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Remote Learning

A sports-loving husband learns a lesson from a TV controller.

Mixed media design of a man's head speaking into a remote. Woman stands behind.
Illustration by Dave Plunkert

Whenever we’re asked to give advice to newlyweds at a wedding reception, my wife Alice will tell them, “The secret to a happy marriage is two TVs.” 

This is partially because while I love watching sports on TV—and especially BYU football and basketball—Alice couldn’t care less. Not only does she not enjoy watching sports, but she doesn’t believe that yelling at the TV during games helps. She often reminds me that the players and coaches can’t hear my advice and the refs can’t hear my pleas for a call. 

Several years ago, Alice and I switched cable TV companies and received our first voice remote control with a “listening” button. When you pushed the voice button, the remote would listen as you gave it instructions and carry out your commands. After trying it out for the first time, I happily informed Alice, “See, I told you yelling at the TV works.” She was less amused than I was. 

The remote had some cool features. For example, I could tell it to go to a certain channel, and it would automatically switch to that channel. I could also say, “College football,” and it would show me all the games being played. I could even say, “BYU football,” or, “BYU basketball,” and it would instantly take me to the game. At first I felt a little strange talking to a remote control, but after a while I got used to it. And before long I couldn’t use the remote any other way. 

One day I walked into the living room, turned on the TV, pushed the remote’s voice button, and said, “ESPN.” But my football game didn’t immediately appear on screen. Instead of ESPN, a message popped up on the TV: “Try telling us what channel you want to watch.” I pushed the button again and said, “BYU football.” Another unhelpful message appeared: “Try telling us the name of the program you want to watch.” I tried several more times, and, instead of listening to me and doing what I asked, the remote kept giving me suggestions of other things I should do. 

As I became more and more annoyed and frustrated, my voice began to rise. My yelling caught Alice’s attention. She came quietly into the living room to see what was going on. When she saw me yelling at the remote, she sat down on the couch behind me, without me noticing, to witness and enjoy this epic battle between man and technology. 

I tried once more to get the remote to cooperate. I pushed the listening button, then said loudly and clearly, “BYU football.” Once again, instead of doing what I had asked, the TV suggested something else I should do. I had had enough. At my wit’s end, I pushed the listening button and yelled into the remote, “Stop telling me what to do, and just listen to me!” 

From behind me came a sweet, patient voice: “That is what I have been trying to tell you for 30 years.” 

Alice and I have a great relationship, and she was laughing when she said this, but all humor holds some truth or it wouldn’t be funny. 

We still have that remote. It has worked just fine since that day. Perhaps it malfunctioned just to teach me a lesson. Either way, I have tried to become a better listener. I think I have improved, but I still have a long way to go. Now whenever I pick up the remote, I am reminded that, in marriage, we need to stop telling each other what to do and just listen. 

Now if only I could figure out how to use the remote to order touchdowns and three-pointers on demand. Go Cougs! 

Brent Esplin is a husband, father, grandfather, and sports fan living in Taylorsville, Utah. 

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In Letters from Home Y Magazine publishes essays by alumni about family-life experiences—as parents, spouses, grandparents, children. Essays should be 700 words and written in first-person voice. Y Magazine will pay $350 for essays published in Letters from Home. Send submissions to lettersfromhome@byu.edu