The Shy Groom Who Married Six People All at Once
Shopping for a Father's Day card for my dad is easy. I am blessed to have been raised by a loving, stable, often goofy father who was always there for us. So, no matter how mushy or silly the card selection might be, I can usually find something suitable in quite short order.
Shopping for a Father's Day card for my husband, Mike, is never easy, though. I can't ever find a card that even comes close to expressing the gratitude I feel toward the man who stepped in to help me raise my herd of fatherless children back in 1993. I have yet to find a card that says, "Thank you for marrying all six of us at once," or "Thank you for showing so much grace when being barfed on." A card just can't say it for me.
Read on and you'll see why.
Here's how it all started:
The unsuspecting hero/groom on his wedding day, July 3, 1993. The poor guy did not know what he was getting himself into.
The ceremony is underway. Mike and Willow exchange rings.
The rest of the bridal party await their turn.
The wedding group receives a pastoral prayer. Heaven knows this marriage is going to need it!
Having married far too young, I, predictably, ended up divorced at age twenty-seven. It wasn't a cut-and-dried sort of thing, however, considering that I had already birthed five kids. I had no choice but to flee my chaotic and abusive marriage in Calgary, Alberta and move myself and the children back to my hometown in the mountains of Montana.
I had left Montana in 1982 as a hopeful, innocent young bride, but returned as a defeated, jaded still-young mom in 1991.
It wasn't too long after my return that I met shy Mike Feller at church and snared him into friendship with loud me. Mike, being an achingly nice guy, didn't just acquiesce to friendship with me, but to my children as well. And that would prove to be his undoing. His Waterloo.
Simply taking the time to learn my kids' names and show genuine interest in them would ultimately change his life and theirs forever. He impressed us and captured our hearts.
I was thirsty for a man with integrity...
...and my kids were hungry for a father.
Marrying the right man the second time around still didn't guarantee relational harmony. Things were difficult for us from the beginning. The kids and I brought a lot of baggage with us and Mike brought a lot of expectations. We ended up clashing more than either of us had counted on. Those first years were just plain hard.
In the middle of all the difficulty, though, came times of fun and blessing. Little Gabriel showed up like a tube of super glue in 1994 and cemented us all together with his shared DNA.
Our expanded family, 1994. Not sure if my dazed expression stems from exhaustion or from purple pantyhose regret.
Time and space do not allow for me to recount all the ups and downs we went through in those early years. Suffice it to say that Mike walked bravely into fatherhood like a soldier marching into the battle zone. It wasn't easy, and marriage did not prove to be the bliss that he had hoped for, but he was determined to do the right thing. And so he did.
In his own deliberate, logical way, and with no previous experience, the former loner/bachelor had to put away thoughts of quiet romantic dinners with his bride and endure messy spaghetti suppers replete with spilling and yelling. Forced to squeeze every penny until it bled, he could no longer enjoy real cheese on his nachos, but a deceptive white sauce with yellow food coloring that his wife told the kids was "cheese-type sauce."
He had to dump his entire life savings and every paycheck into the bottomless pit of others' needs.
He had to share his new wife, every hour of every day with five, and then six, other people. Like a deli customer, he had to take a number and just wait his turn.
Mike Feller was like a sleek yacht who took on a cargo load of anvils and could no longer glide unhindered over the ocean. His sudden shipload of responsibility slowed him to the pace of a dinghy with a trolling motor, yet he knew God still expected him to traverse the vast unknown. (I won't apologize for this dramatic sentence--it's warranted here.) The task was overwhelming...but again, Mike did it.
The coming years brought with them every kind of good and bad family time imaginable. Mike did his best to teach the kids how to work hard and be good citizens. Like any good dad, some of his methods were great and others not so. He's the first to admit that he made marital and child rearing mistakes. Yet, he persevered and taught the children the fine arts of hunting, fishing, backpacking, camping, tool usage, and motor rebuilding. (The girls, too!) We gardened, canned, cut firewood, and sliced up our own game carcasses on the kitchen counter.
The butcher's hair is neatly combed for this important job. One's never too young to
wield sharp knives in our kitchen.
What can I say? As the ultimate do-it-yourselfer, Mike constructed sidewalks, foundations, and house additions. He did autobody work and painted our cars, built kitchen cabinets completely from scratch and planted fruit trees. All this and so, so much more.
Mike fixed our broken cars
with noisy tools...
...and our broken water lines with a noisy backhoe.
He also built gingerbread houses...
original birthday cakes...
...and acoustic guitars!
The good times were full of church activities, band and choir concerts, visits with grandparents, and Junior Miss pageants. The bad times were darkened with teenage rebellion and substance abuse, adolescent psychiatric ward stays, calls from police officers, runaways, and emergency room visits.
As if that wasn't enough, Mike had to put up with me. I wasn't a stellar wife much of the time, and he often had to stand in the face of my permissiveness to do the right thing--the hard thing--with the teenagers.
Yet, from the very beginning of our relationship, because Mike believed that God had asked this of him, he stayed.
He stayed because of the kids.
He stayed because he grew to love those kids with all of his heart.
Mike's faith might have been naive in the beginning, but it was real. Real enough to stand through trials and real enough to make my kids his own.
He's not stepdad.
(And now, Grampa, too!)