My father is larger than life. His gregarious personality has led him into countless spontaneous friendships, marvelous toasts, thousands of entertaining (albeit predictable) exchanges with restaurant waitstaff, and into a marriage of remarkable endurance.
He met my mother while working at the local Safeway in his twenties, putting himself through college and then law school. It was his “Roy the Vegetable Boy” period, his words, though he moved from produce to other areas of the store with aplomb, eventually landing at the front of the house, at the cashier station. He’d been taken by my mother’s sweet, explosive smile on her repeated visits to the store. By the third or fourth time, he made his move: boldly counting out the change from her purchase, coin by coin, up her arm. She scurried away shyly, at which point my father expressed to her best friend his interest in a date with the grinning girl. And the rest is history.
My mom’s smile is emblematic of her approach to life: gliding through challenges with calm and kindness, always a help at the church, ever thoughtful about others, sending cards for every holiday to me and my sister even though we all live in the same state. I recall her stern “teacher’s look” as the most severe expression of her frustration or anger during my childhood; she never really raised her voice or lost control, like I often do now as a mother. My dad credits her with the whole of their parenting success whenever I ask how they did it, raising two girls to be relatively decent human beings, and giving us such a positive, safe, happy, thriving childhood. “All your mother,” he always says.
Though it seems almost Rockwellian in my memory, their relationship wasn’t without tense times. I recall overhearing some hushed arguments behind their closed bedroom door when I was a kid, supposed to be asleep. In hindsight, the subject of such tension was fairly run of the mill – stresses of schedule, life’s balancing act of commitments and responsibilities and my dad getting home later from work than mom expected.
But mostly, they laughed together, mom rolled her eyes lovingly at dad’s corny jokes, we all ate dinner together at home every night but Thursdays – when we ate out at the local Mexican restaurant in honor of “Dad’s Night to Cook.” They sat in the audience of every dance performance, on the sidelines of every soccer and volleyball game, arranged our piano lessons and enforced good homework habits. Attended our college and grad school/law school graduations. Came to the hospital in the first 24 hours after my babies were born – their first grandchildren. Sat by each other’s sides through their own hospital stays and health scares, with heart attacks and a bout with cancer. And today, take care of two dogs, one their own and the other mine, who they took in when he got nippy with my infant children three years ago, and is now a special needs pup, diabetic and blind, loving him and caring for him as if he were a human child. They are a special set of people.
They just marked 50 years of marriage, the golden anniversary, and a milestone I remember celebrating for my own grandparents when I was a child. Rather than throw a similar style party as we did for Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad chose a family weekend away, in Carmel. The kids, grandkids and significant others all together in a luxurious celebration of life, togetherness and staying power.
It also became the first time in years I’d seen them dance together, and it was impromptu, spurred by the musical festivities at the restaurant where we were dining. Encouraged carefully out of their seats by the restaurant owner as he strummed his guitar and sang joyfully, my mom was first up, extremely cautiously, since her walk is pretty unsteady these days. My dad quickly moved to her side, took her in his arms, and swayed slowly with her. I was able to film the whole thing, so grateful for a cooperative phone and clear view of the action. My dad whispered to me near the end, “I’m going to kiss your mother now,” informing me so I could capture the moment that was fairly rare these days. I cried. My mom cried. My sister cried. My kids giggled. My dad teared a little. He was proud, I could tell, probably not unlike that first time he took a bold step to put his feelings on display.
Now eight years in to my own marriage, it’s hard to imagine that 50th milestone. And it has nothing to do with the wonderful person I married. More than four decades away seems very far away as we juggle life’s stressors (=life’s commitments) – busy jobs plus passion professions; the two small and super active handfuls who are our children; school activities of said children (including lots of requisite volunteer time); home ownership; financial responsibilities; familial and friend relationships; health challenges and heartbreaking losses; the list feels endless. But having married the right person helps in the long game. And I can only hope that we achieve the sort of steady, high-highs and manage the expected challenges (at least in my children’s eyes) that my own parents did in mine. And continue to laugh – and occasionally kiss and dance – through it all.