A Birthday Present and a Love Story

Here I am over in KAF for yet another one of my wife’s birthdays. I’ve also spent several of our anniversaries over here. That part of this job really sucks. Usually, I do the regular guy thing and order her flowers to mark these special occasions. Joanie likes flowers and seems quite chuffed when she gets a dozen red roses. I just don’t think, however, that flowers sufficiently convey how I feel about her.

I’m not a very emotional guy. Hell, I scored a 26 on this empathy test, well below the normal range. When Joanie’s father died recently, she described my efforts to comfort her as Sheldon-esque, although I did not offer her a hot beverage. I think it’s about time I upped my game.

I racked my brain trying to come up with a gift that would say the things I don’t say enough. I decided that writing a post about her would be just the thing. I suck at symbolism and think extremely literally so what better way to say something to a woman with a Master’s degree in English Lit than to write it down? It won’t be a mush filled, romantic ode…that’s just not something I know how to do, but if you can’t tell how I feel about her by the end of this post, you’re probably a 24. So, let me tell you a little story…

An Inauspicious Start

The Lower Deck-good music, cheap beer and just a hint of divy-ness.

Way back in 1999, while I was between marriages, I was on a military course in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In keeping with military tradition, my coursemates and I went out to the bars most nights. On this particular night we found ourselves at the Lower Deck. It’s a cool bar that is in an old warehouse once used by British privateers…or pirates as the Yanks tended to call them. I spotted a hot redhead and another woman sitting up by the stage and, having consumed just enough of the house draught to feel incredibly handsome, I approached and asked her to dance. She declined as she was “here with a friend” indicating her companion. I suggest that they both dance with me then. Oddly, they accepted but the friend seemed less impressed with my dance moves than I was and quickly sat back down. The redhead, it turned out, had consumed just enough of the house red wine to find my dancing as good as I thought it was. We began swing dancing which elicited some applause (and laughter) from the crowd due mainly, I suppose, to the fact that neither one of us knows how to swing dance. After a couple of complaints from the surly woman I kept tossing my dance partner into, a friendly, laughing bouncer suggested we stop since “um…there’s no dance floor here”.

Much to her companion’s chagrin, I hung around, becoming so incredibly handsome that speech became difficult. Despite my entreaties for the redhead to hang around, they eventually begged off as the friend had an early flight. She handed me her business card just before toddling off. How romantic is that, eh?

Of course, being the gentleman that I am (and being in possession of a business card) I remembered Joan’s name and gave her a call a couple of days later. I asked her out to dinner and we agreed to meet at a local restaurant. “Do you even remember what I look like?” she asked. “Of course I do”, I gallantly replied, “You’re a fuzzy blob”. “Hey, so are you.” It was right about then that I knew things were going to work out.

Anyway, we started dating pretty regularly. When we were doing whatever the mid-thirties equivalent of “going steady” is called, Joan made a point of declaring “I’m not really interested in a serious relationship right, now”. Yeah, right. Six months later we were living together and within 3 years were married. I sure showed her!

I have to consider myself damn lucky she didn’t run for the hills. While I was an awesomely handsome and humble guy with a good job, I was also still working through a protracted, bitter divorce and child custody battle despite having been separated for three years. Consequently, I was broke, driving a dilapidated mini-van with two child seats in the back, living in a small, sort of rundown rental house and caring for two young daughters whenever I wasn’t working. All this stuff didn’t faze her one bit. The only thing that seemed to give her qualms occurred during her first visit to my place. The living room had high gloss pink walls that, for good or ill, matched the pink carpet. As she first stepped into the room she exclaimed “Oh my god!” I immediately realized the source of her shock and said “It was like that when I moved in. I’m going to paint it”. “How long have you lived here”, she inquired. “Two and a half years”, I answered sheepishly.


I introduced Joan to my kids, who were 5 and 8 years old, after we’d been dating about 4 months. By that point, I knew I was going to marry her even if she didn’t. Joan had never been married and had no kids so her parenting experience was, essentially, nil. Regardless, she took to it pretty naturally…although there were a few bumps in the road.

I remember the time, after we were living together, that I came home from work to be told by a rather irate Joan, “I’ve grounded Vicky for 3 weeks, no TV, no internet”. I don’t remember what the punishment was for (something big) but I do remember thinking “Oh shit”. I then explained that grounding a kid results in having a sulky, bored, demon in the house who you can’t take anywhere… you must only ground them for as long as you can stand.  “Grounding Vicky for 3 weeks means you’ve grounded us for 3 weeks”, I told her. Not wanting to undercut her parental authority, I managed to convince her that it was in our best interest that she negotiate a reduction in the grounding. I think it ended up being 2 days…that I could handle.

Joan really shone as a parent. While I eventually won full-time custody of the girls when they were each about 13, they spent several years splitting their time between our home and their biological mother’s house. The treatment they received from their birth mother was hurtful and damaging. They both needed a loving, nurturing female in their lives…they needed a mom. Joanie filled the gap in their hearts. She read them Harry Potter in bed every night…eventually completing the series. She brought home surprise “princess” dresses from Frenchy’s and spent weeks amassing Xmas stocking goodies. Joanie supported me through the endless court battles and emotional turmoil, always with an eye on what was best for the girls.

Joanie and Erica (who now towers over her).

Whenever Erica, who was always very guarded, needed someone to talk to, she turned to Joan…they only person with whom she would share her worries. When Erica used her boxing training to give a black eye to a girl who was relentlessly and cruelly teasing her, it was Joan who outwardly scolded Erica for her use of violence while inwardly thinking “Yes!”. As Erica cast about wondering what to do after high school, it was Joan who helped guide her to her budding career as a chef. Erica’s voracious appetite for books and love of reading is a direct result of her extremely close relationship with Joan. She gave Erica the hugs and love she craved. They’re best friends.

An awesome dog.

Vicky has cerebral palsy and needs quite a bit of assistance. Rather than flinching as lesser women might, Joan embraced the challenge of disability. She made me stop doing everything for Vicky, encouraging her to do those things she could. Within months of moving in together, Vicky was feeding herself for the first time. Joan became a leader in the disability rights community, serving on the boards of many advocacy groups and eventually becoming chair of the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities. She taught Vicky to advocate for herself and the two of them forced the federal government to make our local post office wheelchair accessible. She coordinated getting Vicky a service dog (who is now retired but can still pick a dime up off the floor and hand it to you…so cool). Joanie was also the driving force behind getting Vicky set up on her own in university. With Joanie’s help and guidance, Vicky, an aspiring author, has just submitted the manuscript of her first novel to a publisher.

Oh, and believe it or not, I’m not the easiest guy to live with. Joanie is an artsy, emotional person whereas I’m kinda, ah, not that. I focus on solving problems rather than appreciating the emotional impact of them. I don’t notice the new colour after she’s spent all day painting the kitchen. I expect literal answers to questions and don’t get “coded” answers. I once asked “You want me to cook dinner tonight?” to which she replied “We should have chicken”. “Um, okay” I muttered helplessly. I know there was an answer to my question in her response somewhere but to this day I have no idea what it was. They say Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. Well,Joanie may be from Venus but I think I’m from somewhere near Kepler 22B.

Change of Plans

While I bitch about being in KAF on this blog a lot, I actually really like my job and it has been great for my family. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that working in KAF pays a little better than comparable jobs in areas where no one is firing rockets at you. Taking this job has allowed us to pay off our house and our kids to get a post-secondary education debt-free. Maybe even more importantly, it added some excitement to my work life that had been missing in my final years in the Air Force (believe it or not, being the deputy commanding officer of a software engineering squadron is not as exciting as it sounds).  I wouldn’t have any of this without Joanie’s unwavering support.

I applied for this job on a bit of a whim. One of my subordinates had landed a job with the same company and came into the unit with a job posting..they were looking for someone to be his boss. I didn’t strictly meet the qualifications but applied anyway…thinking I had no chance. Well, I got a phone interview. Then a video interview. Then they were flying out to interview me in person. After 27 years of a steady paycheck and secure employment in the only career I’d ever known, I was reluctant to take a chance. “Holy shit, Joanie. What do I do if they offer me the job”, I asked. “Well, if you stay in the Air Force what job do you want to do?” she shot back. “Well, we don’t want to move and I don’t really want any of them here but I’ll do any of them…the pay’s pretty good” I replied. “Ok. let’s say we can move anywhere…what job do you want in the Air Force?” she asked. “I don’t really want any of them” I said. “Take the fucking job then,” she wisely, if somewhat crassly, advised. It was just the kick in the ass I needed to make what has turned out to be a great career move.

In a lot of ways, it was easier for me to come out here to the stink and dust and rockets than it was for Joanie to stay home. She left her job to ensure Vicky, who was in grade 12, had the care she needed. About a month after I left, Vicky had major surgery designed to relieve pain in her hip. Unfortunately, the surgery resulted in much more severe pain that went on for about a year. For many, many months, Vicky had to be repositioned in bed several times a night to relieve the excruciating pain. This was all done by Joan who became severely sleep deprived but still managed to be a mother to Erica as she coped with all the usual things 15 year olds have to deal with.

These few paragraphs don’t do justice to the Herculean tasks Joan successfully took on. I’ve just scratched the surface of Joanie’s fortitude, morality and selflessness but I think you get the picture.

And Here We Are

Vicky is now out on her own in an assisted living environment and thriving. Erica is kicking ass at the Culinary Institute of Canada and will be cooking Christmas dinner for us this year (hear that Erica?). Joanie should be damn proud of her role in developing two successful young women and spurring one grumpy old man to take a chance and live the dream (poo pond and all).

The Bottom Line

Talk is cheap. I judge people by their actions. Joanie has consistently come through when it counted by doing what needed to be done. That shit matters to me. A lot.

Joanie is a beautiful, wildly intelligent woman. I love her for these qualities but it is her character that makes her the love of my life.

Happy Birthday, Joanie.

“The real ornament of woman is her character” – Mahatma Ghandi

P.S. I know some of you cynical bastards are thinkin’ “That cheap S.O.B. just wrote this so he wouldn’t have to spring for flowers”. I sent them too…so there.

16 thoughts on “A Birthday Present and a Love Story

  1. I think you have effectively captured my saintliness…. You and the girls are the best things that ever happened to me. Thank you for this gift, my love. XO

  2. I was there the day these two met and again the day they were married. Their two “first” dances were very special, but for very different reasons. The Lower Deck does not have a dance floor is an understatement. It was so packed that night that their dance took place in the only manouvering space available for the servers, immediately between the band and the first row of partiers Well done for capturing the essence of Joan.

  3. After this note using Sheldon-esque and Mark in the same sentence is not possible. Well done Mark and Happy Birthday Joan

  4. Pingback: She only likes me for my body…. | Box761

  5. The both of you have really inspired me. I have a similar history as the DFAC critic and I am deploying to Kandahar in two weeks! Thanks for the background info! It has eased the uneasiness of not knowing what to expect and wish the both of you the best!

    A yank from Maryland

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