All I remember was laying in the hospital bed and seeing four nurses in white watching over me. I knew my wife Nancy was near, but I don’t know how I knew it. My body felt like it was floating, but I didn’t know where it (or I) was going. I had been warned by a few locals about my surgeon and his reputation. His diagnosis was I needed a gallbladder operation. Being that I wasn’t a drinker and had no history of any organ trouble, none of this made sense. Why I agreed to the operation is also a mystery to me. For the first time in my life, I knew I was ready to fight because I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to grow old with Nancy and be there for my two daughters.
When I first met Nancy, it was love at first sight. I think when people saw us, we looked like the odd couple. I’m 6-foot-5, and my wife is 5-foot-4. I was a hulky farm boy. Now I’m a hulky farm man. Nancy was a cute city girl. After we met, we couldn’t stay away from each other.
Our second date was one of the more memorable experiences of our dating life because at this point we had already tuned into each other’s personality, especially our sense of humor. I was one of those boys who knew what I wanted in a wife early on.
I also had enough street smarts to know a few stereotypes people have of farm boys. This meant pretending to be a little naive. I love doing this because it keeps people guessing.
The Cemetery Flowers
So one day I was heading towards Nancy’s house. It was our second official date. I wanted to make a good impression on her mom, but I was also a prankster. I had found a beautiful collection of flowers from the farm, picked ‘em right out of our garden. When I showed up at Nancy’s house, I kind of changed the story of where and how I had found the bouquet. Her mother greeted me, so I knew there was no better time to launch into the story.
“Good to see you Dean. And I noticed you brought a beautiful bouquet of flowers!”
“Yeah, I really lucked out.”
“Well, I felt a little bad that I forgot to grab a bunch at this nice little flower shop near my home, but as I was walking towards your house, somebody had laid flowers down on a stone. There were a whole bunch of ‘em, um . . . I mean stones, but only two or three of ‘em had flowers like these.” I pointed at the bouquet. “So I had a quick look around to see which bunch was the nicest . . . wanting Nancy to have the best . . . The stones where the flowers lay were a little strange. They had writing on ‘em. Stuff like “In memory of . . . so and so!” Words like that.
Her mouth dropped. She acted like I had just made a pact with the Devil.
“But Dean, that was a cemetery, and those flowers were gifts to the dead from their family and other loved ones. Ya can’t just go taking those kinds of flowers. That’s grave robbing!”
I couldn’t help it—a smile snuck out. She hadn’t yet figured out that I was pulling her leg, but then Nancy walked in.
“Oh Mom, stop getting worked up. Dean knows better than that. He was just playing a game.”
I knew, sooner or later, I would have to own up to the truth, so it was fun watching my future wife take the lead.
As I look back on my life, things did improve between my mother-in-law and me. She began realizing how the stereotype of a poor and naive farm boy did not fit my personality, and that I was a bit smarter than she had initially thought. Nancy had picked up on it, so our relationship took off.
Our life has been filled with blessings. I feel fortunate because Nancy and I got along really well from the start. I know many friends whose marriages had one rough spot after another. Nancy and I have had a few tough times, but all in all, we’ve had less than most people.
When it came to raising our two girls, Nancy was the friend and I was the discipliner. But over the years, she taught me a lesson or two about understanding my girls. Growing up, I was the oldest of an all-boy farm household. Fact is, when you consider my high testosterone family, I did understand young women better than most of the boys my age who had a similar background.
However, in the early years of our marriage, I missed many cues. One of those lessons came when my oldest, Alicia, was about four or five years old. We lived out in the country on a farm. One day she came to me and asked me if she could set up a lemonade stand. Two scenarios came to my mind within seconds of her request.
My first thought was how heartbroken Alicia would be when she didn’t make any money. Our driveway is about sixty feet. We don’t have too many neighbors nearby, but the occasional car will drive by. So I whispered to myself, “Who in the hell is going to stop to buy a glass or two of lemonade out here?”
The next scenario was a little scary. What if the wrong person, some sicko, drove up? Alicia was about 3-foot-5 and as cute as could be. I then whispered to myself, “So she goes out to the road, a stranger drives up, and grabs her.”
I hope I don’t sound too paranoid, but that is where my imagination took me. I didn’t like it, so I didn’t give it more thought.
That was my final decision, and boy, did I feel terrible about it a few minutes later. It was such a simple thing, yet it has haunted me through the years. Thankfully, Alicia says she doesn’t remember it. So how could I have done things differently? This is where Nancy comes in. She got me in touch with my nurturing side. It took years, but I’ve learned from her.
Some years later, I re-imagined the lemonade stand story.
“I want to do a lemonade stand.”
“OK. Now, you know you gotta do some planning right?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I will have a talk with your mother. Today is Wednesday, so let’s aim it for Friday. Good?”
She smiled and walked away happy.
Different ending, right?
As soon as she walked out of that room, I got busy. I called Nancy and all my relatives and friends and got them into action. I was ready to orchestrate the perfect lemonade stand day for my little girl. Not only would she sell a lot of drinks, but dammit, she would be safe.
Unfortunately, what I just described never happened. But I wished it had. I considered it years later, but I just couldn’t think of how to bring it up to Alicia.
I believe today that I could’ve worked on my nurturing side a little more. During the first ten years or so of our family life, it was probably 90/10. I was the parent who disciplined, and I was proud of it. Today, it’s probably 75/25. As I often tell Nancy, “You can be a pushover, honey.” She laughs when I say this to her because she wouldn’t change our parenting roles for any reason. I do hope I’ve swayed her a little in my direction, but honestly, I know she swayed me more.
Back to the hospital.
Before I went under from the anesthesia, I remember feeling Nancy holding my hand. As far as I know, she never left my side when things started to go wrong. There I was, in really bad shape, fully aware that I could die.
One of the witnesses said that the surgeon literally ran out of the hospital after he botched my surgery. Although the timeline is only a guess, I started my ascent towards God soon after my doctor exited the building.
I had been taught in church, if I ever found myself in a near-death experience and I knew it wasn’t my time to die, I should call on the name of Jesus. I have always had a strong foundation in my faith in God and a strong belief in Jesus as the Son of God, so calling out to Him was the natural thing to do.
“Jesus, Jesus.” I said it twice, if you can trust my recall in my almost dead state. As soon as I spoke these words, I saw the nurses arrive and I heard Nancy’s voice. Peace came over me, and I knew things were going to be OK.
Later when I awoke, I described what had happened, including calling on Jesus and seeing the nurses surround my bed. Nancy told me she had been there the whole time, along with friends from church, like our pastor. However, no one who had been in that room saw the four nurses, nor did they see me floating above the mattress.
Although I will never know what happened, one thing is for sure. Nancy was there in that hospital room. She is always there for me; we have always been there for each other.
This brings me to my next memory. About three years ago, our daughter Melissa had reached age fifteen. In Michigan, we all know what this means: drivers education. As I lay in that hospital bed about five years before, I knew I didn’t want to go and see God yet because I had my fatherly duties to do, and this was one of them.
I believe that God did help me out at the hospital because helping Nancy raise our daughters has been a highlight of my life.
I wanted Melissa to take the next big step, the milestone towards being a young adult. I had just purchased a new Ford Taurus. It wasn’t more than a few months old. It had its shine and its smell. I loved that car and was proud that my girl was going to learn how to drive in a classy, brand new car.
I ignored the fact that she had repeated, or more accurately, continuously protested, “I’m not ready yet, Dad!”
I didn’t care because I knew that sometimes my girls needed a little push, and this was simply one of those times. She needed to be a bit braver, so it was my job to push her. To me, driving is a life-skill. It is comparable to walking or going to the bathroom. Since she had mastered those two skills years ago, I was sure that she was ready to handle this next lesson.
So we got in the car together. She plopped into the driver’s seat, and I plopped in the passenger seat. To this day, I will never forget the lesson I learned regarding why all drivers education cars should be equipped with one of those passenger-side brake pedals. It really would have helped me that day.
I also forgot how easy it is for a new driver to forget that there is a difference between the brake and gas pedal, especially when the new driver starts to panic. Anyway, she put the car into the gear called R. In her mind, R meant Ride. So she placed the car in R, hit the gas pedal, and moved swiftly into a head-on collision with a very large garbage can.
Miraculously, we got the car back in park. After making sure she was stationary and she was OK, I went to have a look at what she had hit and the damage to the car. The car’s trunk took on a new shape, kind of like a V. My brand new Taurus would never be the same, and my daughter and wife now hated me.
I don’t know if it was the noise of Melissa screaming or the sound of the car crashing, but either way, Nancy marched out, yelling at me until she had time to grab her girl and rescue her from her terrible father. Once she knew Melissa was fine, Nancy continued to yell at me.
“Dean, Melissa said she wasn’t ready, and you just had to go and push. This is what you get for that!”
I knew if I pointed at the damage done to the car, I’d be sleeping on the sofa, so I shut up and nodded. The damage was about $5,000, but I don’t think I ever mentioned this to Nancy.
As I stood there taking the verbal beating, I saw a small smirk flash on Nancy face, but only for a second. For some strange reason, the memory of lying in that hospital bed came to me. I believe God did send me his healing angels that day in the hospital. He knew I wanted to be the best dad I could be, and He didn’t let me down.
Truth is Nancy could have yelled at me for another five minutes, and Melissa could have continued to cry. It wouldn’t have mattered. I just stood there and enjoyed being with two of the people that I love most in this world. I often wonder what Alicia would have said had she been there. I’m guessing she would have taken the side of her sister. If she had, it wouldn’t have bothered me one bit. The girls are close and trust each other. What more can a father ask for?
What can I say. I’m a proud papa.
Because of the roles Nancy and I have played with our kids through the years, there were times when I did want to be the nurturer. The car incident was one of them. My pushy nature did usher in an uncomfortable moment now and then. When things need to get done, I’m the drill sergeant.
Having the honor of being surrounded by these three wonderful ladies for the last twenty years has made me a very content husband and father. I often do think back to growing up on a farm with all boys. As a father of two girls, life has kind of reversed itself, and I love it. I’m a ladies’ man now, and I like it.
Friends of mine often tell me how jealous they are of me. The girls have turned out great, and Nancy and I have always had a wonderful relationship. The only advice I can give to other men is if you ever feel like you and your wife are not in agreement on major issues, such as how to manage your money or raise your children (having lemonade stands), either start listening to your wife (agreeing with her) or just don’t get married.
We have never had marriage counseling, and we never put on any show for each other. We met, became genuine best friends, and have been living together happily. Nancy is beautiful, inside and out. I have a down-to-earth, beautiful, and loving wife. And I thank the Lord for her every day.