How To Be a Great Partner

our weddingOn this day forty nine years ago at 7:00 in the evening I kneeled at the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Houston, Texas to pledge my love and commitment to my husband Mike. I find myself looking back over our many years together and remembering all of the times that we have shared. Not once has it ever crossed my mind to consider that my leap of faith in joining hands with Mike might have been anything but the most wonderful and important decision that I have ever made. On Mike’s seventieth birthday which occurred only a few days ago our eldest daughter compiled a list of reasons why each his children, grandchildren and I love him as much as much as we do. I find that those praises for him that came from each of us encapsulate the essence of how being married to him for forty nine years has been a glorious adventure that I pray with all of my heart will continue for many more years. They also serve as a guideline for anyone wishing to create a loving and exciting partnership with another human being. If someone were to follow Mike’s example even partially I suspect that he/she would find the kind of great happiness that I have enjoyed day after day for all of those forty nine years. So here are some of the descriptors of my loving spouse that are offered as a gift to all of my readers on this day when I feel as though I won the lottery of a lifetime. Enjoy learning how to provide unconditional love from my Mike who is a master of such things.

Mike is always supportive of anything we want to do and he is always ready to help when we need it. He wears crazy hats and is so hilarious that even when times are hard he is still super funny and cracks funny jokes. He gave us an appreciation of good music that endures to this day. He is a fitting patriarch for the family, moral and loving. He always makes us feel welcome. He has a calm presence. He appreciates history and perspective. He would always give smart, logical and sound advice whenever we came to him. He well known for giving great hugs. He is temperate. His conversations are always filled with wit and information. He let two fine young men date and marry his daughters. He is hardworking and loves his family unconditionally, seeing only the best in every member. He is tech savvy and knowledgable, kind and intellectual. He doesn’t always let it shine through, but he has a soft side like a teddy bear. His wise comments mean a lot to all of us and demonstrate how caring he is. In fact, he is kind hearted and sweet to everyone in his family and it makes us feel special. He is a history buff who demonstrates a desire to go deep into an interesting topic. He is the number one Women’s Lib advocate for his wife, daughters and granddaughter.  He makes us feel safe and secure and cheers us on in anything that we do and comes to all of our special events. He is generous and showed us how fun and amazing camping can be. He took his eldest daughter on a special journey to Chaco Canyon that the two of them will never forget. He understands that football is special and he tells really good jokes. He demonstrates subtle simple shows of affection, like wearing a brand new TAMU polo to a grandson’s graduation party. He often sacrifices his own needs for the rest of us. He is guileless and what you see in him is real. He maintains a calm and confident demeanor in difficult situations, even when he is in the midst of having a stroke. He’s grateful for what he has and generous to others. He can fix almost anything and enjoys doing it. He gives those around him unwavering trust and loyalty. He taught us all everything we know about interior illumination. He has a chill vibe. He brings unique perspectives and culture to the family and keeps things spiced up. He loves to play the guitar. He is reasonable whenever something is going on or if we have a conflict. He shares personal interests with us such as trains, models and history. He’s willing to do anything for our enjoyment. He warmly welcomed two young men as his sons-in-law. He too many talents to number. He is a kind man. He has filled our lives with beautiful moments and memories. His is known for just always being there. He loves his family.

So there you are, descriptions of the man that I love from those who know him best. How could our union not have worked? He took all of his vows so seriously and mostly showed all of us how to love. It has been a marvelous journey walking by his side and feeling that love that he is always so eager to share.

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What Is Love?

19247604_10214087925098369_7353269297393069092_nLove is a beautiful mystery, an unbreakable bond of mutual understanding and trust. It is a rapturous experience to know that there is another human being who is our eternal soulmate, someone with whom we wish to share our very lives. Marriage is a promise to honor that love with steadfast commitment, a contract that announces to the world that our feelings are more than just a passing fancy. It is a very public pledge to acknowledge and proclaim our unconditional love.

When two people truly love one another we see and feel their connection. It is in their eyes, the windows to their souls. They are two beings in sync with one another in a very spiritual way. They truly complete each another, and enjoy the happiness that comes from selflessly desiring to help each other to become the best versions of themselves. Theirs is a safe and honest relationship of sharing laughter and tears, joys and sorrows.

Thus it is with Tim and Dickie Windham, two beautiful souls who somehow found one another from among the billions of people who inhabit the earth. Both of them have endured heartbreak and even humiliation as gay men in a world that is often unwilling to understand and accept them. By the grace of God or some unknown cosmic force they met and almost instantly felt that their search for that one special person had finally been rewarded.

It did not take them long to fall into a comfortable courtship filled with mutual interests and the joy of simply being together. They became best friends of the kind who read each other’s minds and complete each other’s sentences. It mattered little whether they were sitting at home assembling a jigsaw puzzle or jetting to some adventurous destination. It was all good, a way of knowing that they were meant to be in an everlasting partnership of love.

On June 16, 2017, the fulfillment of all of their hopes and wishes finally came to fruition as they married under a canopy on a white sandy beach in Cancun with a backdrop of the Caribbean’s aqua and deep blue waves. Their wedding party and honored guests witnessed the beauty and magnitude of their love and commitment as they exchanged their vows and heartfelt promises, some of which came in the form of a sonnet in iambic pentameter. Even the crowd of strangers that had gathered to see the ceremony saw the profound depth of their feelings for each other, and so we all cried and cheered to know that it really is possible for dreams to come true.

The reception that followed in a lovely garden only confirmed just how special Tim and Dickie are and how wonderful their marriage is sure to be. I suppose that I have never laughed and cried so much at any other occasion as the stories of their incredible journeys were shared. I learned that Dickie’s mother Ray had died but his surrogate mom Jane somehow managed via a touching essay to assure us all that Ray was with her son on his very important day just as she had been in the other milestones of his life. From one of Tim’s bridesmaid we heard of the struggles that he had endured in embracing the realities of being gay. We realized as we listened to one tribute after another from friends and loved ones just how wonderful and brave the two men are.

Then the party began and to say it was a blast would be an understatement. Tim danced with his mother and Dickie followed with his honorary mother Jane which of course brought more smiles and tears. After that we ate and drank and danced as cool breezes blew from the sea in our tropical paradise. We were one great big joyful family united in celebrating the happiness of the two men who had brought us together on a glorious night that we will never forget.

I wish Tim and Dickie a very happy lifetime together. I hope that they will always enjoy the same beautiful gift of love that I have shared with my Mike. They will be stronger together as they face the rollercoaster ride of life. It is good to know that they actually enjoy adventures and that they have already learned how to deal with the ups and downs. I am happy that they will now face challenges and fulfill dreams hand in hand. There is no better feeling than knowing that someone who truly and deeply loves you is always there by your side.

I suppose that I shall never forget the joy that I saw on each of their faces as Tim and Dickie took their vows. The love was there in every sense of what that concept means. Thank God we have finally reached a moment in human history when we are able to acknowledge that real commitment knows no bounds or limitations. True love is true love that we should never have to hide and that is all that ever matters. I am convinced that Tim and Dickie will grow old together and share all of the wonderful moments in between. I hope that as the years go by they will continue to honor me and Mike by allowing us to be part their story because we both love them so.

  

True Love

true-love_2767240He and his friend were giddy in an anticipation of their inside joke. It was a sibling setup, the kind of thing that big brothers sometime do to their little sisters for a laugh. It was supposed to just be all in good fun. He had agreed to go along with the impish brother’s plan to embarrass his unwitting sister, but he was unprepared for what would actually happen.

The two men sat at a table eating the dinner special. Just as agreed he demanded to speak with the cook, his coconspirator’s target. They winked at each other in anticipation of her reaction, stifling their amusement until the preplanned time. She seemed to suddenly appear, a tiny little thing with a puzzled look meekly inquiring, “May I help you sir?”

His chest heaved. His throat constricted. He had not expected to be so taken with her. Suddenly this was no longer a joke. He had never before been so utterly thunderstruck by another human being. His brain began whirring as he knew that he had to abandon the original plan. He took a deep breath and smiled at her. “I wanted to know who made this delicious food. I wanted to tell you to be prepared, because I am going to marry you one day.” 

She smiled and quickly glanced at her confused brother with the kind of knowing look that siblings give one another. It was a sweet moment, and little could she have known that the gentleman who had so complimented her would indeed one day be her husband.

Theirs would be a true love story. He called her his “buddy” and they not only shared the gift of parenting two children but also enjoyed just being together. He showered her with affection and she made him feel more of a man than he felt that he really was. They laughed their way through life’s ups and downs, sharing dreams and hard work and disappointments. They were a team as perfect as ever there was and then came the diagnosis.

She was very sick. The cancer had spread throughout her body. They dismissed her from the hospital and sent her home to die. He was by her side day and night, rarely leaving for more than a few minutes. He became her nurse, caring for her medical needs and soothing her when the pain became almost unbearable. He lay beside her running his hands through her hair and caressing her fevered cheek. He reminded her of how much he had always loved her. He silently prayed for a miracle that would never come.

He was bereft when she died. He never quit talking about her even as the years stretched from one to ten to twenty. His eyes would light up when he told stories of their time together. She was still the love of his life and never a day went by that he did not miss her. He kept her photograph on his bedside table. She was the first thing that he saw each morning and the last thing before he fell asleep each night.

Eventually he too became ill. Not even surgery helped. He slowly sank into a state of confusion that we thought had been brought on by the drugs designed to ease his pain. He told us that she had come to visit him and asked if we had seen her. He seemed happier than he had been in a very long time, and then only a few days later he died.

Love is a beautiful thing, and I am a sucker for stories and movies about romance whether they are tragic or comic. I suspect that I am not alone in that regard. The world has been savoring literature from Romeo and Juliet to Pride and Prejudice for centuries. Mostly the characters of such efforts are young and beautiful. Their’s is love borne out of the passions of youth. Rarely do we see the chronicles of older couples, and yet in so many ways those tales are far more moving. It is in the twilight years that the true ardor of a coupling often becomes the most apparent. Thus it was with my grandparents, and this was their story, one that resonates again and again. They had created a bond with one another that was profound.

Such moving partnerships tend to be quiet and seemingly ordinary and yet each of us has witnessed such unwavering love between people that we have known. These kinds of relationships are selfless and spiritual. They are examples of exactly how young couples should strive to be with one another. Such couples survive all of the challenges that real life throws at them because their partnerships are not shallow, but rather based on a deep and abiding connection between two souls that grows as the two share milestone after milestone.

Instead of watching silly reality shows about superficial people who look for love in all the wrong places we should ask the true survivors to share their experiences. We need to hear from the couple that makes the time to laugh and celebrate regularly with their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. We would be wise to hear from the caring and devoted wife whose husband has been sidelined by ill health. How nice it would be to realize that love ultimately has little to do with appearance or status and that contentment may be had just sitting together in a backyard.

We all too often paint a very misleading picture of love and marriage for our young. They harbor expectations but rarely think of their own obligations. They forget the importance of their own kindness and patience. They don’t understand the power of being someone’s “buddy.” True soulmates walk with one another through rain, fire and glory. They grow together with all that such an idea implies.

I worry a bit about our world. The kinds of connections that were so visible between my grandmother and grandfather are no longer happening as frequently as they once did. So many are afraid to become committed to another. We have far too many broken and toxic relationships, and I wonder how our young will learn how to truly love as I did from my grandparents. It is in the role models that we see and the stories that we share that we form our own ideas of how to behave with someone that we love. Sadly of late we tend to be focused on the underbelly of marriage rather than the most beautiful examples of how it should be.

If we truly want to be the change that we wish to see then it is up to each of us to find the most incredible couples that we know and introduce their stories to the world. It is time that we once again see just how extraordinary love can be.

Love Is Us

beatles-abbey-roadOn September 26, 1969, the Beatles released perhaps their quintessential album, Abbey Road. The timing could not have come at a better time for me. My idealism was badly damaged from the events of the previous summer, a collection of weeks that quite literally changed me and my family in the most devastating ways. I was not yet twenty one and I felt like a forty year old. My mother had endured a crushing mental breakdown during July and August and I had reluctantly accepted the responsibility for her care and that of my brothers. I was shoved out of my naive and isolated world into the hellishness of reality as I struggled to keep everyone together and to make decisions that were foreign to my nature. I was a bride of less than a year who was being tested more than I thought I might bear. The Beatles came to my rescue with their innovative music that eased the beasts that were battling inside of me.

There would be many a time when I would listen to the songs that became so comforting to me, not so much because they were happy and lighthearted, which they were not, but because I marveled at the genius of the work that was unlike anything that the world had ever before heard. I was able to escape into the guitar rifts and poetry of the lyrics. Here Comes the Sun became my mantra. It gave me hope that somehow my little family would one day reclaim the happiness that had been so missing in the dark days of Mama’s illness. To this very day I can’t hear the strains of that tune without remembering both the pain that I was feeling and the tranquility that the music afforded me. 

I was still in a honeymoon period with my husband Mike with whom I was madly in love but I had no idea what an incredible man I had married until those trying times. He would rise to the occasion and never leave my side over the decades in which I struggled to keep my mother healthy. He was loving and understanding and the two of us listened to Abbey Road together sensing that its brilliance expressed the feelings that we shared. My story might have been quite different had it not been for Mike. He was my anchor and my strength. I listened to lyrics from the album like “Love is you” and understood totally what that meant with regard to my devoted spouse. We may have been two babies playing house but we had something quite magical happening and somehow the Beatles had captured every emotion that we were experiencing.

I had little idea that in only a few weeks I would learn that I was pregnant with my eldest daughter Maryellen. We had no plan as to how we were going to find the money to raise a child but we could not have been happier. It was like a blessed miracle to learn that something bright and beautiful was going to happen to take our mind away from the fear and anxiety that had been stalking us. When Maryellen was born the following July I often listened to Abbey Road when I fed her in the middle of the night. It was one of the only ways I was able to keep myself awake when I was so sleep deprived. I loved the line “one sweet dream came true today” because that was exactly the way I was feeling. The contentment that I enjoyed with the birth of my little girl filled my heart. It erased the despair that I had known only a year before and replaced it with a feeling that we were all going to be okay.

The years would go by. Mike and I only grew closer as we raised our little girl and then added another girl child named Catherine. My mother would go in and out of emergencies with her mental illness. I never really became accustomed to the sadness that I felt whenever she had a psychotic break. I did my best in getting her the medical help that she needed but I always felt heartbroken that her problems were chronic. I so wanted her to mend and never be sick again but that was not to be.

Abbey Road would forever be an old standby for me, a favorite of which I never grew tired. I heard new words and musical innovation each time that I listened. It somehow came to remind me of the entire span of my life. All that I am is somehow encapsulated in the music.

Imagine how wonderful it was for me to receive a text from my grandson Andrew this week telling me that he had been listening to Abbey Road at college. We traded stories about the songs that we most love and I could tell that somehow the music had reached as deeply into his psyche as it had into mine. I found myself wondering what he might think if he knew that I had rocked his mother in my arms while listening to the same brilliant harmonics back when I was only a year older than he now is. I found it somehow ironically meaningful that his birthday is on September 26, the same date as when the album first became available to the public. I thought about the enormous influence the Beatles have had on so many souls and particularly on me, providing so much solace during the most difficult moments and the happiest ones as well.

The day on which my mother died can only be described as beautiful. We all will eventually leave this earth and she knew that her end had come. She was ready and convinced that she would soon be in her heavenly home. Everyone who had ever loved her was gathered around on that day, including Andrew. Mama asked my Mike to take care of the family, an honor that he humbly agreed to accept. We said our prayers and our goodbyes. When she had breathed her last I once again thought of the Beatles and their prescient words that seemed almost to have been written especially for her and our family, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” We had overcome one problem after another hand in hand only to emerge with an ever stronger bond time and again. Through it all the Beatles have continuously been there as we have traveled down our long and winding road learning with each step that love is us. 

Daunting

main-content-management-imageBecause I grew up in a single parent family led by a strong and confident woman I am strong willed and independent. Had my husband, Mike, not been nurtured by a mother who was an equal to mine in her commanding presence he might have struggled with my personality after we married forty eight years ago today. I suppose that the real me may have been a bit of a surprise to him. I was a month shy from being twenty years old on that Friday when I walked down the aisle to exchange vows. We were still in that tingly romantic stage of our relationship. Both of us were on our best behavior. As so often happens our true selves ultimately revealed themselves in the day to day routines that evolved and Mike noticed that I was not exactly the person that he thought I was.

I’m a daunting competitor who likes to win. Since nobody ever mentioned to me that women are expected to fulfill certain roles and that we are supposed to struggle in a man’s world, as a young bride I simply threw myself full force into handling the household and preparing for a career. I was not held back by beliefs that there were glass ceilings above me or that I wouldn’t get as fair a shake as the men with whom I interacted. I carried on the way my mother did after my father died, unafraid to try almost anything. Of course Mike had unwittingly provided me with the last bit of courage that I needed to emulate the confidence that I had always seen in my mom. I had been socially shy and uncomfortable around men before I met him mostly because I had not been around males very much. Mike taught me that I could hold my own with a man and he admitted at every turn that he was my biggest fan. With him in my corner I felt able to tackle any problem that came my way, which was fortunate because I would have to muster great courage to become a lifelong advocate for my mom when she began to show signs of her bipolar disorder.

As I evolved in my marriage and my role as a woman I had perhaps the two best role models possible in my mother and my mother-in-law. I witnessed both of them walking without fear into the fray of what was at that time a truly male dominated world. They encouraged me to follow my dreams no matter where they might lead. My mother-in-law in particular gave me the priceless gift of her time, often rescuing me when one of my children was sick by coming to babysit while I went to work. When I had a job that kept me at work until late in the evening she faithfully came to my home each afternoon so that my youngsters would not have to be latchkey kids. She prepared dinner to give me a break when I arrived home exhausted. While these may sound like very traditional womanly duties they came accompanied with profound advice that kept me feeling that I was doing the right thing in pouring myself so totally into my work.

Then there was Mike who never complained when I became absorbed in the many time consuming aspects of being a successful educator. My days and nights and weekends were filled with planning, grading, attending seminars, and working toward an advanced degree. I often spent more time with my students and our daughters than I did with him but he understood my need to perfect my craft and to give my all to the work that I thought to be so important. He took pride in my accomplishments and supported me without question even as he sometimes sacrificed his own needs. To this very day when I become involved in new pursuits his only bit of caution is that I do what makes me happy, not what I think that other people may want.

I suppose that the key to the success that Mike and I have achieved in our marriage is that we are truly best friends in every sense of the word. Neither of us has ever felt that one is superior to the other. We equally value the contributions that each of us has made to the partnership. While I compete with the world at large, neither of us feel compelled to outrank the other. We are truly coequals, each with different skill sets that are important to the family. There are no jealousies or fears. We can be ourselves and feel completely safe. Nothing in forty eight years has given either of us reason to believe that we cannot trust the other without reservation. Ours is a union of mutual respect and admiration.

I suppose that my circumstances have been fortunate in that my brand of feminism is a bit different from most. I did not grow up around domineering men, instead I watched a widow woman earn a college degree, work as a teacher and researcher, purchase and pay for a home, raise three well adjusted children and lead a profoundly happy existence all without assistance from a man, while also battling the horrifically debilitating symptoms of mental illness. I married a man who gave me total freedom in determining how I wanted to use my own talents and then became my most devoted cheerleader. As if that wasn’t enough to encourage me to be formidable in my interaction with the world, my mother-in-law became a source of limitless wisdom as I drew upon her experiences as the manager of a family electrical business, the chief financial officer of a mega church, and a well read student of history and politics. Based on the complaints that I hear from women today I suppose that I was too blessed and too ignorant to realize that I was not supposed to feel as equal to men as I always have.

I grew up in what is defined as a classically dysfunctional family. We were poor and had no father. Because of my mom’s optimism and strength, somehow the situation never felt that terrible. I married a man when I was too young to have enough sense to make things work but our love and respect for one another carried us through both triumph and tragedy year after wonderful year. My incredible mother-in-law served as a sounding board and a sterling example of what a determined woman might accomplish even when all of the world is telling her that she may not have the right stuff. These are the people that I knew and the privileges that I had that made me the woman that I am. As daunting as the world may sometimes be I have always been able to tackle it. The real key to my success as a woman has not been in having some kind of special sources of influence, because I have never had any, but in being valued and loved.