After church services the next day Gabe and Sean headed to his parents house. They were exiting the car when Uncle Jack and Aunt Jenny pulled up to the curb behind them. Gabe waited for his aunt and uncle while Sean knocked on the front door. Even with the time it had taken for Jack and Jenny to exit the car and walk up to the porch, no one had answered. Confused, Gabe opened the door and walked in, looking for his mom and dad. He walked into the den and stopped so suddenly Sean ran into him. There on the couch were his parents making out. He cleared his throat loudly to announce their presence.
He chuckled when Sean peeked around him and announced, “ewww! Grandma! Grandpa! That’s gross. You’re way too old to be doing that!”
Jack and Jenny laughed and Uncle Jack announced, “Hear that Jen? We’re too old to be kissing.” He took her in his arms and dipped her low and kissed her dramatically.
Gabe was used to it. His parents, and aunt and uncle, had always been very affectionate and he had many memories as a child of catching them kissing, holding hands, and being playful. He still tried not to think about his parents’ love life, but contrary to most childrens' protests, public displays of affection were some what comforting to him. Even after all those years his parents still loved each other and had a great friendship and marriage. They weren’t perfect, he also remembered some arguments through the years, but they were actually part of the reason he wasn’t married. How do I find a woman who I can love 45 years from now the same way my parents love each other?
His sister “lucked out” he thought, but she would say she “made” her marriage like her parents’. It didn’t just come that way. She met her high school sweetheart at age 17. They were married five years later, the week after they graduated from college. When others might grow apart, they chose to grow separately, but together. Each one made life choices, but they supported each other. After their son was born, she decided she didn’t want to go back to work. Curtis supported her. When he had reached ten years with a large international company, he opted to leave Corporate America to start a small business. Rachel encouraged him. Both choices changed their lives forever. Either could have destroyed them, but they fought for each other together.
Rachel and Curtis would not be able to join them at the cabin for Thanksgiving so today became the pre-Thanksgiving dinner. Curtis always had to have his store open and running for Black Friday, so they weren’t ever able to come up for the holiday. Jack and Jenny would be in Tahoe the next week, but Jenny loved Thanksgiving dinner so they agreed to come and share this one as well.
The smell of turkey filled the house when Rachel and Curtis walked in and their three kids arrived like a tornado. Rose and Doug complained about the noise, but truthfully they preferred it that way. The kids ran outside to find Sean already playing in the yard with the dogs on the trampoline.
Curtis went into the kitchen to deliver the dishes filled with food to accompany the turkey. Gabe had never been the best cook and they always assigned him to bring a pumpkin and an apple pie, made from scratch by an elderly neighbor who loved him to death and thought he was just the cutest thing since puppies.
A few minutes later Rose’s sister, Trudy, arrived. She would be in Fiji for Thanksgiving with some old college girl friends. Trudy always arrived in a whirlwind of energy and fun. She set down her famous sweet potato casserole on the stove to keep warm and then hugged everyone and kissed every cheek. Gabe and Sean received extra strong hugs, they were definitely her favorite. Gabe imagined that if Sean hadn’t come along he might have turned out very much like his favorite aunt.
Trudy immediately launched into her latest story of traveling to New York. She always met the most interesting people, people no one else ever seems to get to know. “Everybody has a story,” she often stated and would prove it over and over again when she told the stories of random men and women just living their lives.
Today she related the account of a man she met on the street asking for change for the subway. He wasn’t quite homeless, but had a similar appearance. “His manner of speaking drew me in,” she explained. “He spoke well, with a touch of southern twang.” He had been the president of a large real estate investment firm. When the housing market crashed, he lost everything. His wife left him, taking the kids with her. He took what little he had left and had been traveling the country, following one lead after another searching for his children.
His last tip had been to New York. He had found a job in a small motel as repair man. His wife had been living with a friend in Manhattan. He had located the school where the children attended and called the police. The authorities had recovered the children and he had gone out to buy newer clean clothes in order to meet them. His wife had been staying with one friend and then another, all of them wealthy. He feared his children would judge him if he showed up to see them in his worn out work clothes. He was left fifty-three cents short of what he needed for the subway to get home to wash and change and get to the police station.
“Of course, I gave him all the cash I had on hand and asked if I could go with him to capture the reunion. He agreed and after cleaning himself up, we headed to see his kids. It had been nearly 3 years. He had tears streaming down his face when the oldest of them, his daughter, ran to him. The youngest little girl had only been 9 months old and his son had been four. The younger two were unsure, but followed their sister’s example and embraced him. I have rarely been witness to such a beautiful scene.”
She continued telling his story. Once a judge gave him custody, he was able to return home, even though they hadn’t found his wife. In the 3 years he had been gone, his business partner had rebuilt the company. He was welcomed with open arms. He will have to work hard to regain his wealth, but he is well on his way. Last he heard, his now-ex-wife lived in Argentina with man she met shortly after he left New York. She had mist in her eyes as she finished the end of his tale.
Someday I’ll write a book and publish my photos,” she daydreamed, “but I’m going to wait until all my friends are dead and gone so I don’t embarrass anyone with my version of circumstance.” She laughed at her own joke.
“It will be a best seller for sure, Trudy,” Curtis remarked. “You keep us in stitches and tears every time we see you. Every heart seems to find a home around you.”
Most people would blush with such compliments, but Trudy, true to herself, took them in stride. She knew them to be true, not from arrogance, but simply self confidence.
Another knock at the door announced the arrival of Rob, Gabe’s cousin from his dad’s side. Doug’s youngest sister lived in Texas, but her oldest son had moved back to California where he was born. His two kids were quiet and reserved and Rachel walked them outside to re-acquaint themselves with her kids.
Rose left the guests and called Gabe to take the large bird from the oven and he left it on the stove to “rest” for a few minutes before Doug came in to carve. The rolls were heated and last minute touches added. The children were called in to wash hands and calm down before dinner.
At last, they all gathered around the large dining room table. They each chose something to share that they were grateful for. Rose felt, of course, grateful for her family around her. Curtis thankfully related that things were going well at work. Sean shared about his new best friend, Chris, and his new Pokemon game. Gabe repeated that he enjoyed good friends and a wonderful family and a new holiday movie he would be shooting after the first of the year, prepared to release next fall.
The rest of the family congratulated him and the gratitude continued around the table.
Dinner turned into a tumult of laughing and talking. Eventually, everyone ate their fill and then some. Curtis leaned back teasing that he practically needed to take off his pants because they no longer fit and everyone begged him to please restrain himself. Doug offered him a trash bag to put on instead.
The children were excused and ran off to use up the energy they had just consumed. The adults started carrying dishes and leftovers to the kitchen. As he wiped down the stove, Trudy teased Gabe, “how’s my favorite ‘old maid’ nephew doing?”
He claimed to be fine and then she invited him to join her in Fiji. “All the girls would love to have you. You know they all think you’re HOT!”
He laughed envisioning his aunt’s “girls.” The group of women in their 60’s and 70’s and their misadventures were legendary. Gabe could only imagine what spending a weekend with them would entail. “If I spent the weekend with you all, I wouldn’t be able to sit for a week,” he laughed. “Those women are very grabby,” he teased.
“I just want to make sure you’re having enough fun. We spinsters have to stick together,” she added.
“Stop encouraging him, Aunt Trudy. We want him to get married! He just has to stop being so picky,” Rachel declared. “He’s surrounded by beautiful women all the time, and yet, he hasn’t managed to decide on one.”
The conversation quickly degraded into a debate on “Why Gabe isn’t married,” as it often did, and even Aunt Trudy chimed in with her belief about him. “He’s just a loner who loves spending time with women but can’t find one he wants to spend too much time with,” she added confidently. This theory reflected a little more about Trudy’s philosophy than Gabe’s.
Curtis told everyone to leave him alone. “If Gabe is enjoying being a bachelor there is nothing wrong with that.” Teasing his wife and quickly kissing her on the cheek, he added, “Married life is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’d like a few days now and then to be a bachelor myself.”
Rachel shot him a dirty look, before Rob chimed in that Curtis was right. “Most women are just after your money so they can go shopping,” Rob’s recent divorce clouded his point of view too. “Besides, how do you trust that they will be faithful? You never can tell who will do what when presented with the wrong opportunity.”
Rachel launched into a story about a couple who had been married for fifteen years and the wife started having an affair with the UPS guy. He used to arrive early for his shift and take his breaks at her house too. The neighbors finally got suspicious of the UPS truck parked on their street and one of the guys said something to the husband. They had seemed like the perfect couple.
“Don’t they always?” asked Rose. Turning to Rob she commented, “You and Kayla always seemed perfect too, until the last few years. We weren’t surprised when you finally announced your divorce, but the steep decline of your relationship came unexpectedly.”
“She always had to be right, always knew the ‘correct way’ to do something. I just got tired of fighting. It was the beginning of the end, when I quit fighting back,” Rob shared. “I realized I started to notice other women, something I had not done for ten years. That’s when we went to counseling, but it was always ‘my problem’ and not hers, so eventually, I decided I was done.” Reflecting he added, “It’s sad really that we couldn’t work it out. We had the best love story until the last two years.”
Jack chimed in with a recent story about a husband who went on a business trip overseas. He returned a week later and announced he was leaving his wife and four kids to go live with some woman in Brazil. After that, everyone fell into their own thoughts about the sad state of marriage.
Trudy broke the silence, “Seems like everyone is splitting up now days except you guys,” she directed her comment at Rose and Doug, Jack and Jenny, and Rachel and Curtis.
“We’ve all had our challenges,” Rose piped up. “There’s not a one of us that hasn’t thought about calling it quits at one time or another. The difference is that when the hard times came, we turned to each other instead of apart. We were also both willing to listen and take our partners happiness into account.” The last sentence was directed at Rob to ensure he understood she wasn’t judging him and she understood that there is only so much a person can do when their partner is not willing. She stood up ready to walk to the kitchen and prepare for dessert.
“I thought this whole conversation was ganging up on Gabe? How did we get so far off topic?” Curtis joked.
Rose walked behind Gabe’s chair and wrapped her arms around her son’s neck. “Gabe is afraid of making a mistake and being stuck in a relationship that isn’t working. You can’t always know what someone else will do and depending on someone else for your happiness is scary.”
She kissed him on the cheek and walked into the kitchen. Rachel, Judy, and Jenny followed. Jack turned on the television to watch the NFL game and Curtis and Rob were immediately absorbed in it. Gabe sat stewing, trying to decide how upset he felt at his family for their interfering conversation.
Doug leaned over to his son and quietly told him, “I really lucked out marrying your mom. I married her because she was cute. She was a little smarter. She married me because she said she could trust me.” He thought for a minute and then continued, “Somewhere is a woman you can trust with your heart and your son. When you find a friend you would trust to raise Sean if something happened to you, you’ll know you’ve found the right one.” Doug then returned his attention to the game and the offense running for a touchdown.
The vision of a blonde, blue eyed woman came into his mind. He pushed the thought out and went outside to run around with the kids. He needed some physical distractions.
Instead of finding Sean running around the yard with the rest of the kids he sat on the patio chair seemingly deep in thought. Sean starred off into space and didn’t even notice his dad approach until he stepped right in front of his face, “Boo!” Gabe interrupted Sean’s trance. Sean jumped and then smiled as he noticed his dad.
“You’re just the person I wanted to talk to,” Sean said. Gabe laughed out loud at his son’s serious, adult like approach.
“Well, I called this meeting to discuss recent developments in our eastern Asia sector,” Gabe added in a boardroom tone of voice, touching his fingertips together and trying hard to repress a smile.
“Dad!” Sean stopped his dad's teasing with a tilt of his head and a tone that said “please be serious.”
Gabe took a deep breath and straightened his facial expression to show he was listening.
“We talked about sex at church today,” Sean stated matter-of-factually. Gabe's eye brows arched, wondering what had gone on and on what Sean was so focused.
“So tell me about sex,” Gabe kept his voice easy and hopefully encouraging.
“Well, not really about sex, but about our relationship with God and why sex is important,” Sean started to explain, unsure of the exact words he should use to describe his thoughts. “ We are children of God and He loves us.” Gabe nodded in agreement. “God let's us do mostly what we want and if we chose to disobey the commandments he doesn't really stop us even if we hurt someone else.” Gabe continued nodding unsure of where this was going. “God has power over life and death and we shouldn't interfere with that except when He has said we can. We can punish murderers or people who do really bad things and we can have babies when we are married.”
Gratefully, so far, all of this seemed rather tame. Gabe and Sean usually talked openly about everything, but he didn't really like the idea of someone else discussing such a personal topic with his thirteen year old.
“When people have sex there are hormones that go through their bodies that make them feel bonded to each other. But, men have testosterone and that kind of gets rid of that feeling a little bit. But, girls don't have that, so they usually still feel like they want to be in love with a guy. It's not fair to sleep together if you're not ready to really feel in love and like you're going to be in love forever.” So far, Gabe felt fine with what Sean had said but he sensed where the conversation headed.
“Besides, sometimes women get pregnant, even when they try not to, and it's not fair to the babies that they can't be raised by both parents together. It's hard not to have a mom and dad around to love a kid and take care of him.” Sean stared in his dad's eyes. He didn't want to hurt his dad's feelings by saying that only having one parent wasn't good enough, but Sean wanted him to know that it wasn't fair that other kids had both a mom and dad and he didn't.
“I heard you once say that you always use protection because you don't want to have end up in the same boat twice. What did that mean?” Sean inquired.
The realization that Sean had ever overheard him say such a thing, shocked Gabe. He kicked himself for having a big mouth. He didn't ever want his son to feel like he wasn't wanted or that Gabe had been forced into something because he came along. True, he had only gotten engaged because she became pregnant. Gabe had always wanted kids and he felt thrilled when he found out she was expecting.
He hadn't dated his ex for very long and they really had no business getting married, they weren't in love and wouldn't have stayed together much longer except for the baby. The brief relationship lasted until Sean was four months old. Gabe took Sean with him to visit some friends and came home to a letter and an empty closet. Her announcement that she wasn't ready to be a mom came as no surprise, but the idea that she would abandon her son did. Her attorney had handled the custody arrangement and Gabe didn't even see her for several years afterward. Sean had only seen her a handful of times through the years, a few Birthdays and one Christmas.
Grasping for words, Gabe tried to explain, “I know it's not fair, that's why I have tried to avoid having any more kids. I love you, I was so happy to know that I was going to have a boy. I think all my life I've tried to make choices that wouldn't jeopardize me being a good dad one day. If one of the other women I dated had gotten pregnant I would want to be that child's father too and it would make life harder. I just don't want any other kids unless I am married so we can take care of them together.”
Sean's face broke into a huge smile.. Evidently that was the answer he wanted to hear. Encouraged he continued sharing about what they discussed at church. “We talked about sex being a great thing when two people are in love and committed to each other, but it can hurt when someone you love breaks up with you and you've already shared that.”
Gabe asked, “Did they tell you it was wrong or you would be bad to not wait?” I want him to decide for himself how he's going to live. I don't want other people pressuring him to make commitments he doesn't really live up to. Abstinence education doesn't work unless it is rooted in appreciation for marriage and love for the opposite sex. By telling kids it is wrong or they are not old enough, you are simple setting them up for failure and failing to be prepared has bigger consequences than they are able to handle.
“No, they didn't tell us it was wrong, they told us it was good, so good we should decide for ourselves who we were willing to share it with. A few of the teachers talked about how they had waited for marriage, but they didn't say anything to us about having to do that.” Sean answered his dad's questions honestly. He didn't understand Gabe's concern and didn't edit he answers accordingly.
“I've been thinking about it though and I think I would like to make that my goal. It's just a goal between me and God. Personal, you know? Jude told me that at his church they made all the kids promise in front of everybody that they would keep a chastity pledge. I didn't like that idea.” Sean had obviously thought a lot about it. “I think it's important though.”
Gabe liked his sons independence and commitment. He felt happy that he decided for himself and yet still choose to live what God asked of him. The next bomb, though, dropped on him totally unprepared.
“Dad, I think you should make this promise too.” Sean told him earnestly. “You are single, God wants you to live the commandments same as me. You just said that you don't want to have any more accidental kids when you are not married to the mom. What do you think? Will you do this with me, Dad? Will you?”
Gabe felt like a knife was driven into his chest. With each sentence it twisted and plunged in deeper. NO. I am not living like a Priest. Is he crazy? What can he possibly be thinking. I'm an adult, he's a kid. Of course, he should wait. That's what I want for him, but there is no way I am going to live that way.
Gabe looked into his son's face ready to try to explain to him how it is different for adults. He wanted to say he could not realistically live without it. Instead, he found himself face to face with the green eyes he loved most in the world. He saw his son's innocent resolution to live God's will. The excuses he had been crafting so passionately seconds before were evaporating.
How do I encourage him to live in a way I'm not willing to live myself? I know better than anyone that telling a kid that's he's not he's old enough is the surest way to drive him to it. Do as I say, not as I do is the dumbest way to be a parent.
Sean waited. “Yes,” Gabe whispered. What am I doing? “I promise God, and I promise you that I will wait until I am married before I sleep with anyone else.” Gabe could hardly get the words out. Sean is the only person in the world who could pull such a vow from him. Only his love for his son could make him even consider it.
Sean smiled and hugged his dad. “I'm so happy we're going to do this together.” He jumped up and ran off to play with the other kids, not a care in the world. Gabe on the other hand felt like he had been socked in the stomach and he had no idea how he would ever live up to his word.