When Deb and I got married we were determined to have a ‘Modern Family’. We wouldn’t be confined to traditional roles and we would NEVER have the kind of marriage our parents had. After all, this was 1975 and times had changed and we were young and current and ready to embrace life head-on. We even toyed with the idea of me taking Deb’s last name. Instead of her becoming Deborah Wilhelm; I would become Denis Dobbs. But Debbie and Denis Dobbs sounded a little too cute. And besides we might then be inclined to name future children with double “D” names as well. Debbie and Denis and Durwood and Dolly and Dora Dobbs – yikes! Plus with brothers named Dave and Dean, I had spent my formative years being called David-Dean-Denis by my dad. So we abandoned the idea of me taking her maiden name and the ‘hyphen-thing’ (Dobbs-Wilhelm) seemed like too much trouble. Still we were convinced that we should work hard to be a couple that wouldn’t become the stereotypical husband and wife.
We were resolute in our desire to live equally as husband and wife. We shared the household tasks. We both worked outside the home. We had a partnership-marriage. Everything was 50-50. We made all of our decisions together. Our mantra was: Whatever we do MUST be good for both of us! There was no “me first”. I made a conscious effort to avoid terms like “the little lady” (although Deb is little and a lady) and I never expected her to sacrifice ANYTHING that she wanted for me or vice-versa. We both would bristle when people assumed that I would be the “bread winner” and she would be the content little “housewife”. Who did they think we were – June and Ward Clever???
Then we had children. And we adapted our ‘Modern Family’ in a way that I would have never imagined. Deb chose to work part-time and forsake a career. This was unthinkable just a few years earlier but looking at Tyson’s sweet face for the first time we knew we couldn’t place him in daycare. So we adjusted our lives accordingly. I worked days; Deb worked nights and we were blessed with a sister-in-law who would cover the overlap times (Aunt Pat is still adored by her niece and nephews). And then came Bess. And then came Blake. So we shared the load. We both changed diapers; gave baths; took turns with feedings; read bedtime stories; etc., etc. For several years we took opposite shifts at home. Deb handled the daytime – breakfast, lunch, playtime, nap time; I took care of the nighttime – dinner, bath, bedtime stories & prayers. I believed then that my sons and daughter would benefit from having a dad that was ‘hands-on’. I still believe that today.
When I see what my son-in-law Travis does everyday for his kids and how natural Tyson is with his daughter it reminds me how much I loved those years when my children were small (even the dirty diapers). It was important for me to know that I could do it all – even though I never had to. Deb and I have a partnership. And although our goal was 50-50, anyone in a successful marriage will tell you that sometimes it’s 80-20 or 40-60. You carry your partner when you can because you know the day will come when you’ll need to be carried, too.
As the years flew by the children grew and jobs changed and we sort of (gasp!) fell into more traditional roles. I was on a ‘career-track’ and Deb continued to work part-time until the kids were in school. And even when she went back to work full-time her primary focus was still on the kids and the house. We had become what we were determined to avoid – TRADITIONAL.
But Deb loves to cook and family mealtime was important. Once our daughter pointed out that we were unusual as a family because we ate dinner together almost every night (at a table and actually speaking to one another!). We worshipped together on Sundays and prayed together at bedtime and at meals. I took care of the lawn. Deb took care of the house. From the “outside looking in” we were very much the kind of couple my parents were – except we chose our roles; they were not thrust upon us.
And that’s what makes us a ‘Modern Family’ today. I work. Deb stays home. She cooks. I eat. I mow the lawn. She cleans the house. We don’t do things this way because we’re expected to – we do things this way because we haven chosen to do things this way. We can both change our grandson’s diaper. We can both travel around the world. We can both lounge on the sofa watching football. We can both freely show emotion or wipe a tear or give a hug or speak our love.
Today’s ‘Modern Families’ come in lots of different shapes and sizes – single parent families; same-sex couples; blended families; bi-coastal families. But love remains the same. Ultimately what role you fill or how you look to someone else doesn’t really matter. Family is where you can be you. Family is where you can refresh your soul. Family is refuge. Family is hope. Family is eternal. Family is love. I guess that’s not so modern after all.
God has blessed Deb and me with one another and with our beautiful children and grandchildren. Our ‘Modern Family’ might not look like the one I envisioned 36 years ago but I really like this one better. And the journey from there to here and beyond continues to be amazing…