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Q&A: How did your family and friends react to your marriage?
Reactions to Marriage & Spinal Cord Injury
I think they were all thrilled and excited. They all knew, again, that I was a great guy. Things in life change, but that didn’t stop me from being a great person, and someone who could care for somebody and love somebody. I think my wife’s family was okay too. They were happy that they found someone who cared for her, and I don’t think it was ever a question the fact that I was in a wheelchair.
We dated a long time before he met my family, and so they were sort of, not upset with him, but you know, curious. What was really funny, the first time I mentioned I was dating this new man, they ask you questions—"What's he look like, what's this, what's that, how tall is he?"— "How tall is he, I have no idea"— "Why don't you know how tall he is?"—"Oh, he's in a wheelchair," you forget. Once they finally met him, I think they were a little, not stand-offish but, "How do you make things comfortable," you know, "We need to make sure there's nothing in the way." And, you know, they were a little nervous but, Jack is just so calming that it dissipated almost immediately.
My family and friends were excited for me. I did not like my husband prior, you know, he got on my nerves, so when I came around to actually liking him, he wrote me a song called “Blue Square Blues.” I know this is probably personal, but it’s kind of fun, he wrote me a song about people who park in handicapped parking places that shouldn’t, and that won me over. I said, “he is the one.” And I just understood that he gets it, he totally gets that I’m in a wheelchair, but he doesn’t dwell on it, like it’s not something that he thinks about. Like half the time I think he forgets that I’m in a wheelchair, I think he thinks I’m Wonder Woman because I’m totally not. I’m like, “I really need help here,” you know. I’ll get in the car, and he will forget to put my wheelchair in the trunk, I’m like, “are you going to put this in the back?” So, he just doesn’t see the wheelchair and I love that about him. When I was saying that people, you watch people watch you, like from the get go, he was just like, “yeah, you are interesting, and I want to pursue that,” so yeah.
Embraced it totally, it’s been, it kind of gets back to that your real friends are still going to be your real friends. And sometimes that causes tension in the family, but not this time, it’s been a good experience from day one.
My dad was suspicious that any woman could possibly commit to that kind of relationship. You know, a man that may not be able to do all the things she wanted to do the way she wanted to do, and my father in law was totally opposed. So, my dad out of you know just cared about me, he loved about me. My mom was ecstatic, you know, everybody else knew me and figured it was okay. But between my dad’s suspicion and my father in law’s opposition, we had to work through all that stuff. He began to realize that his daughter was going to do what she wanted to do to make herself happy, and that was the first message. The second one was a year after we were married. Me and him sat down and talked politics. And so, he likes to—he’s not on the same, he’s to the right of me, but nonetheless he enjoyed the conversation. So, he began to realize there was a little more to me than being able to physically do everything for myself, you know what I mean? So, we got through it that way.
Certainly, I think everyone, my parents included, gave her a pass as to “do you really want to go down this road? And if you don’t, everyone will think it’s okay.” She, however, had made up her mind that “no, this is definitely what I want to do.”
When I told my family and friends that I was getting married, they were happy for me, but I think that they were cautiously happy because it all unfolded very quickly. But I had this feeling inside that this woman was special. And, we had a long time of not dating and not being close, and a long time of this feeling that maybe that this person was special. And when the stars finally aligned for my fiancé and I to get to know one another better, it proved to be true that we just did seem to click. We had similar philosophies about how we should be living, and how we should set our goals, and then how we should obtain them. And what those goals should be, and the value that we put on tomorrow, and the value that we hold for today. And all of those things are the foundation for living. And if you’ve got somebody who has the same perspective on the pursuit of happiness, then they’re probably going to be a good teammate. And I think that when I was able to convey that to my parents and my family, they were able to then recognize it once they had embraced my fiancé, and folded her into our family, and had a chance to get to understand her and to know her. And my mother reminds me every week at least of how fortunate I am to have somebody so unique and special in my life. I needed to be careful about not projecting my fears of how they might perceive me as person with the disability marrying into their family. So, I just decided to beat myself carte blanche in front of them and let the cards fall as they may. I’m confident that I’m a good person and if they are good people, they will be able to see this in me. Her father and I worked together on a project building a privacy fence in my fiancé‘s backyard. And I think when he saw how hard I was willing to work, and how well I worked with him as a team of two leaders coming together on a project, that his confidence in me was inspired that I could be a good husband for his daughter and he gave it his blessing.
I think they were happy for me, and hesitant to maybe caution me the way would if I wasn't in a wheelchair, making that decision. It turned out to not be a partially good choice, and it really wasn't the stress of my injury, and my disability that fractured that relationship. It was stresses of my wife's illness; she was diagnosed with leukemia six months after we were married. But, there had been hints, not even just hints, but battles and indications that it was not a terribly good emotional fit before that happened.
At first with marriage, I think people were a little bit nervous for me. I don’t know that they made Andre know this or not know this, I’m not sure, and I don’t think we’ve really talked about that. But, I think that they were nervous for me, they were scared. They were worried that my life would be different and that my life wouldn’t be all that it could be. And again, coming from a big family—I have six brothers who are even a dad-figure in my life, my older brother and my younger brothers are just so overprotective of me as well. I guess they just wanted to make sure that I was happy with the situation, and ready to take on whatever was going to be in our future.
I think his mom was more nervous just, because she had spent so much time helping him get through his rehab and, you know, she was worried, and she was little sad that, you know, she wouldn't be there anymore in a way that he had needed her before. But I think they loved me and they knew we were good together, and so I don't think that they were nervous about it.