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'The Rockford Files': Secret to a marriage?

A couple of decades on, my wife and I still find ourselves telling people about our Pre-Cana experience, held at a parish in a Brooklyn neighborhood known then, with implied notoriety, as an Italian-American enclave. The catechist couple spent much of the Saturday session enumerating (in colorful Brooklynese) the ups and downs of their own lengthy marriage, though dropped in among the anecdotes were tips targeted at the mostly very young couples of the community. Girls, admonished the wife, make sure you’ve put on some lipstick and nice clothes when he comes home from work, since the last thing he wants to see after a long subway ride is a tired, washed-out woman at the stove. From the husband: Guys, go easy on your daughter, if you’re blessed with a daughter, because they can’t help but choose losers for boyfriends and they’re going to get into trouble.

Whatever works, we’ve since come to understand. 

If up to my adolescence I was convinced that every argument between my parents augured divorce, I was equally reassured of the marriage's endurance by their weekly viewings together of “The Rockford Files” on Friday nights. I was reminded of this habit of theirs after the actor James Garner died last Saturday. It was the one hour they would set aside for themselves after a week of demanding work for my father and the arguably more demanding job my mother had in overseeing a house overrun by four boys. It might not rise to the level of the “date nights” that some magazines today prescribe for the harried-parent demographic, since it consisted only of a frozen eggplant parmigiana and a decanter of Carlo Rossi burgundy, set out on a dinged-up coffee table in front of the nineteen-inch black-and-white TV, the only one the house. But for the mid-1970s, in a rural town twenty country miles from the single-screen movie theater, it seemed to work.

Probably because they worked to make it happen—my mother feeding us early and hurrying us to bed before the program began, my father making sure to get home in time (and to pour the wine). From my bedroom I could hear the show’s famous ringing-phone opener and the unmistakable instrumental theme, if not very much of the dialogue. Eventually, as we got too old to be forced to bed early, we were grudgingly allowed to watch along with them, as long as we stayed quiet and sat far away from their private table. They loved watching James Garner as Jim Rockford—together—and they weren’t going to let their night be taken away.

It was probably inevitable that I grew to love “Rockford,” too, and some of the other things in which Garner appeared (his turn as the white-turtlenecked Scrounger in The Great Escape is a favorite). He not only famously did his own driving in movies and television; he also drove the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. He did Polaroid commercials. He liked to say he met his wife at an Adlai Stevenson rally, in 1956, and he was still married to her when he died. This last detail stuck out for me, not just because I tend to expect multiple spouses listed in celebrity obituaries. I guess it also seemed sort of appropriate. I've probably long since bored my wife, and more recently my kids, with stories of my parents’ “Rockford” nights; it was a bit of simple modeling on their part, I guess, and even if done unwittingly, has maybe been more valuable than whatever I could have taken from Pre-Cana. In October, they’ll have been married fifty years. Whatever works?

About the Author

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s digital editor.



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Very moving.  A tribute to human love and creativity.

Thank you.

My parents had a cocktail together every night before dinner.  

Raber and I used to read books to each other aloud when we first got married because we had no TV. This continued until The Boy was about 10 when we started reading "Huckleberry Finn" and Harry Potter (though by then we had television with VHS/DVD players). 

In the intervening centuries (er, decades) since our marriage, our reading tastes have since gone in very different directions. Raber seems no longer interested in novels. And I am not interested in heavy Church histories or theological works unless I have insomnia.

However, several series, including "The Sopranos," "The Wire," "Breaking Bad," and (oddly) "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" have become our version of "The Rockford Files." When we come to an impasse in an argument, it's time to break out a favorite episode from one of those series.

I don't remember my parents watching tv together or really having any common interest like that - perhaps why they got divorced.  But I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and it was comforting every evening to watch tv together.  Now my "comfort" tv is watching episodes of old science fiction series like Star Trek and Stargate and Bebylon 5.

My husband has struggled with cancer since we were dating, and he has had several surgeries, between which we have built an otherwise normal, happy married life, now with two little daughters, a house, careers, TV nights, etc.  

During recovery and hospitalization for his most recent surgery, as we were doing our slow "laps" around the 16th Floor at Memorial Sloan Kettering, pushing his IV on wheels and holding hands, we remarked to each other how, even in spite of all the other unpleasant aspects of hospitalization, in a way those "laps" have always been a special time together, a routine in our relationship that brings us closer every few years.

We've said similar things to each other about seemingly mundane parts of our lives - our shared ride to the Metro North station when I first started working in New York, quietly sitting together in the living room working on papers for graduate school, or reading next to each other in bed.  

We haven't been married long (it will be 4 years next Thursday - we knew each other for 4 years before that), but whatever works sounds like a pretty good secret to marriage for us. 

My parents ran small town businesses together for as long as I could remember.  Togetherness was not lacking! 

Beautiful - reminds me of the old saying - in the ordinary, you find the extraordinary.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I spent most evenings over a period of several months watching all of the episodes of "The West Wing". We both thoroughly enjoyed it, but one of the things you inevitably get when watching television with 6 young kids in the house is interruptions. Because of the series' sharp and rapid dialogue, we found it necessary to pause the show for even the smallest interruption. As a result, we probably have the distinction of being the only two people to have all watched seven years of that series almost completely in five-minute intervals! (An exercise in patience!)

There are very few non-sports television programs that I follow apart from my wife - I think the only one in the last few years has been the "24" series.  We watch, or at least try to watch, a half-dozen or so series, from Downton Abbey to Major Crimes to Brooklyn 99.  We've watched the series now known as "Masterpiece Mystery" for virtually the entire time we've been married.

We've learned that part of being married is being a little more open-minded towrad the other's tastes in the arts and popular culture.  Within reasonable limits :-).  



My parents, too, loved the Rockford Files and watched the reruns (along with those of Murder She Wrote and Hogans Heros) most nights of the week after we all moved out.  Good memories for all!  Thanks.

@ Barry Hudock

Maybe you should postpone watching "The Gilmore Girls" until all your kids are out of the house.

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