I've asked a male or two this question in a over a dozen foreign countries: "What is the most valuable and attractive attribute a woman can have in your culture?" The answer has been consistent in every country, Happy, cheerful, fun, joyful, smiling, good attitude...etc.
One of the fond memories I have, back when all of “us kids” were still living at home, is of hearing Dad somewhere outdoors laughing hysterically and Mom shrieking “I’m going to get you...”
We kids tore the house up trying to get outside and see the action. There was Mom chasing Dad around the house - literally. He was always so out of breath from laughing that he couldn’t run very fast, so he would finally trip and fall. Sometimes I wondered if he didn’t manage to trip on purpose; it always seemed to happen on the softest, most grassy piece of the yard. Mom would land on top of him, long pointed fingers tickling him mercilessly while he gasped for a reprieve, laughing and crying at the same time. He was paying his dues for jumping out of some dark corner and scaring Mom.
Scaring Mom was a favorite pastime of the whole family. Of course, Mom had instigated it by trying to scare everyone else. She was continually lying in wait behind furniture, in closets, and behind bathroom doors, trying to catch her prey off guard and provoke a startled yell. The problem lay in the fact that nobody was as easy to startle as Mom. Once, she huddled in wait behind a door to scare Dad. When she jumped out at him, he roared like a bear and jumped right back at her. Mom screamed and turned to Jell-o; it was the last thing she had expected. But she made up for it that evening behind the bedroom door. We heard Dad’s helpless laughter and pleading. He was paying his dues again. Nobody could tickle Dad quite like Mom, for he lost all his strength when she assaulted him.
Just hearing them laugh would set us all off. Mom and Dad would be locked in their bedroom laughing their heads off, and all five of us kids would be in the living room laughing right along with them.
I’m grown and married now. I don’t get to watch Mom chase Dad around the house anymore; but I’m very sure he is still happily “paying his dues.”
Yesterday when my husband came home from work, young Joseph heard the car drive up just as I announced gladly, “Daddy’s home!” Joe began to race back and forth up on the couch, screeching in hysterical anticipation. Gabe came in growling like a bear and grabbed me with a ferocious roar. Joe’s screeching rose to an even higher pitch. Gabe swung me around, still growling. By that time I was screeching, too. Joe had his hands over his ears and was jumping up and down on the cushions, delightfully trembling from head to foot. Watching his reaction, you would have thought he was the one getting eaten by the big bear - not his mama. The game gets more exciting every day. Watching Daddy and Mama laugh and love seems to be Joe’s favorite thing in life, and memories of my own childhood attest to that fact.
My favorite photograph of my grandparents, my Mom’s parents, is of Nanny sitting in Daddy Bill’s lap. They are in their seventies, gray-haired, and tired-looking. But that photo assures me that Nanny tickles Daddy Bill, too. In fact, I have memories of Nanny laughing until tears ran down her cheeks the day she turned off the basement light while Daddy Bill was down getting some canned goods. She hid in the dark by the stairs, waiting for him to stumble up looking for the light switch, and when he was only inches away, she asked in a loud voice, “What are you looking for, Bill?”
My great-grandparents, Papa Reed and Mama Reed (Nanny’s parents), passed away when I was 12 years old. I remember once going over to visit, and I wandered through the house looking for Papa Reed. Mama Reed warned me in a whisper that he was probably hiding in the toy closet, waiting for me to open it so he could jump out and scare me. Just knowing he was hiding in there unnerved me, and I wouldn’t open the door. Mama Reed opened it for me, and out he jumped with wrinkled white hands grasping for me, and yelling, “Boo!” Mama Reed couldn’t help but jump a little, too, and then she started laughing. Her shoulders shook beneath her polyester print house dress, even while she was fussing at Papa Reed for trying to scare me. He was dodging her batting hands, teasing her for jumping, and insisting that he had scared her. They were in their mid-eighties, still enjoying life to the fullest.
Now, scaring each other is just a family “heritage” on my Mom’s side of the family, but loving and laughing is a family trait, period.
Although Daddies are a definite factor in the fun, I believe we Mamas determine how far the fun will go - and if it will go at all. Daddy may decide what direction the family is going to take, but Mama decides how they feel about it. Mama is the mood-setter in the home. If I am happy and playful, my husband and my children are happy and playful. If I am sick or depressed, little Joseph suddenly has a hundred maladies, and Gabe gets grouchy. I never understood the verse, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” until I got married and had a family. When my joy is gone, the strength of my family seems to go down the drain. I have to make a continual choice to lay aside anything short of joy. The heart of my romance with my husband lies in our joy together. We look for reasons to be happy, reasons to laugh. Solomon said; A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones. We keep our bones well-oiled around here!
Are you wondering why your husband doesn’t jump out and scare you, tackle you and blow on your neck, or chase you around the house? Maybe he’s afraid of rejection and criticism. When he becomes confident that every overture on his part will be met with delight, he’ll start making more aggressive overtures!
I knew a couple in Montana who, from all appearances, “had it together.” While staying with them once, I noticed their children seemed oddly tense and quiet all the time. They had absolutely no sense of humor. One day the mother pulled me aside and told me that her husband had cheated on her and that she was afraid he would do it again. I watched the family with new eyes. The father walked with his head down and his eyes glued to the floor. He seemed tense and fearful around his wife. She was continually ill with a headache or some other such malady and had no tolerance whatsoever for “foolishness” - otherwise known as “fun”. I began to understand why her husband had been unfaithful and why the wife expected he might be again. There is never any excuse for sin. But we wives must remember that by our joy we can impart an extra measure of strength to our husbands. A wife’s joy can make the difference in whether a weak husband falls or excels.
I wondered if this family started out joyless or if it was a result of the sin. But that no longer mattered. The children were suffering from the todays that went by without the sound of laughter. How could laughter matter so much? Because laughter is love’s receipt, and joy is proof that the heart is sound. Although the children had no idea what was going on in the minds of their parents, they knew quite well what was going on in their hearts.
I cannot communicate adequately how desperately children need to see their parents laugh and love each other. Emotional healing begins with knowing the people around you are all right. I’ve known families who were absolute heathens, yet raised happy, stable children because of the healthy atmosphere at home. Family devotions and religious rebukes don’t produce healthy souls; healthy souls produce healthy souls!
When I was 16, we took in a foster child who was three years old. He had been in and out of various homes, and was often in the hospital, due to life threatening asthma attacks. Going from one foster home to another and from one hospital to another, the only thing in his life that had not changed was his car seat. When he came to our house, he spent the first few days quietly sitting in that car seat in the living room. We couldn’t coax him out of it or get him to smile. He had seen many smiling, well-meaning people ready to meet his needs. David needed to see people laugh and love each other. So Dad went to Home Depot and bought some foam insulation tubes for plumbing pipes. Mom, Dad and we kids played in the living room, beating on each other with the foam tubes and laughing till we cried. We rolled on the floor and tackled each other and played some more. Little David sat in his car seat and watched. After a while a foam tube landed near him. He got out of his seat and picked it up. The next thing we knew, he had whacked Dad over the head with it. Dad laughed and whacked him back. David stood still with eyes wide open for a minute and then burst out laughing. Soon, he was in the middle of it all, shouting and laughing with the rest of us. David’s healing had begun. In a few weeks his “severe asthma” was completely gone.
Finally, I’d like to declare that laughter is a universal gift from God, pleasant to hear in every language. Joy is valued in every culture. I’ve traveled to more than a dozen foreign countries, and in every one I’ve made an effort to ask a local male or two this question: “What is the most valuable and attractive attribute a woman can have in your culture?” The answer has been consistent in every country, from orthodox Jews to dope-smoking backpackers, from tribal men in the bush to suited businessmen on their way to work. Without a pause they always answer, Happy, cheerful, fun, joyful, smiling, good attitude...etc.
The number-one rule of romance is obvious to me: BE HAPPY!
Before I went to college, I wrote this poem and had it attached to the bottom of a photograph of my parents in dorky straw hats with pitchforks in their hands. I hung it on my dorm wall, and before the first week was out, every girl in the dorm had been in to look at it and laugh.
Mountain Ma and Pa
Oh, so much ter do,
So much ter be done.
The work‘s never thru,
And the work ain’t fun.
No thanks fer labor,
No pay fer the job.
Jes, Whus fer supper?”
“How ‘bout corn-on-the-cob?”
Ya mop, an ya sweep,
Ya warsh an ya shine.
Then ya turn around,
An whadaya find?
His shoes on the floor,
His coat on the chair,
His rear in the couch,
An his feet in the air!
So. . . kick off yer shoes,
An throw down yer broom.
Wink at yer ole man,
So he’ll make ya some room!
Rebekah is the daughter of Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of best-selling book To Train Up A Child. She is among the first fruits of the homeschooling era.