Imagine for a moment that you are the parent of a 19-year-old girl. She had recently moved several states away from home, where she was working through her first year of college. She’s bright, fairly level-headed, and has never given you much cause for alarm. Now imagine a phone call from your daughter. She’s in love. She has met the man of her dreams and she thinks things are getting serious. Now, reaching into the creative depths of your imagination, conjure up an image of your worst possible nightmare of what this new boyfriend might be like.
What would he look like? Several tattoos? A few piercings? A surly scowl and a leather jacket? How old would he be—five, maybe even ten years older than your baby girl? How about you throw in three children from a failed marriage, a lengthy criminal record, and a budding alcohol addiction for good measure? Ah yes, you can picture it now can’t you?
Well, what if I tell you this is a true story, that the 19-year-old girl was me, and that the scary boyfriend is now my husband, Brian? What if I also told you that, ten years later, we are still married, still in love, and that meeting him was the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life? Not the outcome you were expecting? Well, you’re not alone; my marriage is highly ranked on the “It’ll Never Last” list, despite the fact that it’s growing stronger every day.
As you might assume, given the above description, the waters have not always been so smooth. In fact, many years were quite turbulent while the typhoon of addiction tore through our family, crumbling us, leaving us to try to sift through the remains and decide if the scraps were even worth rebuilding. A large portion of our early marriage was difficult, unstable, even unhealthy, and there were many times that I laid awake at night, crying and wondering where I went wrong, how I ended up in a life like this while my husband was out at a bar, asking himself the same thing.
Even after Brian found the strength to confront his addiction and sober up, it took several years to still the ripples that had spread into every facet of our relationship. But through those years of hell, something held us together—something indescribable that made us both keep pushing against the storm even though we couldn’t come up with a rational reason why anything could be worth that much effort.
But it was.
After a brutal first decade together we have broke through the storm and are enjoying the type of marriage that can only be earned by first suffering through heartache and turmoil together. My husband is sober, not only by absence of drinking but by the years of maturing he did after he set down the bottle. He reset his priorities, tore down the wall he had built around himself, and trained himself to stand up to his problems without the crutch of alcohol. We achieved this together, he by facing his demons and me by keeping foolish faith that he would.
Our biggest blessing is that we managed to stabilize ourselves before any of our children became old enough to reach awareness. Their worlds were never touched by our friction; the only parents they know are the happy, content, and in-love ones that they see before them today. And watching my husband with our kids reminds me of what I saw in him back when it was hard to see anything other than red flags. He is the father that I hand-picked to give to my future children, one of the most important decisions I will ever make for them; and through the ups and downs I have never regretted my choice.
While his demeanor is not quite as rough as it once was, Brian’s presence is still intimidating to those who don’t know his kind nature. He’s quiet and his dark features are somber, a result of debilitating shyness that often comes across as hostility rather than anxiety. His smile is rare but it softens his face, giving a glimpse of the person underneath. His body is weathered with scars, the remnants of his adventurous past, and his hands are calloused from years of hard labor. He smells of a mixture of leather, cigarettes, and motor oil, odors that would revolt me individually, yet somehow meld together to become the smell of comfort. His masculinity and ruggedness is undeniable, and it seems as though nothing could pierce through his hard shell. Until you see him with his children.
The moment his rusty work truck pulls into the driveway the kids all erupt into cheers; Tony runs out to help carry tools and the girls scream and jump up and down as if Justin Beiber himself was in that old Ford. Before he can make it all the way through the door the girls are leaping into his arms and latching around his legs. His face lights up in a way that few have the privilege to witness, and even with his muscles still aching from a long day’s work, he doesn’t hesitate to scoop them up into each arm for hugs and kisses that seem to revive him from his weariness. As he relaxes on the couch, buried in little bodies chattering to him about their day, his intensity melts away and I can see the love I feel for my children reflected in the face of the only man who could possibly love them as effortlessly as I do.
Brian’s long work hours leave most of the daily child-rearing to me, but there are still many areas of parenting in which Daddy excels. Ironically, they tend to be the things that require the gentlest touch. Fresh out of the shower, the girls wouldn’t dream of letting me brush out their hair if Daddy is available because he can detangle without causing tears. Splinters stay embedded until he gets home from work to dig them out with his pocket knife. And given the option, the girls always prefer their nail polish to be applied by Daddy’s steady hand.
The risky spirit that spurred Brian’s rebellious years bears a striking contrast to my cautious nature, but neither seem to extend to how we raise our children. I tend to be less strict, while he is the more over-protective parent: hovering over bassinettes in the middle of the night, mincing up food to prevent choking, and watching closely through the windows as they play outside. Perhaps he is just a typical paranoid parent—but his caution comes from first-hand knowledge as to what the world can be like.
With his strict rules comes strict discipline. Brian can strike fear in the kids’ hearts with his looming presence and deep voice alone. Rarely does he need to punish or yell; one disapproving sigh from Daddy is all it takes to quiet even the most outlandish behavior when my own irate rants have failed. He can walk into a roaring rumble of sibling rivalry and quiet the chaos immediately with a single sharp word of warning. After a long day of being pushed to the brink of sanity by the kids antics, when I feel like I could wrap them into pretzels with my bare hands, their only concern is “Are you going to call Daddy?”
Yet somehow he balances his rigid authority with spontaneous humor that often makes him little more than another kid underfoot. At the end of a long day when the kids are still bursting with energy he is far more likely than I to take a moment to run around and play. He has even been known to start a few food fights, jump on the furniture, and unload a Super Soaker or two in the living room, all in the name of shocking the children and making me laugh with frustration. His quick wit and ornery charm is what made me fall in love with him ten years ago, and what keeps me from wringing his neck today. He knows that he can make me laugh in spite of myself, no matter how angry or upset I may be, and I am thankful that he has that ability. Because I know that whatever problems we face, no matter how old we get, so long as we’re together we’ll at least be able to laugh.
While it took a few years for Brian to become a stable husband, his love for his kids was instant. Today he is exactly the man that I knew was hiding under all of the damage and dysfunction of his youth. My illogical choice of spouse was never a mistake or an accident; I just had to wait a little longer for the man I love to love himself. All of the time and effort was well worth it, though, because Brian has become the backbone of our family—the husband I can be proud of and the father that I’ve always wanted for my children.