I was at a wedding recently when, during toasts, the father of the bride proudly proclaimed that he needn’t offer any advice about marriage because, combined, the parents had over 80 years experience. He suggested that the newlyweds did not need any advice because of their upbringing with such excellent role models.
This sentiment got me thinking about my own family. My mother left us when I was in the seventh grade. My poor Dad was on his own with two teenaged girls and was suddenly dropped into the role of single parent. Not once have I ever thought of him as a poor role model, or felt that my perception of marriage was tainted as a result of my upbringing. The truth is, my divorced father taught me so much about marriage.
He taught me that marriage sometimes means sacrifice. Before we came along, my Dad loved his motorcycle and his membership at the golf course. He gave up both of these things to spend more time with us when he wasn’t at work. (Possibly also to save money on speeding tickets. ;D)
He taught me that marriage is worth fighting for. I remember my parents fighting. A lot. My memory is not that marriage is hard and full of anger, but that sometimes it’s necessary to fight for the one we love most. That caring enough to fight is equally as important as simply caring.
He taught me that all you can do is your best. Listen, talk, fight, cry, make up, and don’t be afraid to get help if you need it. Do all that you can for your marriage and when that fails, try again.
He taught me to never be too proud to cry. I haven’t seen my Dad cry many times in my life, so seeing him grieve after she left was particularly significant. I never thought of him as weak, but rather felt encouraged to always allow myself to feel my feelings at their fullest and to share my truest feelings with my partner.
He taught me that it takes two to be married. Two people who care enough to sacrifice, to fight, to do their best, and to cry. If one person stops caring to do any of these things, there’s nothing that you can do to change it. It’s not your fault.
He taught me the importance of grace. It’s easy to get caught up in feelings of resentment and blame, but you come out much stronger when approaching your partner with a willingness to see things differently. There is way more peace to be found in agreeing to disagree than always seeking a right and a wrong side, a winner and a loser.
He taught me to be patient. Sometimes life has other plans. At the time, this new chapter may be huge and intimidating and you may be unsure whether or not you’ll survive it. You will. You just need to be patient.
Lastly, he taught me to love with my whole heart. That holding onto past hurts and insecurities keeps you from moving forward. My Dad is now, extraordinarily, happily partnered with a lovely woman who sets his soul on fire and brights out a joy in him that I had never seen.
So to my Dad, and all the divorced parents out there who may be struggling to write a toast full of advice about marriage when their baby gets married, know that you are an amazing role model. Your life experiences have taught us important things. You are loved. Wholly, completely, and imperfectly.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters, right?