lonely when I am gone.
I compensate by taking her on trips around the state, often overnight, so we can have quality time together. Occasionally, I will time my flower deliveries before or after one of these trips so her friends at work will notice how attentive I am.
As a hospital employee, Jen is surrounded mostly by other women at work. The key is to keep her co-workers envious of the attention and on my side. If they are making positive comments about my thoughtfulness, then I am accumulating points for my next hunting trip.
But sadly, I know now that if I had listened to my “Little Voice” 15 years ago, there would be no Threshold and I would not have spent the last decade and a half figuring out how to get around it.