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A fool’s comment made in haste

By R. MICHAEL WELLS SR., Special to Lawyers Weekly

mikew@wellsjenkins.com

If you asked many people who know a lawyer how they would describe the personality type of that lawyer, it would not take them very long until the got to the “A” word.

Lawyers are known far and wide as “A” type personalities.

That’s generally not a bad thing, of course. No one gets much of any place worth going without some focus and intensity.

But sometimes that intensity bleeds out in ways that are not positive.

One of the high-intensity days for me is Monday morning. I like to get to the office early and, as my father used to say, hit the ground running.

When you are the mother of three school-aged children, you do not have a day when you hit the ground running. You are always running. Juggling the schedules of busy children, your own schedule, and so many, many other things, is a daunting task. Accomplishing everything and working outside of the home, as many mothers do now, is even more daunting.

One Monday morning nearly 20 years ago I was in high gear. I had a particularly difficult matter facing me that morning at the office, and I was running just a little behind on my schedule. I looked in my sock drawer, and there were no clean socks.

The combination of these three things set me on a path towards my life’s most foolish words, spoken to my wife, that young mother of our three school-aged children.

I am sure “the devil made me do it,” to borrow Flip Wilson’s comic phrase. Why would I ever make any harsh statements to the love of my life, my wife of (at the time) over 20 years, the supermom of our three children and the person who drove to the next county for three years to teach school and put me through law school?

As it turns out, there were plenty of clean socks in a clothes basket in the laundry room. It was suggested: perhaps if another parent in the house (I am pretty sure this was about me) had carried the laundry basket upstairs, filled mainly with that other parent’s clothes, all of this could have been avoided.

At that point, of course, I was not interested in the facts, despite the fact that I had received a cross-examination and ferreting-out of the true facts more masterful than I had ever given as a supposedly competent lawyer. But by the time I had reached the top of the hill and was getting ready to leave our neighborhood, I realized I had said the dumbest things to the sweetest person that one could imagine.

This was pre-cell phone days, so I had to wait until I got to the office to call and tell my wife how sorry I was (in more ways than one was I “sorry”). I then counted the minutes until the florist opened up and I could send some flowers. The florist repeated what I wanted to put on the card: “I am sorry. Love, your dumbo husband.” “Yes, Maa’m,” I said; “that’s what I want to say.”

I have since thought it would be good therapy for my “dumb moods” to be a florist sometime and hear all the groveling comments dumb-talking people like me tell their spouses when they fail to think through their comments before they say them.

“Married life teaches one invaluable lesson: to think of things far enough ahead not to say them,” said Jefferson Machamer. If I had had any sense, I would have bridled in my words and gone looking for the socks. But by that time I was “riding on my high horse,” as my mother and father used to say, and headed down an unfortunate path.

The fact that it was not in my nature to talk harshly, and certainly not to my family, really did not matter much. Because on this day, I was harsh with my comments. And that was the only thing that mattered.

What I have learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this: whenever you find yourself getting emotionally charged about anything, think far enough ahead before you say the wrong thing. To everyone, but especially to the one who made you what you are. Whether you are a mom who works at home, or who works out of the home, there is no more important or difficult job on this earth than being a mom.

And by the way, my wife of now almost 40 years says the part of this story about her cross-examination is her favorite part. And that note sent with those flowers 20 years ago? She still has it. Just in case I get on that high horse again sometime.

Smart woman, that Janet Graham Wells.

Editor’s note: Wells is a partner with the firm of Wells, Jenkins, Lucas & Jenkins in Winston-Salem, where he practices in the estate planning area. He also writes a monthly legal column for the Winston-Salem Journal, and he is the host of a weekly public service legal call-in show on WSJS 600 AM.

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