At midnight (East Coast time) I will be celebrating my oldest child's 21st birthday at a small local bar in the Philadelphia burbs. (Fortunately, back in my day, we didn't have to wait so long to get a drink!)
Twenty-one is the same age I was when I met her dad. The night had begun in a resort bingo hall, progressed to an unplanned double date, and ended on a blanket on the beach with a 6-pack of beer...where we primly sat and discussed the weather, while our two best friends made racket behind the next dune. I knew that night, that Phil was a keeper.
Believe me, he wasn't all perfection. On our second date (can a table shared in the dormitory cafeteria be called a date?), while carefully cutting the gristle off his Salisbury steak, he noted, "If there's one thing I hate, it's fat on my meat and fat on my women." I practically choked on my sour cream and cheese-topped potato. Next thing you know, I had designed my own rapid weight-loss plan; it consisted of tuna, grapefruit juice, and vodka. (Try it sometime; it worked wonders!)
But the fact that he—a healthy, horny college kid—did not try to take advantage of a blanket on a beach with a blonde full of beer, told me something about him that he never would have been able to put into words. And I don't think it was just some priest from high school haunting him. As I look back now, I wonder if the respect he demonstrated that night, came from a place deep within his DNA, and if that is from where his evolution, as both a man and a human being, has emanated.
Phil has always had very high standards: for himself, for me, for our children, for his employees, for his friends. He is conservative and traditional; a comfort-loving, perfection-addicted, Budweiser-guzzling, obsessive-compulsive sports fanatic. A guy's guy. He is also sentimental to the point of crying at Father of the Bride—even if it's his seventh viewing. And he loves our family in a way that is visceral.
While for many people, love is about their own experience of it, for Phil, his love is about our experience of it. In other words, he cares enough about each of us, that he is willing to put our feelings ahead of his own. Or at least that is the essence of his evolution. He'd blanch to hear me compare him to JFK. But as I contemplate what it is that sets Phil apart from the majority of men that I know, it is his rare willingness to ask not what we can do for him, but what he can do for us. That, I think, is the definition of unconditional love.
My husband loves me enough to not just listen, but to hear. He loves his children enough to reconsider his opinions, to accept their differences, and to educate others about doing the same. He loves us in a way that is about us, not about him.
Maybe it is from that place deep within his DNA that this ability springs. It makes me wonder if we all possess the ability to love without condition. If so, then why do we so rarely see it in men; even more to the point, what is it that motivated my spouse to turn those sleepy cells on by tackling the hard work of self-analysis and the putting on of another's shoes?
I wish I knew, so that I could bottle this gift and give it away to my friends, my enemies, their children, and my children. Just imagine what the world would be like if we all embraced each other the way that he has embraced us. I am in awe of the man that he has become. (Of course, he still pisses me off sometimes...but that's another blog!)