I was 18 when I asked Janet to marry me, and she turned my request down flat.
We were never romantically involved, even though I’m sure a mutual love would have grown out of our teenage friendship.
Janet got pregnant. She felt uncertain about her future. And whether the boy she had dated the past year would share the responsibility a new-born would require. What should have been a glorious time in her life, became one filled with questions, anxiety and a concern for what tomorrow would bring.
This was the 1960s, the age of Free Love. A period that would soon usher in Womens’ Liberation and a freedom to experiment with all kinds of lifestyles, including single parenthood.
But, we grew up in Brewerytown, a working class neighborhood of North Philadelphia that held other values, and I felt Janet was too nice a person to be labelled an “unwed” mother, and the connotations that went with it, if I could have anything to do with it.
That’s when I told her I’d marry her and help raise the child. I meant it. You see, Janet had become what I later would call my “confidante,” a person I felt comfortable with sharing my every thought about life and love. We’d commiserate about our mutual struggles, me with my girlfriend, Peggy McPeake, and her with the only person I knew who — up until the time I turned 19 –had ever attended a college, a brilliant fellow who was articulate and gifted.
He turned me on to a book involving a wizard and a rabbit-like creature called a “Hobbit,” and opened me to a life full of imagination and wonder. Reading became a pleasure as I developed new ideas for my dreams, new forms of hope in the world.
Don’t need a pat on the back for acting noble or anything. I just thought that marrying Janet would be the right thing to do. And even now, with all the so-called knowledge I’ve gained over the years, I still think it would have worked.
Janet married the fellow, raised the child, and eventually divorced. I lost track of her when drafted into the Army, served in Vietnam and went though my own marriages and divorce.
But, I recalled this marriage proposal after observing my son and his relationship with girls. He doesn’t have a date for the prom yet, and I suggested the name of one of his friends. “She’s got a boyfriend” he said. “So what?” I said, thinking that she was “only a kid” whose teenage feelings cannot possibly be as deep and committed as that of an older person, an adult.
And then it hit me. My son holds the same values I had at his age. Values that haven’t been tested to see if they are still held as dear to me today as they were years ago.
My son helped me realize how important these values still were when he told me how he “honored” the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. And he would probably offer to help out a friend the same way I did when I was his age. It made me proud to be his dad. Proud to know somethings may not change despite all the impermanence around us.