Somewhere before I've heard the saying, "The best gift parents can ever give to their children is to love each other." I've had the pleasure of witnessing the truth of this statement for over 40 years.
From as far back as I can remember my Mom and Dad were a team. A great partnership. They were more than just a partnership. It was as if they were one person. They could drive us kids crazy sometimes, because they were always together "against us." (Okay, so it just seemed like that).
They were really just together in their love "for us", making sure their brood understood the difference between right and wrong and the foundational principles of honesty, trustworthiness, and respect. Sure, they argued (although, not that much), but there was never any doubt in our minds that any disagreements would be worked through and resolved. Most of my friends, unfortunately, didn't feel that same sense of security when their folks argued.
Mom and Dad began their married life poor, but they worked hard and, over the years, built a very successful business. They each had their strengths and weaknesses, but the way they worked together, you never saw the weaknesses, just the strengths. Dad was the outgoing, more public person with whom people met and right away fell in love. Everyone knew Dad!
Then, when they got to meet Mom, they felt the exact same way about her as well. Mom, although not at all shy, was more comfortable being the person behind the scenes. More detail oriented, she ran the books and, according to Dad, was the one who "really made the business work."
I remember one night at dinner asking Dad how much money he made. (Doesn't every teenager want to know!) Dad simply replied, "I don't know, Mama handles all that." I looked at Mom and asked, "Is that true? Dad really doesn't know how much money he makes?"
She replied, "Yes, he never has known, and he never asks." All three of us kids looked at Dad for an explanation. His approach was a simple one. "If we want to buy something and Mama says we can afford it, we can afford it."
For my mom and dad, marriage was never a 50/50 arrangement. It was 100/100 - each totally devoted to the happiness of the other. And, because of that, they each received even more joy than they gave. Dad once told me that "true love is when you actually care more about the other person - you love that person more - than you do yourself."
One of my greatest lessons from Mom was the time I told her, as a boy in my mid-teens, that even after I got married one day, she'd always be my favorite girl. Immediately - in a kind but definitely serious manner - she said, "No I won't be. When you get married your wife will be the most important person in your life, and that includes Daddy and me."
The biggest lesson about love and marriage that my mom and dad taught us kids was on how to talk "about" your spouse. Have you ever heard husbands and wives, when speaking to others, make unkind remarks about their spouses? It's one of those things people just seem to do. Sure, they're "only kidding," or maybe they are not. But words matter. And words teach, whether positively and negatively.
You would never hear such a thing from my mom and dad. Dad always speaks of Mom in the most complimentary, glowing terms. As does she of him. This lesson made such an impression on me, I still remember when I was age twelve and we were getting carpet installed in our home.
The crew boss was one of those stereotypical beer guzzling, hard-living guys, who would have probably belonged to Ralph Kramden's Raccoon Lodge from the old Honeymooner's TV show. For lunch, my folks bought pizza for the crew. Dad went to talk with the boss about the job. I was around the corner listening.
The boss said, "This is an expensive job. Women will really spend your money, won't they?" Dad responded, "Well, I'll tell you, when they were right there with you before you had any money, it's a pleasure to do anything for them you possibly can." This wasn't the answer the carpet installer expected to hear.
He was looking for negative banter about wives which, to him, was natural. He tried again: "But, gee, they'll really play off that and spend all they can, won't they?" Dad replied, as I knew he would, "Hey, when they're the reason you're successful, you want them to do the things they enjoy. There's no greater pleasure." Strike two.
The crew boss tried one more time, "And they'll take that as far as they can, huh?" Dad responded, "She's the best thing that ever happened to me. I'd do anything to make her happy."
I was trying not to laugh. I knew he wanted Dad to give in just a little bit and say, "Yeah, I guess that's true." But it wouldn't happen, not in a million years! Finally, the installer gave up and went back to work, probably shaking his head in bewilderment.
Witnessing my dad in that moment taught me more about loving and respecting your wife than anything he could ever have told me about the subject. Mom and Dad are now retired and enjoying their life together, just hanging out, reading, and visiting their children and grandchildren. They recently celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.
They still hold hands, and they are more in love than ever. Throughout the years, whenever Mom would remind me that I should be looking to get married, I'd say, "Ma, I have plenty of time." She'd jokingly reply that I don't have "that" much time. My Dad would then look at me in that wisdom-filled, city streets bred way of his and say, "Hey, you take all the time you need. If you marry someone just half the woman your mother is, you'll have a great life."
I should only be so lucky.