Wow. It has been a long time. For those of you that have been anxiously anticipating a blog post, I hope you won't be disappointed.
I feel like I first need to explain why I have not posted anything since September. We have been very busy and have done some really fun things, but I didn't feel like I could share the reality of my life until now. You see, I blog because Alisa did, because it is therapeutic (strangely), and because I feel like those of you that care about what happens to my boys, deserve the truth about what is happening in our life. Up until now, I didn't feel like I could tell you the whole story, every time I sat down to write something, I felt like I was leaving out a huge part of our life, a part that will change our future, and I just couldn't bring myself to post something so lacking in honesty.
So here you go. I recently got engaged to Katie Byrge. We have been seeing each other/dating/courting since the beginning of October and she quickly became an important part of our lives, and I couldn't post without mentioning her. Some of you may wonder what the harm would be in mentioning it, some of you may be wondering what the heck I am doing. I hope, as I share our little story, that you will come to understand why I didn't blog, and how I have come to love again. I did not think I could love again, but I have come to learn that I was wrong.
It all started back in July or August. It was a Friday night and my kids were sleeping over at their cousins house. I was working and I had this thought that I would really like to go to dinner and a movie with someone. So I did what any guy would do, I called (texted actually) all my guy friends and asked who was up for dinner and a movie. This is a group of guys that I have known for a while, and we regulary go to see "manly" movies that our wives are not interested in seeing. A number of them responded and said "sure lets meet at 9:00, grab some food and hit the 9:40 show." I was shocked. Not because they wanted to come, but because it was at that moment that I realized that I wanted to go to dinner and a movie at a normal time, and that my friends had kids, and a wife to attend to, and they suggested the late night time that we have always done in the past. I didn't say anything of course, and had a great time hanging out with them that night.
I realized that I was yearning for someone to talk to (that was strange, I am not really the super social chatty type). During those same months I had a couple of conversations with friends, family and colleagues about how nervous I was about dating again.
A little background. Alisa told me for 8 years that I would need to get re-married when she died. For 6 of those 8 years I would literally plug my ears and ignore her every time she would bring up the subject, but she was relentless. During the last 2 years she wore me down and I reluctantly listened to her tell me that I needed to get married, find a wife, and find a mother for our children. She would constantly make jokes about my "next wife" When I would tell her I didn't want to do something, she would respond with "good luck, with your next wife." What was I supposed to do, but buckle down and do whatever she asked...I have plenty of witnesses of her insistence that I find someone when she died. Even though I didn't like to talk about it, her insistence burned into my mind and I knew I would need to start somewhere.
Part of the reason I was terrified is that I have never dated. I met Alisa in 8th grade. We "dated" all through high school. I use the term "dated" a little bit loosely, because Alisa's dad didn't really allow dating exclusively (maybe that wasn't an official rule, but that is how I remember it). So all through high school we told everyone we were "just friends." Nobody bought that story. At the beginning of each year, we would decide which of the dances we would go to together. We were not officially dating if we only went to half the dances, so that's what we did. Half the dances with each other, half with other people. When I got back from my mission, Alisa was luckily still available, and we started dating and were married 9 months later. So now as I considered the dating scene, I am not just going back to what I had done in the past, but was moving into an environment that was totally foreign.
When I shared this with people, they would laugh (with me of course) and were very supportive, letting me know it would be ok, and that when I was ready they would give me the numbers of some girls they know that I could call. After about a month or so, I decided that I could start this whole process by getting some phone numbers. I wasn't sure I would have the courage to call anyone, but if I didn't have numbers, it wouldn't matter. So I determined the next time it came up I would just say yes and get a number. Just the thought of that made me nervous.
Near the end of September I was at a work event and the conversation turned to my fear of entering the dating scene and my strange need to talk, a long time customer mentioned that he knew a girl that would be willing to go to dinner with me. I said ok, and he emailed me her number. At that same event, another colleague of mine (whom I had talked to before about dating) came over to talk, I told him I had just gotten my first "reference" and that if he wanted to send me his "reference" I was ready.
It was this second person that instead of just sending me an email with a girls phone number, sent an email to me AND the girl, introducing us and explaining to us that we had each shared with him similar concerns and fears about this process (one of my favorite emails ever.) He ended by saying "I've done my part, now suck it up and reach out to each other! :)" Well I felt committed at that point. I decided I would take a few weeks to build up my courage and call her when my kids were on fall break with their cousins. I received that email on September 30th.
After receiving these two references I had two weeks to work up the courage to call. My boys were going to Zion with Sonja for Fall Break and I knew I had three days that I would need to find something to do. So what did I do? I looked up the two girls on Facebook...I think I should mention that Alisa didn't give me any real criteria for picking a new wife, other than "she better not be 20 years old," but we did talk about how nice it would be to find a widow. I had two other..."requirements"...I wanted to find a nurse, and I wanted someone with brown hair (requirements is a bit strong, maybe hopes is better). I knew from talking to our mutual friend that Katie was a widow, but when I looked her up on Facebook and saw that she was a nurse at Primary Children's and also had brown hair...I knew she was the one. Ok, maybe I didn't realize that yet, but I did know she was the first one I wanted to call. I started mentally preparing to call her.
That was the beginning of this wonderful adventure we have been living the last few months. On October 7th Katie Byrge texted me. Really? I had been thinking I had to call to set up this first meeting (did I really just call our first date a meeting?), and Katie just texts me? That was way easier. I was out for a run in Florida (I was there for a work conference) when the text came in. I responded immediately and that is how it began. For a week and a half we texted, asking serious questions, sharing our thoughts and feeling, getting to know each other, more than I thought possible via text message. On October 17th I called her to ask her if she could go out with me that night. (for the record this is the first time I have asked someone out in like 25 years, so forgive the fact that most people can't just drop everything and go out with you at the last second, especially a single (widowed) mother of 4) she could not go with me that night so I set up a date for the following Saturday, the 24th of October. I have learned a lot about myself since Alisa died and since I met Katie. One of those things is that I really like to share my life experiences with someone. I didn't realize how much Alisa and I talked and shared everything with each other. I found that I missed that a lot. Katie was so engaging and funny that we talked a lot that week. It was oddly comfortable, I kept waiting for that moment when we would not have something to talk about, and we would flounder in awkward silence. It never happened, even now, 3 months later, hours and hours of talking, and we still have so much to share it never gets old.
I think some of the success in our courtship comes from the similarities (and equally, the differences) in our situation. Katie's husband, Bryan, died while riding his road bike almost 2 years ago. Since then she has been raising 4 kids (ages 15, 13, 13, 9) by herself. She has done an amazing job. I am not the authority on how she has done it, you would be better off asking her close friends and family. But I am absolutely amazed at what she has been able to accomplish. I think it is Katie's place to share the details of her tragedy and her determination to give her kids an amazing life without their dad, so when you get a chance to hear her story, it is a special one.
After that first date, I knew I wanted to spend more time with Katie. Katie and I started discussing how we were going to tell people we were going on a second date. From the beginning we quickly realized that wherever this courtship/relationship ended, it would be a wild journey. Who has to think about how to "message" the details of their relationship to people surrounding them. Kids, in-laws, family, friends, neighbors...who do you tell first, who needs to know, what do we tell them, how do we tell them, what exactly is our relationship. Millions of questions, no answers. Every question that is going through your head right now, we have probably had the same thought, discussed it at length, disagreed, compromised, questioned our decision, changed our minds, and questioned again. Remember, everything that happens in this relationship not only affects Katie and I, but 7 children, that still need their mom and dad. Tricky. So we formulated a plan, and that meant not sharing our situation on social media until the situation had progressed, our kids had met, and we had met each other's family's.
There are people that question whether or not we should be doing this. Is it too soon? Are we moving too fast? Have we considered our kids? We have asked ourselves all these questions, and analyzed the consequences of each decision we make. It is daunting. We have not done this alone. We have included our kids in this process, we have prayed and fasted to know God's will in this matter. I am sure we will make mistakes, and we will correct them. I appreciate the discussion around our unique circumstances, I value the differing opinions, it may sound strange to some of you to hear this from me, but I don't even think I have all the answers. I do know that we will continue to make every effort to do what is best for our family and welcome any thoughtful discussion around how we can do that, especially from those that love our kids as much as we do. I have had numerous discussions with close family and friends about what might be best for our kids, the answers are tough, but the discussion is healthy. In the end, Katie and I will have to make the final decisions, and we will do that with the help of our kids, and our Heavenly Father, and even Alisa and Bryan.
So to continue the story. We went on our first date on Oct 24th and had a wonderful time. We talked for hours and spent a lot of time laughing, which I realized was a genuine laughter that had been lacking in my life. Katie asked me to go with her to the Garth Brooks concert the next Friday. It was at this point I decided it was important to let specific people in my life know I was "dating." I was not even sure I should call it that yet. Is 2 dates dating? But I knew I didn't want my kids, Alisa's family, or my family finding out through the grapevine. As I called Alisa's family, and my family, I was so relieved by the support and love I received from all of them. My kids were amazing, Luke might have jumped to a few conclusions, the first thing he said was "so you are dating my future mom?" Here is my first conversation with James about it.
James: Does she have any kids?
Me: Yes, 3 boys and a girl
James: Are any of them older than me?
James: hmmm, this isn't going to work, I need to be the oldest.
James: Well, I guess if he treats me like the oldest, that would be ok
Not sure how to respond to that, I think I was speechless. It is not fair to say that this has been easy for my kids. They are not super expressive with their feelings, but I am sure they don't like some of the things that will change in our lives, new family, new house, new school, new friends. All of these things are difficult, but I believe they understand that in the end Alisa wanted them to have a mom, and the benefits outweigh the challenges we will likely face.
I will not spell out all the details of our courtship, the dates we went on, the late nights we spent talking, the difficult discussions we have had, the times Katie tried to break up with me (she was a little surprised when I told her she couldn't, that didn't go over very well), but I do want to share some of the highlights.
The first week of November we went to Disneyland with my family. We had a great time. I have not blogged about it yet, because I couldn't share that with you without mentioning Katie, and the time was not right for that. I had one experience that was so meaningful for me that I think it is right to share it with you here. As you can imagine a trip to Disneyland might be difficult for me and my boys. We have been their twice before, once when Alisa was first diagnosed with cancer (First Trip), and once when we thought she was cured (Second Trip). It holds beautiful memories for our family. I was pretty surprised that we made it through 4 days of vacation and 2 days of Disneyland before I broke down. I was sitting with my family watching the parade in California Adventure when I was overwhelmed with sadness. Alisa loved those parades, they are so fun and joyful, and yet I was feeling so miserable. I was disappointed in myself, for not being stronger, I knew Katie would understand, so I texted her. She sent me some messages that were so kind and understanding, I was amazed at the positive affect it had on my mood. I was so grateful for her, and knew I needed her to help me through the many hard days I would face ahead.
One thing that Katie and I quickly realized is that our unique situation caused for some interesting conversations early in our relationship. I remember telling some people that when I started dating, it would be almost like a business transaction. Like an interview. How is your financial situation? How do you feel about raising 3 boys (almost all teenagers)? Are you willing to move? etc. This last question came up on our first date, after maybe 20 hours of phone conversations. I don't remember who asked first, but we both asked if we would be willing to move our kids. We both said no. After a pretty successful first date, this was disappointing. Do we break up now? Is it over, before it has even begun? I thought a lot about this over the next day or so. This was before I knew I loved Katie, and I didn't even realize I was ready to date. I came to the conclusion that if I am going to date, and consider getting married, I have to be willing to at least discuss the possibility of moving. When Alisa and I had discussed me getting re-married, we thought it would be awesome if I could find a widow, it seemed so difficult at the time, but even after just a couple weeks of talking to Katie, I knew I would not be able to marry someone that was not a widow, the comfort in being able to talk openly about our spouses, is too wonderful. I knew if I was going find someone to marry, I would have to be open to moving my family. Katie came to the same conclusion and we were able to, well, not break up. This was just one of many discussions, compromises we have had to make.
After we had been "dating" for about a month, we decided to start planning how we would go about introducing our kids to one another. Katie planned a big event for November 21st. We spent all that Saturday together, her kids, my kids, playing laser tag, running around the mall, laughing, and generally having a good time. Just ask James and Braxton about it. They will gladly tell you about how they "wrecked" everyone's day at the multiple competitions we had. That day, and it's success, was the beginning of what could now become a serious relationship. Frankly, without our kids willingness and ability to get along with each other, I am not sure how much further we could have taken this, I like to think we would have tried, but I am not sure, a relationship between 2 people seems so easy now, trying to manage the relationships of 9 people, well...hard. The kids have been outstanding, I don't know why I am ever surprised, they are super heroes, just ask them, you can't be a super hero without losing one or both parents, and now I have the privilege of trying to raise 7 super heroes, what an honor.
The success of that day, allowed us to start planning to meet our extended family. We met my parents and siblings the Saturday after thanksgiving, we met Katie's family the next day, and then met Alisa's family that same day. A week later we met Bryan's family. Everyone asks if any of these meetings were awkward. You may want to ask some of the other parties involved, but I would say they were not. We were definitely nervous, there was definitely some wariness, but it was all short lived. It was amazingly comfortable in all of these situations. We felt so much love from everyone. Even the kids, who had been dragged all over the place meeting random people said it was ok. So they might have also said something along the lines of "so...are we going to hang out with the Byrge's all the time now?"
I am sure some of you are wondering how the kids are really feeling about this. Welcome to the club. I ask them all the time, they don't share much, but I will share a couple experiences with you that will give you a sense of what they are thinking.
Luke - I think Luke is the most excited. He gets along really well with Brittea (Katie's youngest daughter) and wanted to help pick out a ring, and even gives me ideas on how to propose to her. I heard through the grapevine that he even told some of this friends at school that "my dad is dating this girl, and I am really excited because they might get married." He is in desperate need of a mother. He loves Katie and she will be an amazing mom to him. I don't know if I have already mentioned it in this post, but I can't express enough the amazing capacity Katie has to love. I have no doubt she will love my boys as her own, and I believe that is exactly what Alisa would want for them.
Sam - His signs are a little less obvious, but one night Katie came over, and the boys were all downstairs playing games. Sam was conveniently "hungry" and came up to have a bowl of cereal. He talked to Katie the entire time. He gets along so well with Cade and Davis (Katie's 13 year old twins). He asks regularly when we will be hanging out with them, and when we do, he wants to know if Cade and Davis will be there. It is obvious he looks up to them. During our trip in Europe, Sam was texting Katie almost as much as I did (ok, maybe not that much.) He was sharing he joys and his pains (a lot of walking.)
James - I honestly think this will be most difficult for James. I would not say he is excited about it, but maybe accepting. The first time I forced them to talk to me about it, I got this from James. "Why do we have to talk about it? I trust you. You can do what you want, I am ok with it." For good or bad, I think he treats this situation like he treated Alisa's cancer. He is going to deal with it, there will be ups and downs, and whatever comes, he isn't going to let it affect his happiness. James is mature beyond his years and is so reasonable. I wish he didn't have to be, but I think he will benefit from having Katie in his life as much as the other boys, he may just not realize it for while.
By the beginning of December Katie and I had pretty much determined that we wanted to get married. After our families supported us so lovingly, we felt like we had a good foundation for making this work. There was just one problem, I might be the worst boyfriend in the world. I decided that it would be a good idea to leave my new girlfriend for a month and tromp off to Europe to spend the holidays away. This is kind of funny, and kind of not. After having come to realize that I loved Katie, leaving her for a month was very difficult, and yet, Katie continued to remind me that this was the right thing to do for my boys, no matter how hard it was for me (or her, I assume it was hard for her, I mean, I am pretty awesome, or so she says) it was important for me to spend some time with my kids, especially this first holiday season without Alisa. Katie had done it the year before, and knew how difficult it would be. What I didn't realize is that I would be leaving her to spend another holiday season alone without Bryan. These last 30 days have been hard. We tried to talk every day, but the time difference made it hard. Throughout the entire time, Katie constantly encouraged and supported us, cheering us on, and sharing in our fun and excitement from afar.
We got home late last night and decided to ask her to marry me. Lucky for me she said yes. Now we begin to take the next step in making a new family. Katie found this motto we have adopted "Together...we make a Family" That is our new goal, we will work towards it and make every effort and sacrifice to make the best life possible for our kids.
SPOILER ALERT!!! - if you haven't seen star wars do not look at the picture below. Some guy at the airport was not happy with Cade :)