There was no candle lit gourmet dinner. No crystal champagne flutes. No sparkling diamond solitaire. It was an ordinary day with one extraordinary moment. You looked up from what you were doing and said, “Marry me”. Three weeks later, I did.
It took less than an hour to plan our wedding. We were much more interested in the marriage than we were the wedding. We invited 18 people. Your father was your witness and my mother was mine. It was simple and it was elegant. It was perfect for us.
Our simple wedding was not without its moments of levity. There was that guy, the parish wacko, who decided to wander into our purposefully intimate wedding ceremony decked out in his brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and dirty huarache sandals. He proudly paraded up to the Communion rail, threw a rose onto the alter and commenced to stay there until our priest gently invited him to move. We all looked at each other in horror. Now it seems funny. My brother pulled me to the side after the ceremony and asked, as is his style, if he wanted me to invite wacky dude to the reception. Of course, we declined.
Then there was the tender moment when we exchanged our vows. In the middle of that, your 4-year-old son broke free from your mother’s grip and ran up to the alter. He pulled on your mourning coat and loudly requested, “Pop, tie my shoe”. Simultaneously, we each firmly grasped an arm and through clinched teeth you demanded, “Go back and sit with your grandmother”. Your elegant mother was mortified. Our priest was laughing. You and I just shrugged. Par for the course.
But choosing to marry me came with a huge sacrifice for you. You moved 500 miles away from your sons and they were always your first priority. They needed you as much as you needed them. They needed to know that although you were physically in another place that you were not away from them. And you set out to prove that by creating an all new normal for them.
For nearly 10 years, every other Friday you left our home and drove the 500 miles in order the be there to meet your sons after school. You stayed with them all weekend and, always with tears in your eyes that they never saw, brought them to school on Monday morning and began the 500-mile trip home. You never missed a weekend and often did this trip more frequently in order to be present for some commitment for one of the boys. I sat in awe as I witnessed you make arrangements for your son’s flat tire to be repaired from 500 miles away. They depended on you and that was the way you wanted it.
One Friday, you were feeling poorly and had a high fever. You were coughing and felt listless. First thing in the morning, you went to your doctor. He took X-rays and asked you which hospital you preferred as he intended to admit you. You had pneumonia. You turned you back and dropped your pants. “Shoot me up with whatever you need to shoot me up with, but I am not going to the hospital. I am going to see my sons. Hurry up or I will be late”. Needless to say, you arrived in time to get them after school.
You were committed to make this transition to the new normal as seamless as possible. Your success with this and your dedication to these boys was evident when your older son delivered his eulogy to you. In his comments, he said that he said that he always assumed that all fathers acted like this. He was stunned in his adult years to realize that all fathers certainly did not go to these extents to be a father and understood the special commitment you made and fulfilled with them. They never felt neglected or left behind. You spoke with them several times each day and they knew they could depend on you to create whatever miracle they needed at that moment.
As you fought to live, you took advantage of the visits from your sons to talk privately with them. They or you never shared with me the intimacy of these conversations. That should stay sacred between you and them. But, true to the selfless man you were, you made them each promise you one thing. You made them promise to take care of me after you were gone.
I am here to tell you, my love, that they have kept their promise to you. They have cared for me generously and tenderly. It does not for one moment feel like pity or obligation. I know that they love me and would have done it anyway but being that they made the promise to you has upped the ante. You would be so proud of them and their beautiful wives. They have encircled me with love with no circumstances. They learned that from you.
Rest well, my love, knowing that as a father, it is a job well done.
At least one of us succeeded as a parent.