There's some delightful lore in my family that, in the midst of their courtship, my father took my mother to Austria and told her, "You know, Leber is German for lover."
Smooth operator, that one.
It was a partial truth. A linguistic liberty, if you will. Lieber, pronounced the same (long e) but spelled differently than our family name, does, in fact, translate as he claimed. But l-e-b-e-r, which would be said more like the word "labor" in Germany, means, well, liver, as in the organ journalists are famous for destroying.
Suffice to say, Dad was busted as soon as Mom got a look at a restaurant menu. But she must have found him charming, because on Monday, they will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary.
In that time, they've faced job woes, the deaths of four parents, several moves, familial difficulties, a pretty serious illness and the challenge of raising two daughters.
And they're happy. Not blissed out, skipping through fields of daisies, singing Cole Porter in the street (thank goodness, my mother has a terrible singing voice), but legitimately glad to be with each other.
They disagree. They fight. They recognize the other person's faults - his temper, her stubbornness - among others. But that's good. They are each able to, as Rilke wrote, see the other as a whole.
My parents accept the worst of each other, but they also see the best. Mother, Dad said, is insightful, sexy and thoughtful. She takes time and energy to make things special for him. Twenty-two years later, I still remember the surprise 40th birthday party she threw him. She also, to his benefit and hers, doesn't seem to age. Really, the woman looks incredible. Seriously, ladies, be jealous.
My father, according to my mom, is level-headed, intellectual, kind and has a good sense of humor. He's the type to never forget a birthday or anniversary or Valentine's Day, and to care about something because she does, even at the risk of annoying someone else, say, for example, his adult daughters.
"Ask Mom what you should wear," he tells me before almost every family event, despite my being more than capable of picking out my own clothes, because he knows presentation is important to her.
So, what, I asked them, has been the key to 35 years of a good marriage?
"Enjoying being with each other at least as much if not more than enjoying being with others," Dad said. "That, and some mutual respect and tolerance."
"Compromise" was Mom's answer. "As [her mother] said, it's not 50/50, but 90/10 and 10/90."
In their time together, they've gotten a fair share of grief from each other, and even more from me and my sister, but they've gotten even more happiness.
"She makes me want to be a better man," my father said, quoting Jack Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets."
Dad's much better-looking than Jack, just for the record.
And Mom said she's learned "how lucky I am to be loved so much. And how to play golf."
It's a good lesson to take away from 35 years, isn't it? The being lucky to be loved part, that is.
I don't care about golf.