The story of four daughters, three couples,
two parents and one very big wedding
By Thomas Kunkel
CHAPTER 11: THE VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Click here for previous chapters: Ch.10 Ch.9 Ch.8 Ch.7 Ch.6 Ch. 5 Ch. 4 Ch. 3 Ch. 2 Ch. 1
I got home from work the other day and noticed a delivery had been left outside the front door. The name on the box was Zappos. Even I, hardly the most Web-savvy consumer around, recognized the name of this Internet peda-phenomenon.
I checked the box for heft (disappointingly light) and gave it a little shake. Then I looked for the addressee, expecting to find Deb’s name. Instead: Helen Kunkel. Hmmm. Zappos, Helen…..
Can you say wedding shoes?
The next evening Deb called. She was back in Maryland at the time, slaving to clear out our old home of more than a decade of family detritus before we closed on its sale. She had me on speakerphone when Helen suddenly interrupted.
“Dad, did a Zappos package come for me?”
I barely let her get the words out.
“Oh my gosh, Helen, they’re beautiful!”
“DAA-AD! You didn’t open the box, did you?”
“Well, of course I opened the box, Helen, how the heck was I supposed to know what Zappos is?”
“You didn’t, did you?”
“Helen, they’re going to look so great with your dress!”
Deb calmly intervened. “He didn’t open the box, Helen.”
Deb again: “Helen, remember, he doesn’t even know what your dress looks like.”
No, Helen, I didn’t open it. Tempted, I admit, but far more fun to stay in the dark and be able to tease you.
Deb succeeded in emptying out the Maryland house, primarily via a rolling, four-day yard sale and thus proving again that there is nothing so useless or beat up that people won’t buy if they think they’re getting a deal. You want proof? We’d just had the oak floors there refinished, and I asked Deb to please protect them from the rummagers picking through our stuff by putting down some of the old scruffy rugs we’d long since retired to the garage.
Two days into the yard sale I asked Deb about the floors. She said she had indeed been putting out the rugs to protect them—but people kept buying them.
Once Deb was done she headed back to Wisconsin, along with Helen and a sedan-full of Helen’s worldly goods.
As I said in my last entry, Helen is spending the summer with us to help finish up the wedding planning. In the meantime, though, she found out where she and Mike will be spending the first chapter of their married lives—in San Diego. That had been Mike’s first choice for a posting, not only for its marvelous year-round climate but because his family lives in southern California. As it’s in high demand by Navy officers, including eager young helicopter pilots, a San Diego assignment had felt like a bit of a longshot to Helen and Mike. Needless to say, they were ecstatic at the news.
“When I selected helicopters, I knew there was really only one community I wanted to get into—HSC, which stands for helicopter sea combat,” Mike explained in an email. “Our mission in HSC is search and rescue, vertical replenishment of ships, and combat logistics (i.e., putting Navy SEALs on boats and taking them off when they are done).
“Now that I got it, I’ll be heading down to San Diego to start my (HSC) training. It’s almost going to be like flight school again, except now they know I can fly. But I will be learning how to fly my new aircraft, the MH-60S Knighthawk, for the fleet squadron.”
With his new commission, Mike is now a lieutenant junior grade. He’ll be in this next phase of training for another six to eight months before getting his permanent station in a fleet squadron—and his first deployment. He could be attached to carriers, destroyers, cruisers or supply ships. He’s looking forward to seeing the wider world, he said, be it Japan or Indonesia or the Middle East. “But I also understand we have a job to do and that’s to support the troops on the ground—that’s all our job is. With that, I am super excited and can’t wait to get back to the west coast.”
We’re delighted for both of them, being just a few hours’ drive from the Lindsey family. That will be especially important to all of us when Mike is on one of his months-long assignments at sea. But this duty is precisely what Mike and Helen signed on for, and they’re excited. Besides that, they’re going to be living in a place just this side of paradise. As June drew to a close they flew out for some apartment-shopping and picked a lovely place with ample room for a guest bed.
Now where did I put that suitcase?
If you’ve been following this journal, by now you’ve read more than 35,000 words on what I think about the 3Wedding. But many of you have asked me, sensibly enough, what the parents of the grooms think about it—so I decided to ask them. Here’s what they had to say:
First up—Julie Lindsey, writing for herself and her husband, Will:
“It was May, 2005. I had flown out to Annapolis to watch the Naval Academy Class of 2008 climb the Herndon Monument, which signified that they were no longer plebes. I met up with Michael and he briefed me on the events of the day. Then he said, in a humble way but with obvious excitement, that he was going to take a girl named Helen to dinner and a prom after-party that night—he hoped I didn’t mind traveling 3,000 miles to visit him, only to be left in a hotel room all alone. Seeing the excitement on his face, how could I say anything but, ‘Of course I don’t mind, sweetheart.’
“The next day I drove Michael to the home of his sponsor family, the Perrets. I intended to just drop him off so he could get dressed. But Colleen Perret said, ‘Julie, you need to come with us to the picture-taking, because Helen’s mom wants to meet you and Michael and will not let her daughter go out with Michael unless she approves of him.’ I felt a little nervous, but I knew that Michael would win Debbie over. (As for myself, I was very quiet—which is very rare for me, just ask anyone who knows me!)
“Well, Debbie must have given her thumbs-up, and we watched as Helen and Michael drove off for their first date. I didn’t see Michael till 10 the next morning. I’d wanted to spend the rest of the day with him, but he’d had no sleep. So once we were back at the hotel, out he went. Not exactly the weekend I’d planned, but I was excited to be part of the beginning of Helen and Michael’s relationship.
“Every summer our family meets in Lake Tahoe for a weeklong camping trip. I was surprised when Michael called and asked if Helen could join us. Once again Debbie and I talked, and I assured her that they would sleep in the tent trailer with Will and me, and the week would be ‘G-rated.’ Michael was so excited and couldn’t wait to share this family time with Helen. Since then Helen has joined our family in Tahoe in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
“July 2006 would be their first dating anniversary, and Michael made big plans! He consulted with me many times—what about this, what do you think about that, everything designed to sweep a girl off her feet. He presented her with a certificate that confirmed a star was named after her, and that afternoon they went on a parasailing ride, and the evening closed with dinner at a lake-view restaurant. It was clear Michael was head-over-heels in love with this young lady, and Michael was not alone. Our family loves her so much, too.
“Tahoe 2007 was probably the one year Helen was not happy. It wasn’t so much that a bear literally walked six feet beside her, but the fact that Michael’s aunt attempted to lure the bear back by putting a cake out in the middle of the camp.
“Tahoe 2009 was the year we will remember for a long time. We all gathered for the wedding of Michael’s cousin as well as our annual camping trip. The morning of the wedding, Michael took Helen for a hot-air balloon ride, where he asked her to marry him. We all knew the day would come, because Michael alone is an awesome young man, but when you see him with Helen he is truly complete.
“During the five years Michael and Helen have been dating, we have had the pleasure of spending time with Katie, Claire and Grace. When we learned that Katie and Claire had also been proposed to, Will and I would have been honored to be invited to their weddings. We were thrilled when we heard the girls were planning a triple wedding. Probably our only concern was that each of the couples would be able to feel their personal touches and the day would be special to each of them.
“Michael’s sister, Jenny, has thought of Helen like a sister from the day they met, and she was honored that Helen asked her to be one of her bridesmaids. She tried on her dress when we were visiting her in Texas and she looked absolutely stunning.
“The frosting on the cake for Will and me was when we heard Helen and Michael would be living in San Diego (about a three-hour drive for us) after they are married. I joked with Michael that I was shopping for a tent trailer and would come to visit every weekend. I don’t think he thought that was such a great idea, but when I proposed this to Helen she was so sweet: ‘Oh yes, Julie, we would love to have you come and stay with us.’
“I would like to reiterate how much we love Helen and the Kunkel family, and we look forward to many family gatherings, as distance will allow. Michael still glows when Helen walks into the room, and as a mom I know I will be putting him in loving arms.”
This is from Chuck Stewart, writing for himself and wife Marcia, about their son Nick:
“When we first heard that there was to be a triple wedding I have to admit I wasn’t overly excited about the prospect. As you might imagine, I wondered about diluting the specialness of the occasion. I didn’t want the spectacle of a Triple Wedding to detract from the solemnity of the occasion. I suppose the title of your blog—‘I Do, I Do, I Do’—expressed my initial concern: that the ceremony had the potential of being an ‘I do, me too, and ditto,’ type of event. That fear involved the mammalian old brain, I’m afraid.
“But after the particulars began trickling in, the never-tiresome story of best friends wanting to be together for life, and thinking of your intended as ‘coming home’ and pairs of loved ones always ‘having your back,’ I realized (with a higher order of reasoning) that something extraordinary was brewing. Getting out of the way of myself, I considered the unique family and sisterly love that must be present to share this singular life event together. We have to admire and respect the job you and Deb have done as parents that your daughters, being the unique and special individuals they are, chose to commemorate this most august occasion together as sisters and new brides.
“We were also struck with the inescapable symbolism of where all three of the couples most wanted to profess their love and their desire to be together forever. In each instance they chose a place of majesty and mystery, a kind promise to move into the unknown together, their adventure beginning together on the edge of the natural world, signifying beauty, mystery, and purity. Then again, maybe we’ve just seen too many old movies—but still, it wasn’t the ‘ring in the champagne’ gambit.
“We would like to take more credit than we probably deserve for the young man that Nick has become. Only natural, right? We didn’t give him a lot of advice when he was young (might be some differing opinions on this). With respect to doing schoolwork, we didn’t require A’s, only that he did his best. He’s taken this to heart, it seems, and when he decides to do something he gives it everything he’s got.
“When the conversations drifted into the hows and whys of our long marriage, I told him that I thought the key to happiness is to choose a person you think is smarter than you, and that the successful approach to a long relationship is to make sure from the start that it’s a partnership. I know this struck a chord with him because his sister and he used to say (complain) that ‘Mom and you are always on the same page, it’s like talking to the same person.’ None of this ‘Dad said it was OK’ if I do such and such. I am sure you know of what I speak.
“We are gratified that Nick has ‘partnered’ with Katie, whom we know as passionate, smart and beautiful. We had to laugh a little when you mentioned in one of your chapters that the Stewarts had adopted Katie. You don’t know how true that is. We took to her immediately, seeing her intelligence, ambition, and love for our son, and to be sure she has already become part of the family. She passed the ‘going on vacation with the Stewarts’ acid test with flying colors (remind to me tell you about the ‘Donner Party’ vacation to Williamsburg some years back).
“We are a small but devoted family. There is not a plethora of aunts or uncles or cousins within shouting distance, or paternal grandparents. Just a single high-quality Nana, a doting aunt, an extremely close sister—Katie—and her fabulous husband, Mike. Nick marrying into a large family is very comforting to us. And I ask you, is there any better beginning than a triple wedding to start things off? Imagine the possibilities.”
And finally, this is from Maria Kaiser, about her son Sam.
“Just prior to typing my thoughts for the wedding journal, I did another Google search under ‘Kunkel Triple Wedding St Norbert.’ It’s exciting how much coverage this event has received to date—plus it’s fun to see your kid’s picture and name ‘out there.’
“My son Sam Kaiser will marry his best friend Claire Kunkel. They’ve already been through some good times and some tough times—taking care of each other, remaining true, respectful, loving and supportive of one another’s goals. I am going to De Pere this month for a short visit with Sam and the Kunkel family. It will be fun to see where all of this will take place and to possibly catch Debbie in ‘Big Deb Mode.’ The woman is amazing and seems to have planning down to an art.
“I was re-reading the story (with picture) that the Milwaukee paper carried about the wedding. One of the comments from a reader was this: ‘One out of every two marriages ends in divorce. Which couple in the picture will it be?’ He or she is obviously not the well-wisher type.
“Well, here’s some good news concerning marriage statistics: my parents, Don and Betty Becker—Sam’s grandparents—have been married 50 years. My brother, two sisters and I recently hosted a 50th wedding anniversary party for them. We had around 130 family and close friends. By the way, Tom (Sr.) and Mary Lou Kunkel were there—Claire’s grandparents—themselves married 56 years this month. Tom grew up across the street from my dad (a small-world thing). Also present were Dan and Sharon Kaiser, Sam’s other grandparents—married 49 years.
“I asked my mom and dad if they would list the ‘secrets’ to a happy, successful marriage. Here’s what they had to say:
1. Share the same basic principles regarding moral behavior and religious faith
5. Sense of humor
8. Respect the other’s opinion
10. Agree on use of money
11. Reasonably active social life
1. We have found out that marriage is a 100 percent sharing of responsibilities instead of the so-called 50-50 percent
2. Respect each other’s right to some privacy in their lives—it’s nice to have quiet time each day
3. Share each other’s opinions on the proper values you wish to instill in your children and arrive at an agreement
4. Do not put off having children for too long or you might fall into the trap of “not being able to afford a family”
5. Do not live beyond the lifestyle that you can afford (“act your wage”)
6. Start being generous with your time and money at the start of marriage—budget so that you will have something left over to help a person in need
7. Deny yourself reasonably—learn the meaning of the word “no”
8. Make plans to be with each other alone at least once a month (minimum)—every two weeks is better
9. Participate in a religious service weekly
10. Remember your birthdays and anniversaries and try to celebrate
11. Each partner should develop a hobby of some sort to do by themselves
12. When you have a spat of some kind, you should make up and smooth things over before retiring for the night—both will sleep better
13. Admit when you are wrong—good for the soul
14. Compliment each other daily on each other’s accomplishments
15. Participate in church and civic activities, but with moderation; do not take too much time away that should be spent with each other or family
16. If possible, try to live off of one income; this would require sacrifice and self-denial of both parents, but it’s ideal for children
“I will be there on October 9, 2010—wishing my son Sam and Claire well…..hoping and praying that all three couples have a happy, long life together.”
That abundance of excellent advice, offered by people who have been there, is a good place to end this installment—except to say that these observations are all the evidence one needs as to why Deb and I feel so fortunate about the three families our daughters are marrying into.
NEXT: Summer showers.Thomas Kunkel is president of St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin