Please allow me to dedicate this post to the brightest star in my sky… my beloved husband Jeff, who is having a Very Significant Birthday today.
I will never forget my first glimpse of him, on the night of August 15, 1981, as he stood in front of Mary Gust’s refrigerator reaching for a beer. He was tall…nearly 6’2…with shoulders that were broad and impossibly straight. He had the meaty frame of a man who built muscle by working, rather than by working out. I was afraid to approach him, but my friend Tommy led me to his side, and I was amazed at his willingness to speak to me… to get to know me. I really thought he was out of my league… and he was… but in the conversation that started that night, and continues thirty-five years later, there’s a lot I learned about that luscious boy.
I learned he wanted to be loved. He would have appreciated a quick tumble in the back of his Mustang (and don’t think he didn’t ask for it), but he was really much more interested in finding someone with whom he could share his passion for life. We talked about our families. We talked about our travels. We talked about books and movies (he loved “All That Jazz,” then as now, one of my favorites). We talked about his years in the service. That’s when the bastard captured my heart, and under false pretenses. You see, I asked him how he felt about constantly having to follow orders, and he replied, “As John Milton said, I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.”
I looked at that tall, tanned, handsome, green-eyed, hard-muscled Adonis, and said to myself, “If he looks that good, and can quote John Milton, the search stops here, honey. Paradise Found!”
Two years later, when we were scrapping newlyweds in our first tiny apartment, we were watching his beloved Star Trek, and I heard Ricardo Montalban shout out the reason why he could never follow Captain Kirk’s leadership: “As John Milton said, I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven!”
I whipped around and glared at my newly-wedded goofball. “You never read John Milton, did you?” “Nope!” he answered.
It didn’t matter. His quick intelligence has always captured information regardless of its source. He reads books, yes, but just as importantly, he reads people… he reads animals… he reads engines, and nature, and all those little clues that the universe places before us, that average people miss.
He is an amazing friend, quick to perform a kindness even when no one is aware of it. He was an ideal son to his complex and wonderful mother, always sensitive to her needs and willing to include her in his life, knowing this was what she craved. He’s a wonderful brother… although I will always treasure the memory of him and his sister, well into their fifties, rolling around on her floor during an argument, wrestling like two eight-year-olds vying for a single brownie.
He is the kind of father most children can only dream of. Jeff really does love his children unconditionally, and just as importantly, he likes them. They’re not just his progeny; they’re his peeps. He has always spoken to them as equals, and has respected them enough to always speak frankly to them, whether or not he agrees with what they’re thinking or doing. He’s never shied away from showing physical affection to them, and he’s just as willing to kiss his son as he is his daughter. Most delightfully, he’s been honest enough to let them see that in some ways, he is less mature than they are. I don’t know if the kids realize what a gift this is. Some of us grew up with fathers who always had to be right, and always had to be in charge. Jeff’s kids have grown up with a man who has always had to be honest, and loving, and good. Amanda and Alex have been very lucky.
Needless to say, I feel he’s been a wonderful husband. In the beginning of our marriage, we fought like crazy… usually about my inability to catch up with the laundry…but Jeff has never flung a barb at me that really hurt. I’m sure I’ve let him down time and again, but he has never expressed it… just the opposite. He has cheered me on every single day of our lives, always believing in me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself.
When we were dating, a friend accused us of being Siamese twins who were locked at the lips. Are we still that smoochy? Hell, no—be realistic! But I still marvel at the richness and variety of his kisses, and I thank God for the frequency with which I receive them! Our kids are dreadfully embarrassed at our oft-expressed delight in the continuing physicality of our relationship, but frankly, I’m as grateful as can be to be married to a man still eager to jump my osteoporotic bones.
Today, as I look at this wonderful man who’s enjoying a Very Significant Birthday, I see the handsome fellow I first met so long ago. I see the exhausted young father, working sixty hours a week to provide for his wife and babies. I see the thirty-something-year-old man, whom I almost lost to unexpected illness, and the frightened man who looked at me a few years later, fearing my pneumonia would leave him alone with two kids to raise on his own. I see the giggling daddy at a grade school orchestra concert, who heard a dreadful rendition of “Sunrise, Sunset” and asked “Haven’t the Jews suffered enough!” and I see the proud, proud father sitting in his seat at Lincoln Center, picking out his son’s voice from a choir that was singing “Carmina Burana.”
I see a man who wakes up at 4:30 every morning, so he can get to work long before the doors open. I see a man who is abused by some customers and adored by others. I see a man who is finally working for employers who appreciate him. I see a man who stays at his post while his coworkers leave for lunch, and take their breaks. I see a man who comes home every night at seven, hungry and exhausted. I see a man who enjoys dinner with his family, who likes to relax in front of the TV with one cat at his side and another sitting overhead. I see a man who goes to bed tired, and doesn’t always sleep through the night.
I see a man who always does the best he can.
I see a man I will love for the rest of my days.
Happy birthday, my Jeffrey. God bless you and fill you with joy.