While Valentine’s Day is what it is - an opportunity for lovers to partake in some over-scheduled romance - I have long meant to fashion a valentine of a different sort.
Cliched but true: love comes in many forms. Beyond romantic and sexual, men and women play different roles in one another’s lives. Though mine is filled with many great men - father, brother, nephew, lover, friends, colleagues and mentors - there is one overlooked category that finally deserves some recognition. Friends-in-law: The men who married my girlfriends.
I am not especially close to these fellows, and the majority I know only because they married my friend. There are some I met at the same time as their wives and some I knew before the bride did. Still, they are in my life primarily due to their marriages.
These guys are far from perfect, but I can see their lovability clear as day. They face the same relentless struggles as the rest of us - sometimes they get it right, sometimes they fall short. Perhaps because I am not in the marriage, only an observer, can I appreciate that they do their g**amn best.
Most of all, I love them because they make my girls happy, support them in a variety of ways and are good fathers to their children. I love them because they’ve helped create or at least maintain an environment where their wives can still access that silly little girl inside - the one that I need. For any healthy, clear-minded woman, that girl needs to be accessible at all times.
Take Greg, one of the funniest men I know, who married my friend, Debbie. Greg and I palled around in the mid-80s with a fun-loving gang that included me and my two crazy roommates. It was pretty innocent stuff - drunken hide-and-seek, drunken scavenger hunts, drunken charades, etc. I still recall a raging party at our apartment in 1985 and passing between Debbie and Greg in a tight hallway, trying to get to my own bathroom. They were in full flirt-mode, and the electricity was palpable. Fast-forward many years later and Greg gamely babysits their four children while I steal his wife every spring for a wild all-girls weekend in the woods - no men or children allowed.
One year Debbie begged off the trip because she was dealing with both her mother’s and her 19-year-old son’s cancer and felt she should be close to home. Greg gave her a stern lecture about taking care of herself and said that they would get along fine for 48 hours. He packed up her car (with help from daughter Hannah) and kicked her butt out the door. Much to our great delight, she arrived at the cabin at midnight amidst a Prince-themed dance party. We gathered around her, and she cried and cried and cried, letting all her stress and fear out for us to share. We hugged her tightly and in my head, I thanked Greg. Her arrival had his fingerprints all over it.
Then there was the wedding eve of my childhood friend, Diane. She was going to marry Jeff, a boy I’d known since kindergarten. We were celebrating her final night as a single girl when I picked up not one but two voice mails from a sweet man I’d nearly forgotten.
“Hi. It’s Dino. Dino, Jennifer’s husband. I found your number on the Internet ... gosh, I hope this is the right number ... ”
Dino, in hushed, awkward tones, explained that his wife, Jennifer (one of the two crazy roommates from the ‘80s), often bemoaned the fact that she’d lost touch with me. I’d tried to keep the relationship going, but she’d married into an enormous Italian family and every weekend of her new life was filled with births-baptisms-weddings-deaths-anniversaries. No time for the past, only the present - pretty standard life stuff.
Several decades later, Dino decided to surprise his wife. “I was going to hunt you down on the Internet,” he told me when I called him back. “I even made sure I had all this time with the computer, expecting a long search. Then, I found your number in about 2.3 seconds.” He’d left a second voice mail because he’d gotten so excited by his instant success.
We arranged for me to call Jennifer the next day and surprise her. Dino would answer and then hand the phone over to her. We pulled it off and I could hear Dino giggling like an excited kid behind her. Jennifer was so happy and touched to hear from me that she actually wept. To this day, I am charmed by Dino’s effort - a gift to two women.
My shining friends-in-law examples are endless. There’s Mark, who loves his wife, Anjum, even more than he loves their rugged, mountainous life in Colorado. When I asked him about Anjum’s homesickness and her urge to return to Chicago, where her family resides, he simply shrugged his big shoulders and said: “Well then, I guess we move back to Chicago.” Simple as that.
While talking to my best friend, Lisa, I was informed that she and her husband, Jerry (whom I’ve known first grade), were gardening. In the background, I can hear him yell: “Tell Heather I’m still very manly even though I’m planting begonias!” Duly noted.
There’s Martin, who met me for the first time in his bathrobe at 5:00 a.m. on his Brooklyn doorstep. With one eye open the whole time, he not only let me in (so his wife and my pal, Deirdre, could sleep) and got me settled in on their couch, but later sang me songs on his guitar before we all three went out for cupcakes.
Barry, who can not only handle Dre’s immense strength but actually enhances it. Plus, he’s got a giant smile for me every time.
Dr. Mark, a giant adorable nerd who can match wife Sydney’s sick humor and, therefore, mine.
Jake, my writing kindred who stuck by my friend, Val, as she battled cancer, then helped her raise two incredible people. He once met me at the door with a martini - a very good man that I could talk to for hours.
One of my favorite man-wife exchanges involves Kim and Tony. Kim and I go back to 10th grade, and she is the funniest person I know - famous or non. She was cajoling Tony into escorting her to a party he did not want to attend.
“C’mon! There’ll be food and drinks and music ... ”
“I dunno. I’m tired.”
“Lots of people will be there that you know ... Jim, Diane, Heather-”
“Wait, Heather is going to be there? Sheesh! If you’d told me that to begin with you could have saved yourself some time. In the future, just say ‘Heather will be there,’ and it’s a done deal.’”
When she told me this story, I held it close to my heart. The feelings I have for these men is returned quite evenly. They are wildly protective, generally offering to kick the ass of any man who hurts me. The relationship is something between brother-friend, and it’s a unique layer of love I treasure.
Maybe there is a charm I see precisely because I have never been married. Being single, you can idealize married life to Disney-esque effect. But again, I am close enough with their wives to know that the unions are reality-based.
Perhaps being married to any one of them would ruin the fuzzy vision in the same way living in New York might actually make me hate it. With some distance and the occasional visit, I am hopelessly charmed.
Truth is, the friendship I have with these guys is unique in that love is passed not around but through the women we all adore - their wives. Ultimately, I know these men have giant hearts and they try their best to make my girls happy. In my own small way, I strive for the same and therein the love lies.
BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz
(All photos taken by Heather Clisby)
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