Every year at this time, I turn my column over to my husband, Chuck Martin. Here is his annual Christmas letter:
“A few years ago, I discovered that my children have different mothers. As distressing as that was, I let the matter sit unattended and encountered no meaningful difficulties, until a few weeks ago, when I applied to the Social Security Administration to receive spousal benefits.
“That’s how I ended up on the phone with a Social Security investigator trying to determine the name of my spouse and mother to our children.
“I knew the answer. In fact, I knew more than one answer, which is not what the SSA representative wanted to hear.
“More on this later. First, an update on a year during which our daughter returned from overseas, causing me to ask, “When do you get a job?” and our son landed a managerial position that made me ask, “What did he wear to the interview?”
“Our first child, Hank, lives in Seattle with his beloved Emily. They continue to renovate a small three-bedroom home. I use the term “they” loosely to mean that Emily is the creative genius and does much of the labor. Hank is employed for brute force when required.
“During the year, Hank was hired to be digital marketing manager for the Tommy Bahama clothing company. Yes, odd though it may seem, Tommy Bahama, best known for beach lifestyle merchandise, is headquartered in cool and rainy Seattle.
“What is odder still about this combination of Hank and Tommy Bahama is that, stylistically speaking, they fit together like Metallica and Mozart.
“In fact, if you had asked me to guess what clothing company Hank would be best qualified to work for, based on his personal wardrobe, I would have said Goodwill Industries.
“In contrast, Tommy Bahama makes exquisite Hawaiian shirts that can set you back $150. I still don’t know what he wore to the interview. Because he got the job, I must presume that Emily selected his attire.
“Our auxiliary child, Hayley, is a globe-trotter. Since graduating from the University of Nebraska in 2013, she has lived in South Africa, Thailand, Haiti and Northern Ireland as well as in Hawaii, San Diego and the Florida Keys.
“Most recently, she earned her master’s degree in animal behavior and welfare from The Queen’s University in Belfast.
“When she finished her work at Queen’s, she returned to Wisconsin long enough to buy a car, then headed off to yet another foreign land – Texas.
“Granted, she didn’t need a passport this time, but it’s snowmobiles, cheeseheads and fish fries vs. pickups, 10-gallons and barbecue.
“She bought a duplex in Austin, which is considered foreign even by other Texans.
“We once spent a few days at the Big 12 Championship Swim Meet in Austin. Each day we drove past a Gentleman’s Club, which featured provocative performances by such talents as Chardonnay, Delight and Luscious.
“Next door was a pet store, which took the opportunity to erect a sign promoting ‘Live Nude Fish.’ That’s Austin.
“Hayley moved to Austin because that is where her boyfriend, Glenn, secured a job.
“Glenn is from Northern Ireland. He is a mechanical engineer for a company that makes safety equipment for work or recreation performed at heights, such as construction or rock climbing.
“Hayley answered my get-a-job challenge by getting two. She works for the city of Austin as an enrichment specialist with the Austin Animal Center, the largest no-kill animal shelter in the nation.
“The center cares for about 16,000 abandoned pets per year and promotes their adoption. Hayley assesses the animals’ behavior and diagnoses issues to be addressed in training. She also determines what adoptive homes would be best for the pets.
“Her other job is in television. She is a preproduction creative producer for a company that develops shows for the Animal Planet, National Geographic and Discovery channels. That means she works on scripts and other elements of a show before it goes on to be filmed.
“Sunny and I remain in retirement in Monona with our dogs, collie Simba and Bedlington Terrier Kiwi. Our cat, Yogi, was reclaimed by Hayley, his original owner, and moved to Texas.
“Now I will return to the matter of my Social Security application.
“The background is that the woman we all know as Sunny Schubert was born Kathryn Kohler. Her father tragically died. Her mother later remarried Schubert. So, Kathryn Kohler became Kathryn Schubert.
“She went on to get a driver’s license, bank account, etc., as Kathryn Schubert, picking up Sunny as a nickname along the way and using Sunny Schubert as her newspaper byline. However, when she obtained a passport, she found that her birth certificate remained Kathryn Kohler.
“She was never legally adopted, so – technically – Sunny Schubert was still Kathryn Kohler.
“Consequently, for her passport and birth certificate, she was Kathryn Kohler.
“For everything else, she was Kathryn/Sunny Schubert. I married Sunny Schubert, Kathryn Schubert and Kathryn Kohler.
“Which is how our children ended up with different mothers. When Hank and Hayley were born, 2 1/2 years apart, I bungled the birth certificates, listing the mother as Kathryn Kohler on one and Kathryn Schubert on the other.
“We consulted a lawyer, who said that as long as we did not attempt to defraud anyone, everything should turn out fine. I did not, however, count on the Social Security complication.
“I was grandfathered in to a Social Security provision, no longer available, allowing me to claim half of my wife’s Social Security benefit while delaying my own benefit. The application specifically asked for my wife’s name at birth, which was Kathryn Kohler.
“But my wife’s Social Security benefit is under the name Kathryn Schubert. Which name did the Social Security Administration require? I did not want a mistake to deprive me of my payment.
“My conversation with the investigator went something like this:
“SSA: ‘When did you and Ms. Schubert divorce?’
“Me: ‘We are not divorced … yet.’
“SSA: ‘But your name is Martin.’
“SSA: ‘Is Schubert her maiden name?’
“Me: ‘Well, sort of.’
“SSA: ‘When did she marry Kohler?’
“Me: ‘She did not marry Kohler.’
“SSA: ‘Who are you married to now? Kohler or Schubert?’
“Later, I received a letter declaring that the SSA was working on my application for benefits. It listed my spouse’s name as Schubert Kathryn Kohler.
“I put in another call. Another frustrating conversation ensued, but finally, the issue seemed to be resolved.
“I received a letter declaring that I will receive half of the benefits of my spouse. This time they had the good judgment to simply leave her name out of it.
“Sunny, by the way, ran into name trouble when she tried to renew her driver’s license.
“Under the new federal Real ID law, the name on her driver’s license had to be switched to Kathryn Kohler, thus starting a cascade of problems for her Schubert life, unless she legally changed her name.
“So, Kathryn Kohler went to court and emerged as Kathryn Schubert.
“Now, one of our kids has no mother at all.”
Got something Sunny Schubert (or whatever her name is) should know? Call her at 222-1604 or email email@example.com.