I’ve thought about writing this post for several weeks now…letting the story mill about in my mind, savoring the memories. It’s not your average story, but one for the ages, one that gets richer and stronger as it grows. It’s a story about faith and courage, love and commitment. It’s the sweet and timeless story about young lovers…my parents.
On Christmas, 1971 my dad proposed to my mom in front of his family…much to their surprise, apparently. He had asked my grandfather for permission, got down on one knee, drew out a diamond ring and popped the question. When asked, “why do you two want to get married?”, the response was simple…they had been dating for a couple of years already and they were in love. They were also 16 and 18 years old.
Two months later on February 19th, 1972 they wed in a small civil ceremony at City Hall in Chicago, IL. Afterwards, they had a reception at a local restaurant surrounded by family and close friends. My mom said that they had planned on a long engagement and to get married after they finished high school, but Mother Nature had other plans for them, as I was conceived in January. Oops. (Although they will both always say that it was not a mistake, it just happened faster than planned.)
One might say it was blind love, but those who know my parents will say it was fate. I wholly believe there is a reason why they were brought together and why they have stayed together. I see it in my children’s eyes, I feel it in the warmth of my father’s embrace, I hear it when my mom laughs out loud and in the roots I share with my three brothers…it’s the strong connection and deep bond of the family they’ve created.
I’ve often wondered how in the world two teenagers could have been so sure of their paths, so fearless, so brave? Well, they weren’t! When I listen to the stories my parents tell, I hear about the doubts they had, the troubles they faced, the uncertainties they felt. The cards were definitely stacked against them…my dad was just out of high school, was close to being drafted; they had a new baby to take care and very little money. But one thing always remained the same…they had each other, they had hope, they had love…it would all work out. It could’ve been a recipe for disaster, but with the guidance and help of family and friends they carved out their life together. They went on to raise 3 more children and brought us up in a very happy home full of laughter and traditions. Of course there were many moments of tension and discord in their relationship…they fought and argued like most parents do, but they always forgave and made amends; learned from their mistakes. Over the years they have weathered many a storm, but they always sought shelter in each other and pulled through as a team. They have grown together as partners and parents, as individuals and friends.
I now know as an adult, how they continued for years to struggle financially and how there were many moments of anxiety and uncertainty about the future, but as a child I don’t remember those times. They did a really amazing job of keeping that out of our reality and maintained our childhood as a safe and secure place for us to flourish in. Those wonderful childhood memories are still crystal clear in my mind…the holidays and family gatherings, the vacations, the neighborhood friendships, the music we listened to, the warmth and comfort of our home. It was a very special place in the world.
My dad is a man of simple words…he’s logical and to the point. Growing up, his advice to us would always be: “Do your best and work hard. Be kind. Tell the truth. Life will keep on happening, you can’t change it, so just roll with it the best you can.” Whenever I would come to a difficult place in my life, I always felt a sense of peace knowing how true those words rang. I knew that if I did the best I could…well, then that was all I could do. What would be would be. I knew that they would be proud of me no matter what and that was a very special gift. They always stood behind us, believed in our dreams, let us learn to fall and extended a hand to help us up if we needed it.
Now, as a parent I look to their story for inspiration and to their words for guidance. There are many times when I am having a rough day (or week, or month…let’s be honest) and I pick up the phone just to hear one of their voices for a sense of reassurance. My mom and I often laugh at the absurd and ridiculous moments of child rearing. She’s the rock I turn to when I feel weak, the shelter I seek when I feel lost as a mother. And my dad…well, as I said, he’s a man of simple words. Recently he gave me this advice (as we were having a rough patch with a certain 3 year old and I was feeling like an incompetent parent)…he said, “Dara, at the end of the day did you feed him, did you clothe him, did you keep him safe, did you love him? Then you did the best you could.” Such honest words. I guess after 40 years of marriage, 4 kids and 7 grandkids they might know just a thing or two.
To Don and Deb…no truer a love story was ever written or lived. I love you, mom and dad.