Forty-two years ago today, a young mother gave birth to a tiny baby boy and I’m certain that, as all mothers do, she had high hopes for his life. Whatever it is she might have imagined for him, it couldn’t be as wonderful as the reality of the man that stands in that baby’s place.
At nearly six feet four inches, Jared is larger than life. He has dark chestnut brown hair and rich brown eyes that gleam with some underlying secret. His hands are warm and strong and capable and he gives the best hugs that have ever been given. But that tells you nothing about who he really is. Not really. Tall and handsome, yes. But he is something more—a lot more—than the mortal shell he walks around in.
When I look into his eyes, I am fortunate to see my future stretching out in front of me and at the same time, catch a reflection of myself and the familiar nostalgia of the past.
He is different things to different people. To some he is a comedian, always ready with a joke or witty retort. His sense of humor is one of the best things about him. There is nothing more cathartic than living with someone who makes you laugh all the time, even when you want to cry. If you peel back that humorous layer, though, and dig a little deeper, you’ll see a more complete picture of him. You’ll see the great man I see.
I was thinking about the many experiences I’ve witnessed that have shown me who Jared is. I have been fortunate to spend nearly 18 years of marriage with him and there are so many little moments that offer glimpses into his soul. All of these small moments come together to create a vibrant collage of the man of character that he is.
There was a time in college when we came home to our small apartment to find a couple of centipedes hanging out on our doorstep. This giant man—he’s a full foot taller than me—lovingly scooped up these creepy little creatures with entirely too many legs for my comfort level and brought them inside to give them a home. He poked holes in tupperware lids to keep them alive until we could give them a better living situation. We hurried to the local pet store and bought all the necessary items to furnish a terrarium—a fake log, moss, dirt, etc—and then he put some cabbage out on the counter to rot. Apparently centipedes like to eat rotting vegetables. I don’t know if he knew this from his days as a biology major at Arizona State or if this is just one of those things that all boys know. Whatever the case, he would offer nothing but the best he had, or could get, for these tiny little worms that were now under Jared’s protection.
His sense of chivalry extends beyond animals to people, most especially to his wife and children. Those who know us understand that Jared married me when I was pregnant with someone else’s baby. Sounds like a ridiculous soap opera, right? Sometimes it feels like strange fiction, but this has been the single most difficult challenge of our married life and of the last nearly 18 years of Jared’s life. A challenge he did not have to take on.
He took my hand the day I found out I was pregnant and has never let go. I wasn’t looking for a knight on a white horse, but he showed up anyway. Through legal storms and financial hardships, his support has never wavered. As I struggled with the emotional fallout of three miscarriages and the clinical depression left in the wake of that grief, he linked arms with me and we walked into our future one day at a time.
Some of the most painful moments of my own life were during the most stressful times of his life when he was buried under the pressures of graduate school and then starting his own dental practice. Even when helping me through my own difficult experiences meant that he lost valuable study time or when he spent emotional energy on me that he could certainly have used at work, my well being was always first. It was always clear to me, through his daily actions, that I was his priority. That I was under his protection. That he loved me. Even when I was a mess. Maybe especially then.
Beyond loving me, there’s not a thing he wouldn’t do for our children. That gentle giant that took care of the homeless centipedes offers that same protective, nurturing spirit in his every interaction with our kids. He is present in their academic lives, their athletic events, their interpersonal struggles. He loves them and they are under his protection.
Even though he stood guard around the clock keeping watch over me and the three children that have graced our family, I’ve never felt stifled or controlled. He’s somehow perfected the balance of providing safety and support while offering freedom and room for my own growth and development.
I’ve tried a bazillion things over the course of our adult life together—most were questionable at best, but he just stood back and let me take swing at whatever passion moved me at the moment. He’s given me the freedom to be me, accepting me for who I am. I don’t think he has ever said ‘I told you so’ even though he could reasonably have uttered those words about once a week.
He doesn’t seem to mind, not much at least, that I bring minimal housekeeping or cooking skills to the table. He seems to recognize, and value even, that the way I give love to him and the children is valid and he is not critical that I don’t function in the traditional role of mother and wife. We’ve found a groove that works for our family, and that is in no small part thanks to his patience as I’ve found my own way to becoming the most authentic version of myself and what it means to be a loving mother and wife that also hates domestic engineering with an unbridled passion.
It has been a joy over the last year to watch Jared take that same protective spirit he so generously gives to those he loves and apply it to himself as he’s conquered the challenge of healthy eating and exercise. He’s maybe in the best shape of his life and I stand in awe of his discipline and his commitment to make healthy choices, day after day. And yet he doesn’t judge me for my own ridiculous amounts of Dr. Pepper intake. His own lifestyle changes and lack of judgement for my old habits makes me want to be a better person. We should all be so lucky to be around someone who encourages us to become the best version of ourselves simply by being the best version of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t walk on water. We’ve had our share of conflict and sometimes—only sometimes—I think he’s an idiot. And he thinks I’m a spaz. Both are probably true. We aren’t perfect, but we might just be perfect for each other.
On a daily basis, Jared gives me the gift of laughter, safety, freedom, and love. In the face of all that, I was rather desperately trying to figure out what I could give him for his birthday that would carry the same meaning and weight that his every day actions provide for me and my kids.
A new watch? Some new clothes for his awesome new body? A dinner out to celebrate with his friends.
Maybe some of those, maybe all of those.
But the truth is that all of those things pale in comparison to the gift that Jared gives me every single day.
His love and his protection.
There is not a single purchase I can make that will convey the right message.
So, what I’m giving to you Jared is the gift of my clumsy words. An awkward declaration of my gratitude for all you do for me. An attempt to let you know that you matter. So much. Your life matters and is worth celebrating. Taking you to dinner is such an inept gesture to show you that you have made such a difference in my life.
I heard a song on the radio the other day and a line stood out that made me think of you. Of us.
“My heart beats only for you.”
It’s true, you know, that it only beats for you.
That day in October when I met you turned out to be the first day of the very best days of my life. Everything amazing in my life has happened with you by my side and I never want my time with you to end.
We’ve watched other marriages end, and we’ve watched people die. The most precious things in life seem to have a clock on them. It’s possible that ‘us’ has a clock on it, too. But it feels right to capture these most amazing moments as we have them. Honoring our memories and our love and celebrating the good in the here and now is important. Because whatever the future has in store for us, in this moment we have something great together. I managed to find someone to spend my life with who totally gets me and chooses to love me anyway.
What is also true is that my heart would go on beating without you. People stitch up their broken hearts all the time and keep going. But you should know that if you weren’t here—loving me, making me laugh, being an amazing dad—I would be walking around with a heart defect—every beat painful and jagged. Every moment lonelier. Every accomplishment emptier.
The sun is brighter with you in the world. Smells are sweeter. Every moment more meaningful.
My birthday wish for you on this day is that you feel loved and complete. You are a remarkable man and we are all so fortunate for the privilege of knowing you. I also know that on some level you will hate this. It’s because you are quiet and unassuming, content to blend in, that I have to, every now and then, shout from the rooftops of your greatness.
But don’t let it go to your head. (-: I’m still not calling you Doctor.
Every moment of true love that we get to experience is a gift. And I’m thankful every moment for you.
Happy Birthday, Jared. I’ll love you forever.