My relationship with my husband (I’ll call him C) has never only been about the two of us. It has also always been about his son, GT, and (to a certain extent) his ex-wife…or at least echos of his first marriage. From the moment we met, “divorced father” has been C’s single most defining trait, and it has impacted our relationship in ways that I could never have predicted.
The end of C’s first marriage was traumatic and emotionally fraught, for both him and GT, who was 3 years old at the time. The whole experience left C angry, bitter and penniless, but it also left him with primary custody of GT, which was the one thing he was determined to walk away with. From that point forward, it was going to be the two of them against the world.
When I met him 15 months later, he was still angry and bitter about the end of his marriage, but he was starting to ease his way back into the dating pool. More specifically, he had decided that as a broke-ass single father, working as a teacher in one of the lowest-paying states in the nation, he needed a “sugar mama.” That turned out to be me–if you can call someone who was renting out her parent’s basement to save money a “sugar mama.” I guess it’s all relative…when we first met, he thought my purse looked expensive.
When we started dating, C made it very clear that due to his emotional state and his divorce-related issues, he had no plans to even think about a serious relationship for at least another 3 or 4 years. We could ride this thing out as long as it lasted, but I was to place no expectations on him for anything beyond a casual relationship. Luckily, I had no expectations beyond getting to know this man who fascinated and intrigued me. In addition to being a teacher and a single dad, he was also a (somewhat unlikely) local rock star. Watching him on stage was what attracted me to him in the first place, but this is not where most rational people would start if they were “looking for a husband.”
In everything though, his son came first. Always. In fact, our relationship almost ended before it really started, when I suggested that he get a babysitter so we could go out on a second date. It was immediately clear that I had overstepped, so I promptly suggested that we should schedule our second date for the next weekend that GT was at his mother’s. I’m convinced that was the only reason that we had a second date at all.
In our first few months together, C was incredibly protective of his son, and we were only able to spend time together when GT was with his mother. C didn’t want risk the chance of his child meeting and bonding with someone who could easily be gone from his life, for reasons that would have had nothing to do with GT. It was only after we had dated for about 5 months that C felt comfortable enough to let me meet his son. Even then, I was only introduced to him as “Dad’s friend, Tammy”.
This was at about the same time that C told me, “you know I’m not going to marry you, right?” There was nothing hurtful intended in that statement. He just wanted to be upfront with me about what he was capable of and didn’t want me “hanging on” in a misguided belief that this relationship was heading anywhere meaningful.
It was another 6 months before our relationship had reached a point where we admitted to GT that I wasn’t just Dad’s friend; I was Dad’s girlfriend. That was the point when C started going to therapy to help him address the residual anger he was still feeling from his divorce, because he knew that he had to deal with those feelings before he would be able to fully commit to me. It was still GT and him against the world, but he was trying to find a place for me as well.
We never talked about marriage, though. For my part, that was partially because C had been so clear about not getting married again, and partially because I was in no hurry to get married myself. I was perfectly happy to just go with the flow in our relationship.
The proposal came six months later, and C is still chagrined about how it went down. Apparently he had a plan. But he also had a six-year-old. These two things proved to be incompatible.
Some recent events involving C’s ex-wife had started him thinking about me and my influence in his and his son’s lives and had caused him to reconsider his opposition to marriage, despite everything that he had been saying throughout our relationship about not wanting to remarry. Because C is an awesome and involved father, he discussed this with GT and they decided that yes, it would be acceptable for C to ask me to marry him.
The plan was simple. They would meet up with me after I finished work, and we would go out to dinner with my parents. Then, he would pop the question, ask my parents for their blessing (yes, it pains me to even have to write that) and we would all celebrate with hugs and champagne.
The six year-old took this plan and wrecked it so innocently, and so spectacularly, that it became The Best Proposal Ever™.
Everything was going according to plan. C had used some pretense to ask me to dinner and had used some other pretense to invite my parents out to eat with us. When C and GT met up with me as I was getting off work, they transferred into my car so we could drive together to the restaurant. As he was climbing into his booster in my car’s back seat, GT smiled from ear to ear and said, “My dad and I were talking, and we decided that we would like you to be a part of our family!”
Throughout it all, even though GT’s influence was always present, I could still maintain a sense that I was in a relationship with a man who happened to be a father. After we became engaged, this was no longer the case. I was now in a relationship with C and GT, our fates forever intertwined, no matter what the future held.
As a way to acknowledge this, and to ensure that GT understood that I was committing myself to him as well as to his father, I crafted two sets of wedding vows–one for each of them. Although GT was mildly embarrassed on the day of the wedding as I crouched down in the middle of the ceremony to look him in the eyes and read my vows to him, I was certain that he knew that our wedding day was about him just as much as it was about his father and me.