Today my parents celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. Twenty years! It doesn't seem so long ago that I was standing with my sister, in our pink floral dresses and braided hair, listening as they took their vows on a beautiful summer day; taking our own vows to accept our new family as a whole.
Shortly after their wedding, our family of four plus Missy, our sweet golden retriever, piled into a moving van, and drove south towards the life we would all make together in Virginia. Despite being sleepy and hungry, I remember insisting on returning the moving van with my new stepfather. It was dark and quiet, one of those perfectly still Virgina summer nights I would soon grow to love. Despite not having slept in days, he already knew the ride was entirely too quiet for the usual chatterbox of a six year old that I was, hungry or not. He said very quietly, "You know, you don't have to call me Dad until you are ready. And if you are never ready, that's okay too."
He may have been expecting a simple "Thanks" but he soon found me sobbing - long, exasperated wails - as all the anger and fear I could possibly contain in my tiny body escaped as thick, hot tears running down my face and neck. He did his best to soothingly ask what was the matter - let’s not forget the man had been a bachelor less than a year ago and now found himself living with three females - probably desperately trying to figure out how to deal with a little girl's breakdown with no Mom around. “I just don’t want you to leave us too,” I managed to say between sobs, so calmly it still surprises me to this day.
“Look at me,” he said comfortingly, but in a tone I already knew not to ignore. “I will never leave you. We are a family. I need you to know that if your mother and I disagree, no one is walking away. There might be times when we don’t get along, but I’m not leaving.” I started calling him “Daddy” that very same night as he tucked me into bed.
That promise has stayed very close to my heart these last twenty years. There have been highs and lows, milestones and disagreements. But together, my mom and dad have set the example for my sister and me of a solid marriage, incredible parenting, and what it truly means to be a family. They have celebrated our accomplishments, encouraged us when we needed it, and comforted us in moments of sadness and desparation.
I wish you both bundles of happiness in the years ahead. I know you sometimes still wish Val and I were young again, racing outside to catch lightning bugs after dinner, but I hope you also enjoy the time together, making up for the moments you sacrificed to ensure we started life on the right path. I love you Mommy and Daddy.