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Steve Speaks: FsSTG meets FsFTB

FsFTB readers: Every so often my fiancé Steve will be chiming in with a post of his own—this is his first! 

Hello. My name is Steve, and I’m a fifty-something second-time groom.

I’m honored but somewhat intimidated to be invited to guest-blog here. I write a lot as a member of the forestry faculty at a state university, but what I write for work is mostly scientific and technical stuff about maps and carbon sequestration. Don’t worry—there won’t be trees or maps in this post! For balance, my forty-something first-time bride, Sandee, has invited me to tell my story, that of the fifty-something second-time groom. With two grown sons. And a dog. So to start: how can I discuss what the “second time” means without acknowledging the first time?

I was married in 1985 to Karen, a forester who worked in South Carolina when I worked in Georgia. We became engaged less than a year after we started dating, and there were fewer than six months between engagement and marriage. Quick, huh? I’d gotten a job offer in Alaska, which meant a compressed schedule for the wedding. We married in March in upstate New York, and our honeymoon consisted of a cross-continent roadtrip in a pickup truck with her golden retriever, followed by a three-day ferry ride from Seattle to Haines, Alaska, and a two-day drive from there to Anchorage. (Sandee and I don’t know yet where we’ll be going for a honeymoon, but let me go on record here as promising it won’t involve a dog and a pickup!)

Karen and I had twenty mostly very happy years together. The last twelve were under a slowly darkening cloud after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She died in January 2006, closing a chapter in my life and changing the nature of the family that remained: I became a single dad raising two teenaged sons. As it tends to do, time has healed wounds and filtered memories, so that most that remain are the good ones, and I look back on what we had with fondness, love, humor, and gratitude.

Steve&Tucker2

With oldest son Tucker

Fast forward: there’s this house on the end of my street. The yard is not very well kept. Holiday decorations appear only sporadically. Three guys, plus one canine (born male but subsequently modified), live there. Two of the guys are recovering adolescents; the other has gray in his beard as a result. It’s a testosterone-rich, estrogen-deprived zone, and you can tell it by the décor. And the state of the bathrooms. So, who is the guy who owns that house?

Well, I guess that would depend on who you ask. My neighbors see the guy with the unkempt yard. My students see a professor. My sons see a father, and my dog…well, judging by his greeting, I think he sees me as the center of the universe!

As I left my teens and progressed through adulthood, I tended to identify my “self” with the primary role I was playing at the time. I was a flannel-shirt-clad forestry student during college and graduate school. When we moved to Anchorage and our initial friends were all from Karen’s recreation-league soccer team, I became “Karen’s husband.” To those in the forestry company, I was the guy in charge of the number-crunchers in the technical department. When my boys started playing sports and joined scouts, I became identified as “Tucker’s Dad” or “Dusty’s Dad.” Returning to academia as a professor, I was the guy going up for tenure in his forties. Later, I became the guy who lost his wife. Continue reading

Like Father, Like…Fiancé?

A month or two after Steve and I got engaged, I had lunch with a friend and former colleague, Thomas. Thomas and I go back almost fifteen years, having met the day I started my first full-time faculty position. He and I had both joined the Language and Literature department of a small state university in Georgia in the fall of 2000, I as an assistant professor fresh out of grad school, he as the new department head established in his academic career. He became a valued mentor as we bonded over our shared status as newbies to the college. We’d left Georgia at the same time, as well, when he and his wife Anne Marie moved to Switzerland, where he’d accepted a professorship, the year I moved to Virginia.

We’ve stayed in touch and have found opportunities for the occasional reunion, the last a family holiday gathering in 2011. When Thomas emailed he would be stateside and passing through my stomping grounds in June, I made plans to meet him. Over sandwiches at Panera, he caught me up on his new book and Anne Marie’s library and translation work, and I filled him in on my memoir-in-progress and my engagement to Steve.

Then, Thomas asked me a really interesting question.

“So,” he said, setting his cup on the table and peering at me through wire-rimmed glasses. “I have to ask. After all these years, how did you know?”

“That’s Steve’s the one?” I said. Thomas nodded.

The cynic in me was tempted to reply, because he asked, and no one else ever did. But that wasn’t entirely true, and it wasn’t the real answer to the question, anyway. “Well,” I said. “I guess the first thing that comes to mind is—because of how he treats me. He’s a genuinely good man, and he’s good to me, and it’s…well, it’s easy.”

Thomas gave a nod of recognition and smiled.

“It’s funny,” I continued, “because all these years, people have been telling me things like, when it’s the right one, you’ll know. It will be easy. And I would sort of nod along, yeah, sure.” I sipped my tea. “But I think that’s true. It is easy. Not in the sense that there aren’t complexities. But there is a sense of ease, of rightness. There’s an effortlessness to being together.”

2012 July 112

My dad Garry, professor turned beekeeper

Thomas nodded more vigorously and said, “Yes. Yes, that’s good.”

“And then there’s this other piece that’s going to sound kind of weird,” I said. “Sometimes it seems a little weird to me, anyway.”

Thomas raised his eyebrows.

“Well,” I said, “Steve is the man most like my father of any man I’ve ever dated.”

At that, Thomas burst out laughing. But he kept nodding.

Continue reading