Great Expectations

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl date for several years. Boy proposes to girl; girl accepts. And in a ceremony in girl’s hometown, with family and friends in spirited attendance, boy and girl are wed — for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live — dance the night away, shove cake into each other’s faces, and leave the next day for their 10‑day honeymoon. Three years later, boy and girl have baby boy and baby girl, buy a minivan, and start planning their children’s future. They will go to private schools, then go straight to college, graduate in four years, and become either a doctor or a lawyer or a corporate exec — if it was good enough for mom and dad, it’s good enough for the kids.

From the moment we are conceived, a plethora of expectations are placed squarely on our little shoulders — from education to employment, marriage to parenthood, life is expected to be lived a certain way. And when it veers off that path of expectation, it often feels — and looks — as if we’re lost.

My first 11 years were spent growing up in a very traditional home. Suburbanite family of four; public schools; dad worked and went to the gym; mom ran the house and went to night school to get her teaching credential; brother and I went to Hebrew School twice a week; youth soccer, baseball, and basketball — the whole works. That lifestyle became ingrained in my subconscious as the way life is supposed to be. Go to school, get a job, work hard, meet a girl, start a family, retire. If I followed that path, surely I will have lived a successful life.

But the wheels fell off the bus on the short road to utopia. For reasons never fully explained to me, my parents split. My dad left, and with that my notion of the picture‑perfect life crumbled. In total denial, I was sure the whole thing was a test, to see how my brother and I would react, but it wasn’t. It was real. I saw a child psychologist, to no avail. I kind of floated on autopilot for a while, going through the motions: school, college, job, dating. My heart was not in it, but I didn’t know anything else. It finally got to the point where I was just numb to everything, and I stopped caring. I was just working and paying the bills. Until, that is, I fell in love with a woman and her 7‑year‑old child, almost one year ago. This relationship goes against just about every surface principle I learned as a kid: Meet a nice Jewish girl, date for a while, propose, have a long engagement, get married, have kids, etc. But it does have everything I really want in a relationship: real caring, substance, love, and support. I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be traditional to be successful — it certainly didn’t work for my parents. The truth is, there is no singular formula for marital success. With marriages breaking up at mind‑numbing rates, there are more of us out there who come from so‑called broken homes; we realize, at least eventually and despite expectations, that there is potential in every relationship, traditional or otherwise. And the more we accept this idea, we will be more accepting and understanding, and we will be more successful in all of our relationships.

With that mentality I soon realized that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my girlfriend and her son — I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life without them. So last August, on a beautiful beach in Hawaii, I proposed. And I wouldn’t be writing this story, for this issue, if she had said no. These days, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Every day I open new doors that expand my career, and in turn my financial success; I take better care of my body, my mind, and my soul; I get to be with someone who understands me, and she’s someone whom I understand; I get to love and be loved, care and be cared for, nurture and be nurtured; and I get to be a dad. Lately my stepson‑to‑be has been trying on that word — “Dad” — and, I have to admit, it melts my heart every time I hear it.

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