When I first met the man who would become the father of my children, he was a long-haired smart-ass who worked at the video game store across the hall from the houseware store I worked in at the mall. He drove a bright yellow Dodge Omni and took pride in seeing how many parking spaces he could take up (this isn’t as a$$hole-ish as it sounds, we mall employees parked in a back lot that was always empty).
One day I was sitting with a friend in the mall food court before my shift started. He passed by and we waved a casual hello to each other. “Who’s that?” she wondered, interest perked. Being me, I couldn’t resist the chance to play matchmaker, but my attempts backfired…and long story short, I ended up dating him instead. I was 16 at the time. That was nearly 20 years ago. Is it possible to find your happily ever after in a mall food court? Yes, yes it is.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I had managed to find myself a wonderful husband and father. Little things clued me in, and as I noticed them, they dropped into the bucket of my self-conscious, filling it with reasons to say yes when he popped the question six-and-a-half years after our mall romance started. Things like how loving he was to his mother…not a Mama’s boy, no, but tender with her, concerned for her happiness-that kind of thing. He took time to do little things to let me know he cared for me, silly things like stuffed animals and cards for no reason…and he does the same for our daughters now. He was there whenever I needed him; whether it was to change a flat tire for me, or stay at my parents’ house for a week to kick my younger brother’s butt out of bed and make him go to school (my mom was in the hospital, my dad worked 3rd shift, and I couldn’t miss the time at college).
He’s not perfect (thank God, because I’m not either), but we do well together. And we make gorgeous kids.
When we first talked about kids, the idea of changing a diaper or cleaning up puke made him cringe. His friends joked he was going to have buy a wetsuit. He ended up having to change Miss A’s very first diaper, and has surprised us all with how well he deals with snot, vomit, poop, and all the other assorted yuckiness that accompanies parenting. (I didn’t say he likes it, but when it’s 2 in the morning and one of our girls has throw-up in her hair, sheets, and nightgown – he doesn’t shy away from taking part in disaster recovery).
In many ways, he’s still the boy from the video game store across the hall. He hasn’t given up his sense of self, and still indulges in the things that make him happy. He also encourages me to do the same (it’s another great trait of his). Our daughters will grow up seeing a couple who can enjoy going off and doing their own thing, and I hope they learn that they never need to change who they are or what they like just to make someone else like them.
One day, I know our daughters will happen across their version of the boy in the video game store. The choices they make are their own, of course…but I feel confident that by choosing someone who loves and respects me, I have taught them to look for someone who will do the same, and expect nothing less.
Happy Father’s Day to my Husband. And to my own Dad, whose love and commitment to family ensured I would know a good man when I found him.
They were big boots to fill.