Willis Tribe

I was born to a father who chose not to stay, his departure the resounding chorus of my young life… Why not? Why? The lesson I learned from him was this: we can’t wish someone into being who we need them to be.

At fourteen, I was gifted with a stepfather who made a different choice. The one who absorbed my teenage sass with patience and wit, the one who sat faithfully in the stands beside my mother, cheering when I aced a serve or nailed a 3-pointer or made a diving centerfield catch. And that mother, my mother, the dark-eyed beauty. The one who was both Mom and Dad growing up, both Provider and Caretaker, both Friend and Rule-Enforcer, both Bold and Beloved.

Whatever a “traditional” family might have been, we weren’t it. But what we were in the years before I turned fourteen was a magical and mighty trio of females. We were flour-coated cooking lessons in the kitchen and kites in the field behind our apartment. We were ice skating in the winter and halter tops in the summer. We were hiking in Brown County and boating on Lake Tippecanoe. We were love, laughter, kindness, concern, boundaries, encouragement, food, friends, and fun. We were each other’s guardians, the Three Amigos: Mom, Carrie, Me.

Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World” was one of my Mom’s favorite ballads. She would sing along when it played on her 1960s Victrola, dancing with us across the family room carpet. “Sometimes it feels like you and me against the world. When all the others turn their backs and walk away, you can count on me to stay…” She meant it, my Mom. Always and forever. Unconditionally.

On Mother’s Day, we bought her cards and gave her homemade presents. On Father’s Day, we did the same. She was everything. Our Alpha and Omega.

When I was seventeen, I sang in Pop/Swing Choir beside a skinny, persistent, mulleted 16-year-old boy who wholeheartedly attempted to charm his way into my life. I resisted, and then I relented. And after our first date, there was no looking back. He was not my type — spindly thin, long-haired, musical, whip-smart. It was the jocks I sought. But as most 16-year-olds can attest, I didn’t really know what I wanted until I found him.

We dated for seven years before we got married on a crisp, colorful autumn day. Our pastor said to us, “This union must always be the most important one in your lives. Many others will come and go — colleagues, friends, children — but this is the relationship that must be first and last, always. Someday, your kids will grow up and move away, and you will be back to two. When that day comes, don’t look at each other and wonder, Who are you?” We took that advice to heart. He is my Alpha, my Omega.

Two years after the wedding — even though we mutually agreed on a 5-year plan — we welcomed Sam. Within the next four years came Gus, Mary Claire, and George. He brought those babies to me in the dark of night for feeding. He changed their diapers, stroked their fevered heads, wiped their runny noses, and rocked them to sleep.

Chris is, by most accounts, a better human being than I am. He is patient and smart and resourceful and hard-working. He’s a fabulous cook and a solid friend and a rock star father who guides his kids with both love and discipline. He’s a math wizard, a handyman, a visionary, a giver. He is kind and gentle with me and to me — even when I don’t deserve it. Especially when I don’t deserve it.

I always pined for a father of my own when I was little. For someone to throw a baseball, to dance with my beautiful Mom in the kitchen, to protect me in the darkest of nights. What I got instead was this man. My husband. The one who gets me 100% of the time, even when I don’t get myself. It is not lost on me that perhaps what I most deeply wanted the universe to deliver was a father for my children. Not my own father, but the father of my own. When I watch him with our kids, teaching, instructing, laughing, loving, it takes my breath away. If I close my eyes, I can still recall him sleeping on the couch, a sweaty baby resting comfortably on his chest. His big, strong hands holding tiny starfish fingers. His hair graying to the rhythm of our growing kids.

There are so many things I love about him: his booming voice, his loud laugh, his signature dance moves, his eyes, his wisdom, his wit, his wild morning hair, the feel of our fingers interlaced.

There is never a moment I don’t feel wrapped in his love or devotion. Even when we argue, even when the words I throw at him sting, he continues on, steadfast. I have not once doubted his commitment to me, to us, to this family.

He was worth the wait.

Happy Father’s Day, Chris.

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5 Responses

  1. Wow, such a love story … such an ‘in love’ love story. One can’t help but envy the relationship you and your husband share, also the wonderful qualities of your mother. I find myself asking, “Would my girls ever say those things about me?” Your one statement that really stands out is “we can’t wish someone into being who we need them to be.” That ~ plus all the ways you find to reinforce and rediscover your love for your special man ~ is the other. Thank you for reminding some of us that we don’t want to be the couple that wakes up in an empty nest and wonders, “Who are you?” And, even “Where have you been all these years?” Thank you for sharing your blessings, so we can remember to see our own.

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