Five Decades of Happy Marriage and Five observations on how they do it!
Last weekend the whole family travelled to England to celebrate Mum and Dad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. It was a magical, touching family gathering at the Grand Hotel overlooking the bay in Swanage.
…and the sun shone on our parade!
We were twenty-one in all: Mum and Dad, four daughters, husbands, partners, and eleven children…
Married at the tender ages of 19 and 21 in 1960, my parents miraculously stumbled on a precious formula for happiness… they are and always will be my inspiration.
1. United Front – I grew up in a house with no arguments – what an extraordinary privilege! Certainly there were lively discussions when viewpoints differed, and there was the odd teenage tantrum – but nothing was taboo. There were no confused messages, no locked doors, and no-one was ever played off another.
2. Do your own thing –
Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Dad loves cricket, and has played most summer Sundays for as long as I can remember – I often went with him… happy, happy memories of cream-teas in English village cricket pavilions – handstands as the sun set on the pitch at the end of the day, and a shandy and a packet of crisps at the pub before sleeping in the back of the car on the way home.
Mum, however, couldn’t do the long social chit-chat days with the cricketers wives…
So wisely they compromised –
Mum fully respected Dad’s desire to play, but never felt obliged to go…
Dad fully respected that Mum didn’t want to spend every Sunday on a picnic rug, but never felt he ought not to play!
Long before mobile phones, my parents would make sure they spoke to each other every day they were apart – whenever physically possible.
Whether or not they are together they share all their thoughts and news at the beginning and end of every day. Last weekend when we were there, I was so touched to see Dad taking Mum her morning cup of tea, and over-hearing the ritual where they both sit in bed and discuss the day to come: last night’s dreams; creative ideas; the day’s plans – real sharing, and touching base with each other before doing their own thing.
4. Generosity that knows no bounds –
My Dad once said to me, when I was studying at Bristol University and learning to live on a student’s grant, that he would always pay for books and theatre tickets for me if I couldn’t afford them. It’s a tradition I try to follow with our children! He and Mum have lived the roller-coaster financial life of most self-employed people… sometimes flush, sometimes broke, and throughout our adult lives, our parents have helped my sisters and I out whenever we’ve been in trouble – if they possibly could. They talk about the family pot of money – if there’s some in there and someone needs it, they do everything they can to make the tough bits smoother… there’s never any judging, or conditions to be met, there’s never any payback deadline… I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a healthier attitude to money, or two more generous spirits… ever.
The result of such respect is that I do my damnedest not to ask… and that’s not pride or fear of disappointment – it’s just that the respect is mutual!
5. No martyrs –
One of the surprising things about my oh-so-generous parents is that whilst they will do anything for anyone in need, they also look after themselves, (and each other). They are not afraid to say ‘no’; Mum has always been my last-call ’emergency’ babysitter, and she established a very unusual – scrupulously fair attitude to grandparenting… she would have each grandchild to tea separately, and give them 100% attention – talk, play board-games, cook, make things, go for walks – really develop a one-to-one relationship that was so special for both her and the children. She would drop everything to be there in a crisis, but was never part of any of our everyday childcare needs. That self-preserving philosophy came, I think, from the realisation that with four daughters she would either be looking after children (10 grandchildren!) all day, everyday; or she’d be more involved with one or two than the others, and she never wanted anyone to feel that they were less important to her.
As I write they are in Barbados! – Their Anniversary treat to themselves. Ever since their own parents died, and that period of responsibility came to an end, they have treated themselves to far-flung holidays and adventures: India; Africa; China…
There lives are rich and fulfilled. My Dad is still writing, still constantly creating… he has film projects on the go, his production ‘The Secret of Sherlock Holmes‘ has just finished a West End run, and he’s completing a children’s novel – ‘Jones’.
Mum, to her great surprise has found herself co-directing a production of ‘The Little Matchgirl‘ with my sister Sasha at The Lighthouse Arts Centre in Poole.
We are and always have been a close family, but there is a healthy lack of dependency. Living in France as we do now, I’ve never been made to feel guilty for not being on hand.
They offer total unconditional support and I feel truly blessed and honoured to be their daughter.