I always wished I were more attractive. No offense to my ancestry, but neither Germany nor Ireland is particularly renown for populating the world with beautiful people. I’m not alone in this assertion. Internationally-known news organization, Reuters, proclaimed that Germans sit just beneath Britons in the category of the “world’s most unattractive men”, and Ireland’s own Internet news source, independent, self-deprecatingly admitted that Irish are indeed “the ugliest men in the world”. I can relate. Not only is my face devoid of the spatial proportions required for empirical beauty, it also lacks symmetry. For example, my right eye slants downward compared to the left, and one ear is higher than the other—subtle misalignments exacerbated by glasses, which I’ve worn since the 4th grade. Then there are the comically sized features. A mouthful of off-white Chiclets, for instance, which appear to have been hurriedly chucked into an undersized jaw requiring years of orthodontic treatment to straighten, or the impossible-to-miss, billboard-sized forehead above (sometimes teasingly called a “fivehead”). My asymmetry doesn’t terminate at the neck, either. My shoulders aren’t quite level; none of my finger lengths on one hand mirror the lengths of the other; and I’ve got a rather strange indention, a bit like a pothole, on the right side of my abdomen. It’s pretty much the same story all the way down to my toes, as if I were experimentally pieced together from whatever parts remained at the bottom of the box. (I’m not complaining, I promise. Everything works. It’s really just my perfectionism showing; I can’t help but notice these things.) So, to tell you how taken aback I was to have been chosen as a life mate by such an exquisite and alluring beauty as my wife is to entirely understate the matter altogether. She is one of those women pretty enough to have gotten anyone she wanted but for whatever reason chose me. Twenty-nineteen marks our fifteenth year together, and I still don’t understand. Meet my lovely wife, Cassandra Miley Knight.
As far as I can tell, beauty and brains seem to manifest themselves in zero-sum fashion: more of one means less of the other. But Cassandra—or Cassi, as I call her—managed however impossibly to tip both sides of the scale. She’s gorgeous and brilliant (more on the latter later). Early on, her stunning looks won her representation by Elite Model Management; the agency responsible for turning Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Anna Nicole Smith, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Paulina Porizkova, and dozens of other supermodels of the day into household names. If you ever wandered through a shopping mall in the 90s, you probably saw Cassi from a number of vantage points, thanks to Elite. Perhaps in a drugstore smiling in a Colgate ad, or on wall-mounted posters modeling women’s fashion wear at Esprit. You might’ve also encountered her while thumbing through one of those phonebook-sized catalogs at the all-too-familiar Macy’s department store anchoring the tail end of every major mall in America.
I’ve never seen a bad photo of Cassi, either. I cannot say that about anyone else I have ever personally known. There are simply no angles from which she does not appear stunning. No facial expression that isn’t somehow captivating. Light itself seems to want to dance about her features. You could say I am biased, but evidently her glamour has a similar effect on others. When we go out, we are often treated to questions from total strangers about where they might’ve seen her before, what magazine she’s in, or which television show she’s on. Sometimes they just stop and stare, eventually asking, “Are you a model?” In these moments, I’m at once shrunken into the background and at the same time swollen with pride. I’m with her, after all. How cool am I?
But it doesn’t stop there. Everywhere Cassi goes men are drawn to her, to the chagrin of other women in the vicinity. Even the single, available women in her circle are summarily shoved to the back of the line, as it were, whenever they go out together. She doesn’t mean for this to happen of course, but it always does. She throws it off with a shrug, casually likening sexiness to attitude as if it were merely a shirt she decided to put on that day instead of a blouse. If only it were that easy. For her, though, it is. At times like these, once again, I’m reminded of how lucky I am.
As a side note, I must say that the act of snapping a selfie with my wife sits pretty high on my list of most intimidating scenarios, just beneath trading drum solos with virtuoso Dave Weckl (which I’ve done more than once; each a spanking reminder to go the hell home and practice until I’m 80). Thankfully, Cassi is always patient as I try in vain to position myself in such a manner as to minimize the rather stark contrast in our relative levels of attractiveness—to no avail. Sometimes I’ll try covering part of my face with my hair, or taking off my glasses, or even placing myself partly out of frame. Other equally ineffective maneuvers include putting on shades, donning a hat, or perhaps gazing off into the distance. Maybe moving us into a different light will work…who knows? There are literally no forms of visual obfuscation I won’t try. None of it ever works.
Then there’s her extremely high level of intelligence, which others rarely see coming—which is a fatal mistake, as little else excites Cassi more than toying with someone who assumes she’s dumb. While the details of the stories vary, the plot is always the same: she plays along for a while, and then at some point—usually just when the other person thinks they’ve won—she’ll yank the proverbial rug out from under their feet. It’s fascinating to watch. If you’re ever around when this particular con is played, I highly recommend staying until the end and watching the mark’s face at that crucial moment. It’s like witnessing a real life Agent Kujan from The Usual Suspects realize, to his horror, that Verbal Kint was actually Keyser Söze. Fool. Personally, I love it. Mostly because I’ve never been proficient at identifying those who would prefer to take advantage of me (a common occurrence in the entertainment industry), but also because, hey, who doesn’t enjoy the occasional smack down of the self-righteous? I’ve never had that ability. I lost count of how many times I found myself a defenseless victim in a surprise verbal attack, and upon recounting the event to Cassi was instantly treated to a half a dozen irrefutable reversals—any one of which would’ve demolished my aggressors, rendering them speechless and humiliated. I’ve seen her do this too many times. She’s my hero. I just wish some of that killer instinct would rub off on me. And when I say she’s smart, I mean that in every conceivable sense. Book smart? For sure. School of hard knocks? Graduated. Wise? Without a doubt. But here’s the thing with her intelligence: she employs it. I’ve watched friends of mine with near-genius IQs grow old in sedentary fashion, never truly capitalizing on their profound intellects. In his book, On Writing, Steven King wrote, “No one can be as intellectually slothful as a really smart person; give smart people half a chance and they will ship their oars and drift…dozing to Byzantium, you might say.” But not my Cassi; she’s an exception to King’s rule.
The other side of that coin, so to speak, might similarly accuse talented people of shipping their oars and drifting; something Cassi routinely accuses me of doing. And she would be right. I’m never quite satisfied with where I am in any of my businesses, and when I talk of failure, she always asks, “Did you really try everything?” Answering this question is never any fun, because somewhere deep down inside I know there is more I could’ve done. And that is one of her secrets: to try harder—or to try something different. What, exactly? Well, that’s the real trick. For Cassi, the most effective solutions are never obvious or easy. She would say you have to really dig deep to unearth those gems. Few are willing.
The earliest story I know of that exemplifies Cassi’s creativity in this regard would be that of how she got Elite Model Management’s top agent to represent her. Most girls tried the usual routes: phone calls to the main line; emails written to generic addresses; referrals, if they were lucky enough to know someone on the inside; or simply showing up unannounced on the agency’s doorstep. But whichever method they chose, the problem was always the same: getting past the gatekeeper. Cassi would have none of that. (The gatekeeper problem still exists to this day. Recently, I called William Morris Endeavor and asked to whom I might send my voiceover demo for potential representation and was instantly rejected over the phone by the receptionist. I could’ve been Don LaFontaine’s long lost twin brother for all she knew. I often wonder how much money agencies leave on the table by employing such tactics, but who am I to ask? Apparently, slamming the door on hopeful’s toes has kept WME in business for well over a century. But I digress.) During her search for a hidden back door into Elite, Cassi eventually found one: an actual door—to the agent’s favorite happy hour location. Cassi showed up one evening looking the way she always does and bought the lady a drink. Shortly after, she was signed as an Elite model. The whole thing probably took five minutes.
Some scenarios were not so quick, however, such as the altering of her career trajectory. Early in our relationship, Cassi decided she needed to make more money and after a couple of short-lived home businesses begrudgingly enrolled in college to pursue yet another bachelor’s degree. This time it would be software engineering. She’d already done the research (and the math) and concluded that with this degree she could propel herself up and out of lower wage jobs and into a more lucrative and exhilarating corporate life as a software developer. Since few black women held such degrees, she knew it would give her a much-needed advantage. But it would not be a short or easy road. Between 2006 and 2008—while pregnant with our first child and working a full time job as a help desk associate (easily one of the crappiest jobs ever) she earned her second bachelor’s. It worked. Over the next decade, she maneuvered herself from job to job like a ninja scaling up between two close buildings, leaping back and forth until reaching the top. First it was NCR, then UPS, then Equifax—each position paying more than the previous and providing loftier titles, better benefits, and longer vacations. She was literally printing money for our household. And she’s still at it: Georgia Tech recently accepted her as a graduate student where she’s working on her master’s degree in cyber-security and has a 4.0 GPA. She should write a book.
For all her hard-earned intelligence, innate common sense, and socio-political savvy, Cassi is yet prone to verbal blunders of utmost hilarity. She will unknowingly convolve two popular idioms into a confusingly amusing third no one ever heard before, saying things like, “A penny saved is worth two in the bush”, or “She’s not the brightest crayon in the tool shed”. Wait—what? It’s charmingly funny, and she laughs as hard as I do whenever I point these out. Sometimes, just for fun, we’ll sit around and try to come up with more, like: “The buttered side of the bread always hits the ground running”, or “A couple of sandwiches short of a full deck”, or “Don’t count your chickens in one basket.” Then there are her ordered lists—or should I say disordered lists—which typically sound something like: “The reason you can’t drive all the way down to your brother’s house today is because, 1) you don’t have time, B) your car needs new tires, and 4) weren’t we just down there, anyway?” By this point, I’m usually laughing so hard I don’t even hear the details of her argument. There’s no point in trying to correct her, either. I mean, seriously—you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t teach him to fish, right?
Cassi can find humor in just about any situation, too, which is refreshing because I’m exactly the opposite. Apparently, my version of “comedy”—if you can even call it that—entails little more than noticing and commenting on the ridiculous wherever I find it, which is just about everywhere. Like, why in the world do architects insist on building public bathroom doors that require us to pull to get out? Haven’t they noticed how rarely people wash their hands? Gross. Here’s another one: Why on earth does BMW bother to build their vehicles with turn signals when they know good and well their drivers have no intention of ever using them? To me, it’s funny to highlight these curiosities, but to her it’s fingernails on a chalkboard, so I have to belay commentary most of the time. It’s a work in progress.
Now—I’m actually somewhat intimidated by the next point I want to make, mostly because it stirs a feeling in me so full of wonder that I fear I cannot effectively put it into words. What you cannot possibly know is just how many times I’ve written these couple of paragraphs only to delete them moments later. If I were writing the way literary giants of old did—with a typewriter and a ream of paper—then the rug beneath my desk would now be dusted with the light snowing of pages torn from my typewriter, balled up, and dejectedly tossed to the floor. But what Cassi gave me, the very thing that I can’t seem to effectively articulate, is a blessing in the highest order and yet is as common an occurrence as rain: Fatherhood. Thanks to my enduring wife, I am the proud daddy of three beautiful, perfect little boys. When I tell you that my children are the delight of every moment and are indeed the highlight of my life, I’m not even coming close to conveying how I feel. Words just fail.
A good friend once told me, “You’ll never do anything else in your life better than that.” He was right. Whatever soaring pleasure I got from work-related triumphs or personal successes in my life—recording and touring with TLC, performing live on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, winning an Emmy Award for voiceover, finally achieving a handstand, or whatever else—all of it is instantly dwarfed next to the feelings that arise when I look upon the faces of these three angels. Honestly, I can’t stop hugging them and would be content just watching them sleep. I thought I knew what love was, but I had no idea. What’s worse, I had no idea that I had no idea. I would still be clueless if it weren’t for Cassi. My three beautiful boys would not be here if it weren’t for Cassi. I would not be their adoring father if it weren’t for Cassi. I would not know real love if it weren’t for Cassi.
Before meeting my wife, I suffered year after year of getting stood up, ghosted, or ignored altogether, to the point that I eventually decided I would have to move to another country if I was ever going to find a wife. Someone I found irresistible who likewise found me the same. Someone who wanted me as much as I wanted her. Someone who was strong where I was weak, and vice versa. Someone who really wanted to be in a relationship. It was quite a lot to ask. But then—boom! There she was. It was as if God Himself in a moment of exasperation said, “Ok, fine—here! I don't want to talk about this ever again, ok?" (I should mention that if God was the architect of it all, then my best friend Alan Barnes was undoubtedly His right hand—it was he, after all, who got me that first blind date. I owe both him and the Creator a debt of gratitude.) A couple days after meeting Cassi for the first time, my Dad pulled me aside and said, “We knew right away she was the one for you.” When I asked him how he knew, he replied, “Because you are yourself around her.” It’s an arresting thought—embarrassing, actually—to suddenly realize that not only had you acted like an imposter with every other mate, but that the whole family witnessed it. A bit like walking around with a booger hanging from your nose for half your life. Great. Still, I’m glad he told me. I was already sold on Cassi, but the familial vote of confidence Dad gave me that day certainly didn’t hurt.
Cassi is not only my beloved wife; she’s also my closest confidant. My lover. My mentor. My teacher. My strength. I swear that woman can see through walls, too; her sixth sense has protected me more times than I can count from villains just around the corner. (She accurately predicted the point of entry for Equifax’s breach before it happened but was swiftly dismissed by superiors who stonewalled her with such corporate death knells as “you haven’t been here as long as we have” or “that’s never happened to us before”—inbred sisters to the mother of all blow-offs: “we’ve always done it this way”.) She has given real purpose to my life and is the best friend I could ever have. She always—and I do mean always—has my back, even through the toughest times. She never forgets anything either (which is partly why others never win arguments against her), and somehow she always knows just what to say at any given moment; even if it’s something you don’t want to hear. I shudder to think where I’d be right now if it weren’t for this woman. Probably alone and sad and still living in that same old Stone Mountain home where I grew up, pining away for a soul mate. Thankfully, history had a different story to tell. Cassi’s rather large family gave me their blessings and warmly accepted me into their midst. From that moment on, my years have been wonderfully peppered with yet more family gatherings, parties, birthday celebrations, holidays, reunions, vacations, and many other festive occasions replete with abundant love, hearty laughter, good food (really good), and ever-growing memories of the fondest nature. My heart overflows with joy.
As it turns out, I needn’t have concerned myself with vanity, wishing to be more attractive. Obviously my wife didn’t mind how I looked. She’s always right about everything anyway; why shouldn’t I trust her judgment? Had that ridiculous wish been granted, it would’ve undoubtedly changed me in so many other ways—preventing me from being who I am now and thereby erasing the bountiful life I have. No, I’ll take myself just as I am, thank you. I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world.
And so, my dear wife, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. I raise my glass to you, my love, thankful beyond words that you dared choose me all those years ago. You’ve given me a wonderful life I could never have gotten anywhere else, and I’ll spend the rest of my days trying to return the favor. I’m very much looking forward, more than you’ll ever know, to life’s remaining adventures by your side.
12/14/72 (my wife's birthday)