celebrations, independence

Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad

My friend, Kim, and I met for a 10:30 a.m. showing of  “On the Basis of Sex,” about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter how hard I tried to stay awake, I dozed. When it was over, I asked Kim what I had missed and she commented, “What I got out of it was that without her husband, she never would have risen to her position. He definitely enabled her.”

Now most of us think of enablers as negative forces: they encourage our drinking, our dependency, our other bad habits. In this situation, Martin Ginsburg, a successful lawyer and law professor, empowered his wife to aim for the stars and become a champion for gender equality. He clearly respected her intellectual talents, and she didn’t disappoint. She admits that she would never have gained a seat on the Supreme Court without him.

I thought about my own life, and for the first time realized that my late husband, Harold, was also an enabler.  When I wanted to go back to UCLA in 1968 to finish my B.A. degree, he was excited and encouraged me. We both knew it would be challenging since we had two teenagers and one pre-teen at home, who needed my attention. Would I be able to balance being a mom and wife while being a student?


Professional photo for Harold’s career as a movie and television extra during the last 25 years of his life. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After experimenting by taking a few classes at Los Angeles City College to reach junior standing, I believed my goal was doable. I enrolled in the UCLA Anthropology Department and discovered that most female students were the ages of my children. I thought I could pass, after all I was only 37. Not so. When I sat next to a recent high school graduate in a very large lecture hall, she outed me: “My mom is going back to school, too.”

On campus, there were services for women undergraduates but only for the young ones. I approached the Dean of Women and asked her what could be done for the housewives and moms who were just beginning to return to campus. She suggested that I create a survey of married women to discover their motivations for being there, what roles their families played in supporting them, and what university services could help them?

Harold & Norine cutting their wedding cake, March 4, 1951. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

Some husbands felt quite threatened. One student’s husband was a physician and resented her intellectual endeavors, especially when his acquaintances expressed newly-found interest in her ideas and achievements. At the same time, other husbands were helpful like the Dad who took the family out to McDonald’s once a week so that Mom could have a break from cooking. Still other women revealed that they were back in school to achieve an education before they left unhappy marriages and could be more easily employable.

Harold was so proud of me, he gave me a Senior Prom after I received my B.A.  Had I not dropped out of the university to get married, I would have graduated in 1953. Instead, it was now 1970, so I asked everyone to dress as if it were the original time. The two of us purchased appropriate formal wear from a vintage clothing store; our 17-year-old son, Mark, provided the dance music with his rock and roll band. Our daughters, Andrea and Amy, handed out homemade plastic flower wrist corsages to all the women. It was a joyous and humorous celebration.

Invitation to my Senior Prom created by dear friend and artist, Jan Steward. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.

After graduation, Harold continued to support me for two more years. He was content to stay at home with me on weekends as I turned out research papers or studied for exams earning an M. A. degree in Folklore and Mythology.

All these memories come flooding back at this time of year, the anniversary of his death on February 2, 2007 at age 85. He died one month before our 56th wedding anniversary. If he had lived, on March 4, 2019, we would have been celebrating 68 years of marriage.

Harold had a way with words. Weeks before he died, he said to Mark, “You know, I think Mom’s almost brilliant,” causing us to howl with laughter. When Mark retold this remark at Harold’s funeral, guests also found his comment amusing and endearing.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to one’s life partner, and even though he’s no longer with me on this plane, I will still say, “Happy Anniversary, Harold.”

Harold & Norine Dresser photo by Ed Keck taken circa 2000. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2019.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who greatly misses her enabler.

26 thoughts on “Enablers Can’t Be ALL Bad”

  1. I love this post, including all the wonderful pictures. I wish I had had the opportunity to meet Harold. He was a smart man to marry and support the endeavors of such an “almost brilliant” woman!

    1. Isn’t that a hoot? Almost brilliant. He also used to say, “To me, you’re still beautiful.” I didn’t know whether to be flattered or mad. (not really). Yes, you would have loved, him, too. Thanks.

    2. You’ve brought dear Harold back to life, Norine. The photo shows your precious relationship, no words needed. There’s a remarkable similarity between Harold and Martin Ginsburg, who was an extraordinarily gracious and kind person, too. Both husbands lived their lives with heart and grace while gifting their wives with strong support for their chosen paths. May your March anniversary bring abundant loving memories!

      1. Thank you, Sandy. I revel in the memories. And I am so grateful for our relationship. It still comforts me. Just today, my friend, Mariah, was using his tool box to find an unusually small screw to repair the robotic vacuum cleaner. We joked that Harold was still taking care of me.

  2. Tears in my eyes are making it difficult to type here. If there are any typos it’s not my fault it’s Noreen’s
    I too wish I could have met the remarkable man that enabled her. What a beautiful tribute to him.

  3. Firstly, Happy anniversary to you both. I too love the pictures. Thanks for them. It brings things into focus when you can see who you were talking about.
    I believe the word ‘enabler’ gets a bad rap and is only thought to have one meaning. Many of us, myself included, have my enabler to thank for the many ways she has guided me and stood by me even when I made some dubious choices in the past.
    Thank goodness for enablers. (In the good sense)

    1. Yes, Rick. Enablers get a bad rap. I’m glad that you have one, too. I regret that I was unable to meet her on her visit to Cruces. Next time! And thanks for your comments.

  4. Happy Anniversary to you and to your wonderful partner in time (and as evident in all things in a life truly shared) dear Dr Dresser. You are an inspiration to me in all things: thank you for being a beacon for women to find their own path and truth in life for which I am beholden.

    1. Thank you, Lydia. I appreciate your kind words. To have a wonderful life partner is a blessing, and it is very painful to say goodbye to them. Still the memories linger and give emotional sustenance.

  5. Aww, I liked this. I feel like enabling and supporting can be very similar. I enjoy my enabler too; I wouldn’t be where I am without him either. 8 years for us in March.

    1. It wasn’t until Kim pinned that label on Martin Ginsburg that I gave the word much thought. I also considered it a negative term. She made me reevaluate the meaning. And yes, what would be be/do without them! Thanks.

  6. Norine, what a tremendous love letter to your sweet husband. I particularly liked the invitation with the request for women to wear formal wear and the men, it seems, to be clothing optional. I just missed meeting Harold but you’ve made him known to me with the praise you’ve given him over the years and, most lovingly, in this blog post. You two were quite the team, it’s no wonder your kids are such great people with such an example. Thanks for sharing your life with us — and may you please get seated on the US Supreme Court so that you and RBG can compare notes.

  7. What a beautiful couple and lovely story. He is quite the “dude” in his publicity shot!
    I love your many recollections and stories that you share.

  8. Norine, What a beautiful love story and told so eloquently. This really moved me And I’m sure you realize how lucky you were to have such a loving relationship. You were fortunate to have your enabler and he was equally as Lucky to have you in his life. I’ve known you since right before Harold Passed away…..wish I had been lucky enough to know him. Enjoy your Memories but continue to live your present! LuvYa…..judi

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Hi Judy: Thanks for your kind words. Yes, I was lucky to have such a wonderful companion. I know you would have gotten a kick out of knowing him, too. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved him in return. But we can’t turn back the clock, so I have moved on, as you well know. Nonetheless, there is not a day when I am not thinking of him nor is there a dream in which he does not appear. We even argue in my dreams — just like real life! Love you, too.

  9. I had the great privilege of knowing both Norine and Harold. Norine was a colleague of mine, with whom I sometimes team-taught classes at Cal State LA, and she and Harold were my neighbors. To be in their presence together was like being blessed by witnessing a classic cinema romantic comedy duo at their peak. Their banter could be both endearing and edgy, revealing a depth of experience, wisdom and love that few of us will ever achieve in our relationships. I know that Norine was just as much Harold’s “enabler” as he was hers. I was most fortunate to have looked upon them both as mentors and as friends. Much love, Norine and Harold.

    1. Oh, Buddy, your words brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat. Thank you for your appreciation of us as a couple/team. You touched us deeply when you prepared a special Thanksgiving feast right after Harold’s open heart surgery. You strictly followed doctor’s order with low fat and low salt, and it was super delicious. Such kindness will never be forgotten.

  10. Tnankyou Norine, you have said what I like to hear because it is so resonant with my own life.
    With a very active husband, who had so much sucess in his 20s with his show ‘Wait A Minim’ and then went on further with his love of steelband, and in fact established it here in South Africa, plus taking on his father’s work in African Music research, he found time to let me ‘fly’ and be National President, of our SA Council of Women, pus a whole lot of other interests, and was my enabler. I am very grateful for the interesting and exciting life we have had, and although we have been through a very stressfilled few months upgrading our old house (l840) so that every room has been plastered and painted, it is all coming right now and we have a very clean and cheerful looking home which I wish you could visit. At 82 if we didn’t do it now, when wouild we?!! Thankyou for your blog, Its amazing how long we have known you – since those early days in LA when you befriended us, thankyou so much. love from
    us both, Andrew and Heather.

    1. Thank you, Heather. It seems that those male enablers that we were fortunate enough to marry are men who are secure in their manhood and don’t feel threatened by strong women. And aren’t we lucky? I have an extra five years on the both of you and one of my regrets is that we never made it to attend one of your South African music festivals. Now, it’s much too daunting to fly with all my aches and pains. Nonetheless, we did get to see each other over the years, and I even got to meet your parents when they were on a cruise ship that stopped in California. That was a bonus. So here’s to our remaining years filled with great memories of marvelous folks like the Tracey family who came into our lives. Special thanks to Hugh and Mapandangare, the Great Baboon.

  11. Hi Norine,
    George is an enabler, too, and I’m so glad. When I wanted to go back to school, at 48 years old, he was right there, offering to do what ever he could, emotionally as well as monetarily. And we weren’t even married yet!

    I love the professional photo of Harold. He was so handsome and looks so poised.

    Much love.
    Sandy Marshall

  12. What has been wonderful writing about my enabler is learning about other fortunate women who have had the same experience. This has surprised me, and it’s great to know that George has been there for you, too. Aren’t we lucky? Thanks for sharing. Love you, N.

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