Happy Valentine’s Day, Jennifer

I’m very busy. You’re very busy. As I thought about the calendar and the day my column appears here, I thought I’d diverge from the path a little bit and tell you a story about how I met my wife. I promise that there is a reason for it.

Back in 1992, I was in the midst of a thrilling career starting The Great American Meatloaf Contest, which would eventually lead to a book deal and a prime nine-minute segment on “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.” I was working ridiculous hours, but I needed something more. Like a life.

I thought that a nationally syndicated humor column would be a good idea, so I came up with “The Single File,” a humorous look at single life. The theme of the first article was that it’s perfectly OK, sometimes even preferable, to be single. I wrote the first article and faxed 100 copies to newspaper editors around the country.

The next morning, the editor of the Flair section of the Richmond Times-Dispatch called and asked if I could do one of these articles every week. “Of course,” I replied. So, over the course of the next year, my column appeared weekly in the Richmond paper, and other newspapers around the country picked up an occasional article, too.

Flushed with the success of my weekly column, and my wallet-busting $25-per-week paycheck, I wrote an article in October 1992 that forever changed my life. Entitled “It’s Lousy to be Alone on Your Birthday,” I wrote about how awful I felt sitting home alone on a day when the world should have been celebrating. You know, a pity party. Trust me, it was funnier than this description. I asked people to send me their birth dates, names, and addresses and I’d send them a birthday card. I figured that 10 or 20 people would respond.

I was wrong. I received more than 500 letters, pictures, proposals, and other strange letters. Out of the pile dropped a letter written on school paper. The writer said her roommate’s birthday was coming up, and it would be funny if I sent her a card. She said that she liked my columns and was a huge Washington Redskins fan.

I have no idea why, but I called directory information in Richmond, tracked down her phone number, and left a message on her machine telling her that I needed to speak to her. Three days later she called. “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” I told her, “but I just had to call.” We talked for a few hours, and I knew right then that I would marry her.

A few months went by, and we even watched a football game together over the phone. For me to spend three hours on the phone meant that this was serious. As the calls became more frequent, we decided to meet. I flew down to Richmond and nervously awaited her arrival at the hotel. It was unbelievable! After not knowing what I was getting into for the five months we talked over the phone, being there in person was better than either one of us expected.

We dated long-distance for the next 18 months until our phone bills and airfare equaled the gross national product of Belize. I moved to Richmond in April of 1994, and we were married six months later.

We now have two incredible children: Molly is four and a half (or 30, depending on the day), and Noah is almost three. We have a few rituals in our house. I don’t leave the house without getting a kiss, a hug, and a loud high-five from the kids, and I always try to be home for dinner.

I’m Jewish; she’s Mormon. I’m a Yankee, and she’s a Southerner. We’re eight years apart. But the main thing is we’re making it work.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because if there is one thing I’ve learned over the past 20 years in business, it’s this: If your home life is good, the rest of it doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen so many marriages and relationships crash and burn because work and careers get in the way.

We’re all so busy that sometimes we take our spouses and kids for granted. None of us are going to be on our deathbeds uttering, “I should have worked more hours.”

I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I know that my wife and kids are always there for me. There’s nothing better than coming home every night to two kids running into my arms yelling, “Daddy’s home!”

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Jennifer, Molly, and Noah. Without you, the rest of this means absolutely nothing.

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