Valentine’s Day: The Greatest Love Affair of Them All

Category: Weekly Columns


Love and Marriage was a classic Sinatra song. Its lyrics truly seem quaint and decidedly old-fashioned today. But, my parents lived a love affair that stood the test of time and incredible challenges. Their love affair was a model that was pretty hard for their peers to match and certainly impossible in my generation for both my wife and any of my married friends – at least those that I know well.

Mom & Dad, March 1992

Let’s face it, how well do we know our friends? Do you think they love each other or have an ongoing love affair? How many friends really open up and express – especially in couple’s situations – the reality of what goes on beyond closed doors. Ironically, and I’ve written about this before, I think if couples were more open with one another, we’d all be better off learning and sharing about our money, sex, in-laws, job, kid issues, etc. But, most of the time, people don’t expose their issues with others and that happy front encourages most of us to believe our issues are unusual.

Thankfully, we have reality television to counter than illusion. And, in my case, I had my parents to observe for over 50 years. They knew each other 73 years, having met at a lake in Michigan when my mother was 14 and my father 17. They were married 66 years, until my father died at 90. My mother lived another year or so in despair, for the most part, taking some comfort from her one son and my two boys – her only grandchildren. Their marriage was the epitome of a love affair, in every sense of the words.

Mom (June) as beauty contest winner as child

My boys did not have that amazing model of love that I observed my entire childhood and, from afar, in most of my adulthood. I saw a man that worshipped his wife. My father felt as strongly in love with my mother when she was somewhat disabled by a stroke, which changed her sweet disposition to a more sour one, as any other time during their decades together. His only fear about dying was not being around to take care of his beloved wife.

Theirs was also an old-fashioned traditional marriage in which my father was the breadwinner and my mother the homemaker. Their life plans included having a family of five, but as we sadly know all too well, we make plans and G*d laughs.

Dad lifting homemade weight with one hand

One of their very first challenges took place within the first couple/three years of their marriage when my mother got tuberculosis and was bed-ridden for a full year. She lost partial use of one lung and that meant her stamina was reduced forever thereafter.

But, the thing that truly tested my parents was the loss of two of those three “planned” children. To me, there is almost nothing more horrible than parents surviving their children. It just isn’t natural nor could it possibly be in G*d’s plans for us, though I don’t believe G*d actually impacts our daily existence meaningfully. That’s the whole concept of free will, a subject of which I’ll leave to the religious scholars.

Mom and Dad blowing out candle in Nectar

What is not commonly known is that the death of a child often leads to the end of a marriage. There are so many powerful emotions going on during that turmoil in a home and men and women grieve and deal with this tragedy in such different ways, that many marriages simply cannot survive such a loss.

My parents survived it twice.

A baby girl died, before I was born, at about eight days old. Jacqueline Kennedy also lost a child in the same fashion when the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck during delivery causing partial suffocation from which the baby ultimately died.

3 of us in Bellagio indoor garden #2 (better one)

At the time, my parents had a son, my older brother. Later, they had me when my older brother was 11. When I was five, he died in an accident – nobody’s fault – but lived on machines for a while, bankrupting my parents in the process. His death was kept from me in many ways since my parents were given, we all realized much later, very poor advice on how to help a young child cope with such a loss.

Not counting the many other challenges my parents faced, from financial struggles to ten serious illnesses and surgeries between them, the love affair never waned. The ONLY time my father and mother were apart for a night was when one of them was in the hospital. They had lunch together EVERY day. My father dutifully listened to my mother’s detailed description of her day at ever dinner meal. He spoke minimally but was enthralled by everything my mother did or said.

This Valentine’s Day, as with every year at this time, I reflect with wonder, awe, and longing at their incredible love affair. The wonder and awe is how they did it and felt that way. The longing is simply missing their smiles at each other and their presence in my life and their missing the growing up of their two grandchildren. But, I suspect they’re holding hands and watching us with pride somewhere above…

On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, I threw a surprise party for them. It went off so well and every detail came out perfectly. This was before it was common to video events yet I found a person to video it with those BIG video-cameras of the day. I did a presentation – a slide show – again, way before PowerPoints. Enjoy this marvelous tale and their love affair and the one remaining “problem” in their life at that time – I can’t believe how young I was once!

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Low Res Wide book cover - The Empty-Nest Road Trip Blues