On August 4th, my parents will celebrate 50 years of marriage. A half century spent together. An absolute rarity, nowadays.
Cheers to 50 Years, or so the saying goes.
The irony with the aforementioned saying though, is that my parents won’t be “cheers-ing” celebratory drinks as my dad hasn’t had a drink in well over 30 years. One of the many obstacles that my parents have had to overcome together. Now, don’t get me wrong, they will still celebrate. My mom will have her occasional gin sour and my dad, most likely a Dr. Pepper.
Interesting to note, my dad is a pretty social guy and on numerous occasions, I recall being told by people/friends (who obviously don’t know him that well) that they saw him out and about, being so funny and goofy that he must have been intoxicated and I get to tell them that, that’s the way he behaves, completely sober.
My parents “love story,” if you will, is unlike many of their time. My dad was a first generation Filipino American, raised with his 6 siblings by a single mom who immigrated here at 19 years old from the Philippines during World War II. His dad, an Irish American/Nebraskan, had left the family after struggling with his own issues with alcoholism. (In case anyone was wondering why a bunch of biracial Filipinos had the Irish last name of Dougherty.)
My dad worked as a hired man for my mom’s dad, Grandpa Jim, when he was a teenager. Although they knew one another when they were young, they didn’t actually date until my mom was 16 and my dad was (gasp) 23 and recently back from serving as an Army Paratrooper in the Vietnam War. For anyone from my hometown, they met at what was formerly known as the Seger’s Truck Stop.
Although I have yet to hear all the details, I’m not entirely sure Grandpa Jim was super excited about the idea of them dating, much less getting married. So much so that he refused to sign the consent documentation for her and my dad to get married when she was only 18. So, being the sassy and stubborn woman she’s always been, she turned 19 on August 2nd and got married without the need for consent, just two days later.
From what I’ve heard, the rural mid-west in the early 70’s, wasn’t especially keen on what would then be considered an interracial marriage…and other than a few well deserved bar fights that resulted as such, it was yet another obstacle that they seemingly overcame together and one that I am incredibly proud of them for. I know that couldn’t have been easy for them.
In fact, the odds were stacked against this marriage from the get go. They were so young. They came from different backgrounds. They were poor. Did I mention how young they were?
Young and dumb, lol. Well maybe just my dad. I once heard the story of the night before the wedding. My dad went out drinking with his best man and their car broke down out in the country. They had no other choice than to walk home and my dad said he was “tired,” and took a nap on a bridge. When my Filipino grandma awoke and my dad was nowhere to be found the morning of his wedding, apparently she said, “That son of a bitch took off on his wedding day.” Again, to anyone that knew my 4ft tall, 90lb Filipino grandma, she didn’t mince words. Alas, he had not run off, but merely had a bit too much fun and had a bit of a hangover on his wedding day, now 50 years in the rearview.
In the years that followed, they had a couple of moves. My mom finished nursing school, had a successful career as an RN and is now retired. My dad had a variety of jobs, owned his own trucking business, owned a feed store for a while and ultimately took over the management of the family farm. Now, because the family farm is from my mom’s side, my dad (teasingly) says his “management” will make him work until he dies. Cue my mom’s eye roll.
They had five children and now have 13 grandchildren.
I wouldn’t say the last 50 years for them has been super hard, but I certainly wouldn’t say it’s been easy either..and..as proud as I am of the commitment that they have made to one another and the obstacles that they have overcome, I think my siblings and I can all agree that there are things we might do differently. Nonetheless, and in order not to piss my mom off, I’d like to share a few integral lessons that I feel are quintessentially who they are and the reasons why they have made it thus far.
Lesson 1. Fight
Weird right, but hear me out. My parents, for lack of better words, are fighters. They just are. They’ve had to be to make it to where they are today. I understand that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but they also fight with one another. They are competitive with one another, especially when it comes to playing cards. They are rude to one another and they will not let the other live it down if the other does something wrong. One of the most impressive qualities in all of this is that they haven’t taken one another out…yet…but I’m not ruling it out as a possibility. What I’ve learned from them though, is that sometimes, it’s worth having the fight. You need to fight it out, because if you aren’t, there is something that isn’t being said and it’s a scary thing to be in a place with your husband or wife where you become indifferent and no longer have the energy or will to share how you feel. I will say, in the very least, not one person could ever say that either of my parents was indifferent about sharing how they feel about something. (Can we all collectively nod our heads in solidarity.) I don’t necessarily love seeing my mother angrily talk through gritted teeth or my dad communicating solely through a barrage of curse words, but I’d rather see that than the alternative and as much as I don’t personally like to fight, I understand that it comes from a place of trusting one another enough to be honest with how you feel.
Lesson 2. Take Care of People
If you are ever stranded on the side of the road, pray to God that it is one of my parents that drives by. No seriously, my mom once picked up a complete stranger in a snowstorm on her way home from work and because there was no way for her to get their car out of the ditch, she just took them home with her and they stayed there for three days, until the roads had cleared enough to get them back home. Who does that? It stresses me to no end that my mom could put herself in a potentially dangerous situation, but it literally doesn’t even phase her. One of my dad’s favorite stories is how he and his buddy, Lee, came across two young girls who had got their car stuck in a snow drift while (most likely) road tripping. My dad and Lee dug them out so that the two girls didn’t have to tell their parents what happened. (Don’t worry girls, I won’t disclose any names.)
And, it’s not just roadside rescues, my mom was a trusted nurse in our community and has helped so many with their healthcare needs. She would make house calls on a regular basis and took such great pride in providing support and medical advice when needed. I recall once when my dad owned his feed store, and he delivered feed to a farmer who became sick and was unable to pay, but needed his cows fed.
I say this not because they want acknowledgement or attention, in fact, quite the opposite. I say this because they wouldn’t. They do for others because it is the right thing to do and it is one of the most important lessons that I’ve taken from them.
Lesson 3. Love of God and Love of Country
These two drive me crazy sometimes and definitely have their faults, but their love of God and love of country is unwavering and has always been a priority in their relationship. I remember growing up, my mom insisted that we made it to mass no matter the circumstances. We were nearly always late and our family was so big, we often had to sit in different pews. Like clockwork, my dad would pull into the gravel parking lot across from the church and complain about how these GD Catholics couldn’t seem to figure out how to park. Even when it would have been closer, easier and less expensive to go to a different high school, my parents chose to send us to a Catholic High School, because of the importance of a faith based education.
As a Vietnam War vet, my dad has a great respect for all service men and women and the sacrifices that they have made. It’s been ingrained in me to always be attentive and respectful during the National Anthem. Once again, my dad’s buddy Lee tells the story of a time when they were in a bar and a much younger (and stronger) man was being loud and unruly during the National Anthem and my dad approached him and asked him to kindly respect the National Anthem, because of how much it meant to him and his comrades that weren’t so lucky to come home from war. To Lee’s great relief, the man apologized and quickly changed his behavior.
I’m the first to tell you that these two and their 50 years of marriage are not perfect. Far from it in fact, but, I challenge you to find a marriage that is. To have overcome the obstacles of the last 50 is nothing short of a miracle and yet here they are…literally in this exact moment, my dad bitching about how he has to do the dishes more often and how my mom buys too much crap from Amazon.
When I asked my mom what she is most proud of after 50 years, she said raising five children and being a part of the lives of her 13 grandchildren. When I asked my dad, he told me he is proud that he has endured 50 years of my mom’s attitude.
Lesson 4. Understand the role that humor has to play in a marriage after a half century. :)
To mom and dad from all five of us, we love you and are happy to share this very special occasion with you. So..raise your gin sour or Dr. Pepper and Cheers to 50 Years.