Tuesday

November 21st, 2017

Insight

What it's like to be the wife of the party

Kathleen Parker

By Kathleen Parker

Published May 4, 2015

The Pauls, Kelley and Rand.

The life of the wife of a presidential candidate can sometimes be like the government. Taxing.

You wake up and blink through that first cup of coffee, trying to register that the Politico headline blaring "How Rand Paul blew it on Baltimore" is about your husband.

Did Rand go to Baltimore? What did he blow?

Paul, the Kentucky senator and GOP presidential candidate, apparently quipped on a radio show last Tuesday that he was glad his train didn't stop in Baltimore. We call that bad timing or, at worst, a poor choice of words.

The same day of the headline, I happened to be meeting Kelley Paul for breakfast, ostensibly to discuss her new book, "True and Constant Friends >," an exploration of her relationships with her mother, grandmother and a small group of her closest friends.

Seated at a tiny table in a noisy restaurant, we ordered coffee and omelets — and quickly fell into the sort of intimate dialogue women can so easily have. We discussed children and husbands, drinking and diets, mothers and fathers, lovers (just kidding), Uber, hair, death — and, of course, the book. Our conversation lasted 2 1/2 hours.

And, no, we didn't know each other all that well beforehand, though we had met one time for lunch. Most women will admit that they can meet other women ever so briefly, whether in the boardroom or the powder room, and move seamlessly from the day's events to manicures without much concern for the overrated segue.

I'm not sure why this is, but it is.

Women share a universal connection that transcends politics and time. Whatever the source — hormones, the shared power of human creation or the hidden bearings that evolved through millennia to aid women's survival — it does seem to be constant and true.

The sources and ways of women's connectedness is what Kelley Paul wanted to explore in her book. Tender and sweet, it is a series of vignettes and anecdotes that read almost like a diary. Interspersed are memorable quotes and artwork by women in a New Jersey homeless shelter. Paul bought the paintings for use in her book and then sold them at her book party. Proceeds went back to the shelter.

The book also includes a foreword by Rand Paul about the women in his life.

"Ah, so he does like women," I said to Kelley wearily, bored with my own cynicism but feeling compelled to trot out the old nag anyway. I was referring to recent speculation that Rand doesn't like women because he had rebuked a female reporter with the same tone he uses with men.

Silliness.

Rand Paul's contribution is worthwhile, however, if only to learn about the remarkable women who helped shape him. Whether before marriage or an election, you can never know too much about the women in a man's life. You may quote me.

Kelley Paul was appropriately concerned about exposing so much of herself during a political season. But revealing the concentric circles that connect her to the most important women in her life produced an unexpected retreat from the grind of politics — a thing and a place all her own.

She says her most "incandescent" experiences came from those times when her mother and grandmother were together.

"Sensing that I was next in that lineage was powerful even as a little girl," she says. "More than genetic DNA, I really do feel that I can tap into their experiences — their victories, losses, bravery. With friends, you can tap into a memory that brings you to a certain moment in time."

She noted that often one's most important moments correspond to the smallest things — not grand canyons of life-altering transition, but fresh settlements of spring flowers that cause one to remember the smell of rain. The little gifts of a radiant smile, the way Paul's grandmother beamed at Kelley's mother upon the family's return from two years in Turkey.

Or the happy chatter of women in her mother Lillian's beauty salon in a converted utility room when Kelley came home from school. It was the sound of "hope, encouragement and validation — of women helping one another feel good about themselves," she writes.

Many such stories fill the book, touching on experiences that will feel familiar to many women. We may have lost the beauty parlor to the unisex salon, but the spirit of Lillian's parlor is still with us, whether this translates to women helping women feel beautiful or helping them run for public office.

When your husband is immersed daily in the gritty world of politics, it is good to have a book of family and friends you can turn to.

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Kathleen Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. Now one of America's most popular opinion columnists, she's appeared in JWR since 1999.

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