Patrick and Shirley Dunne are my parents. Pat and Shirley celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on September 19, 2020. They married with little fanfare but great love in a tiny church in Portland, Oregon. After the ceremony, they did not go to a wedding reception. There wasn’t one. Instead, they went to the hospital to share the day with my mom’s father who was healing from a heart attack.
Little did they know that in these first decisions they made as a couple they were setting the priority for their fifty-year path.
They met at the University of Oregon – senior year and not a minute too late. My dad came to my mom having lost both of his parents in separate tragedies in childhood and nothing to his name to speak of but perseverance, determination, and a strong intellect. My mom met my dad having grown up in an upper middle-class family filled with sisters and spirit – until they lost the youngest sister to the ocean at age 5. At age 17, my mom became the strength for her family and she would bring this gift forward to my dad along with her matter-of-fact way, her sharp sense of humor, and her wit-filled wisdom.
My parents traveled, toting three kids, wherever my dad’s military career took us – including Texas, Germany, California and Nebraska – until they retired to Oregon and half-time in Nebraska to ensure quality time spent with their four grandchildren. Their marriage included long periods of time living apart due to military life and– like every marriage – was not free of very difficult times.
Today I wonder how after fifty years, a couple can end up in bed at night in matching pajamas, holding hands for their nightly talk when a husband can say to his wife “I wish we could die just like this so neither of us has to be without the other.”
I have watched my parents for 45 of their 50 years together – for the last 20 years as someone professionally engaged in observing marriages as they come apart. I watched first-hand all the ways they navigated the different challenges and seasons a marriage brings. I see the differences.
The success of my parents’ marriage had some to do with luck, some to do with being married in the 70’s, and some to do with sheer determination. But it has mostly to do with the magic that unfolds when people come together with the singular goal of wanting someone to love them. This is it. This is all that mattered. It sounds simple – but it is far from.
If all you want from your marriage is to be loved, you then show up to be loveable. You show up vulnerable, authentic, and real to your spouse. My parents had no notion of who or what the other was supposed to be. They never tried to form and mold their spouse into their own ideas of who their spouse should be. They both honored the other’s true authenticity. They were independent enough in their own selves to just let the other be who they were and to offer up love to them every day for 18,250 days in a row.
I offer this reflection of a love well-lived on my divorce blog in honor of this marriage that made it. This marriage has been a gift to me and so many others who have felt the warm glow of my parent’s contentment with each other over these years. Let’s raise our proverbial glass to Pat and Shirley this week in cheers to the fifty-year marriage.
Your daughter, Angela