Monday, June 25, 2012

My Big Fat Vietnamese Wedding

My Grandfather-in-law at the pre-wedding ceremony, giving his blessing. The white folks in the background are my parents.



On Saturday morning, sometime between feeding the kids breakfast and going to the gym, I said to my wife, "Hey, it's our anniversary!"

"Oh, yeah," she said.

We said "Happy Anniversary" to one another, and had a quick kiss.  I may have pawed at her.  I probably did.  Later, after our workout, we collected the kids from the gym's childcare, got sandwiches from the new sub shop around the corner, and ate them on the secret terrace on the roof of the gym building.  That was the romantic part of the day.  After that, it was all about the kids.

We weren't really surprised that it was our anniversary.  We had talked about it a week before, discussed doing something special, but decided that it wasn't necessary.

We've been married for eleven years.  We were together for nine before that.*  I'm not gonna lie to you like every other dad blogger who writes the obligatory anniversary post about his romantical feelings for his hawt wife: We're not as lovey-dovey as we once were.  Between the kids, and all the time we've spent together, it's a different dynamic now than it was, say fifteen years ago.  We're like one of those old couples who communicates by grunting.  Too much talk can lead to bickering.  When the kids and other business is taken care of, we tend to look at our separate infotainment screens until we lose consciousness.

I know, I know.  We're supposed to be getting babysitters and having date nights to keep the ember aglow or whatever.  But that's expensive and exhausting.  Besides, do you have any idea how many dates we've had?  After seventeen childless years together?  I think we're good in that department until the kids are in college.

Anyway, I'm not worried that during these first three years of our kids' lives, we haven't been taking time to focus on our relationship rather than devoting all our energy to our children, or whatever we're supposed to be doing according to current conventional parent wisdom.  Our relationship has its phases, and we're in the new parents phase right now.  We have a lot of history together, and a little thing like a couple of kids isn't going to be much of an obstacle.

How am I so confident that this kid-centrism isn't a threat to our marriage?

Our survival of the wedding, lo those many years ago, proves that we can weather any storm.

********

I've written a bit about the early years of our relationship, here, here, here and especially here

But if you don't feel like spending all day reading, you should just know that when I met my future wife in college, she wasn't allowed to date anyone.  Nor was she allowed to date while in med school.  Or ever, really.  And had her parents allowed her to date at all, I would not have been a viable candidate, being non-Vietnamese, non-Catholic, and a non-lawyer/doctor/engineer.  So from the time we met, until the day, eight years later, when we approached her parents about getting married, those were the conditions we operated under.  The situation generated hijinks aplenty, which I can never chronicle publicly lest I bring shame upon my wife's family's name.

As tricky as the first eight years were, the pressure just ratcheted up even higher once we miraculously obtained permission to get married.  What follows is a brief(ish) chronological(ish) description of the year leading up to our wedding day.


First, we moved from Virginia to Northern California, where my wife would be completing her medical residency.  The first year of residency, known as the intern year, is essentially an extended hazing period.

I signed up for RCIA, the adult catechism classes (I don't remember what the initials stand for), so that I could convert to Catholicism after a year of studying and going to church, something I had never done much of.

We entered into an ill-conceived three-way purchase of a derelict triplex with two other couples.  I called this the "yuppie commune."  Since none of the units were habitable when we bought the place, for months I worked on them every day until the middle of the night, after eight hours at my regular job building houses and wineries.  I had such bad tendonitis that I would wake up every couple hours at night and have to swing my arms around to regain feeling in them.  The fingers of my right hand would be cramped as if I were gripping a hammer when I got up in the morning, and I couldn't extend them until well after my first cup of coffee.

My then future-wife discovered a bunch of new allergies she hadn't had in Virginia, which caused her to go to the hospital a number of times.  It turns out the things that made her stop breathing most were the dust from cedar and redwood, which is exactly what I was regularly encrusted in from working on these California houses and not having the energy to shower before bed.

My future father-in-law didn't stop adding bells and whistles to his demands for the wedding until the day of.  It was the first wedding of one of his kids, and every wedding element he had ever seen or heard of had to be included: a roast pig for the pre-wedding ceremony, a ten-course meal at the reception for 350 guests (with shark-fin soup, despite the protestations of pretty much everyone), a band, a DJ, a solo vocal performance by himself, and an ice-sculpture of the bride and groom, to name but a few.

All of the details of the wedding were to be arranged by my wife-to-be (after they were dreamed up by her dad), from three time-zones away, while she worked 80-hours a week and regularly went for days on end without sleep, as the medical establishment has determined is important for young doctors to do (heaven help their patients.)

During our usual midnight renovations, my fiance, no doubt sleep-deprived and wearing totally inappropriate footwear, tumbled off of a stepladder while trying to reach a distant corner with a paintbrush.  I tried to get her to shake it off, but she insisted on going to the hospital, where it was determined that she had a broken elbow.  Her friends at the hospital looked at me like I was a monster.  The upside of the broken arm was that she got some time off of work, and was able to get a lot of the wedding planning done.

On top of the broken arm, the blushing bride then contracted pneumonia.  One of her doctor friends diagnosed this as a function of being "allergic to her life."

I was baptized and had to renounce Satan and all his works.  Even the footnotes.

The company I worked for folded and I got laid off.  (I got another job by the next week, but still, it was more unwelcome stress.)

By the time we headed back to Virginia for our wedding, we were barely on speaking terms with the other members of our yuppie commune. (That's a very long story in itself.)

Finally the big day arrived.  The bride was worn to a nub from the preceding year, and the week of intensified insanity at her parents' house before the wedding nearly robbed her of her will to live.

From the pre-wedding ceremony until the end of the reception, the wedding took fifteen hours.  I kept my mouth shut and went where I was told to go.  Despite being interminable, everything happened at top speed.  Family friends I hadn't seen since childhood shook my hand in the receiving line; and then a few hours later I wasn't sure whether they had really even been there or I had imagined them.  At the reception, we circulated from table to table with our entourage, collecting checks and cash as is the Vietnamese custom.  The men offered me beer, which I desperately wanted, but which my mother-in-law would not allow me to drink.  The guests ate lobster and fried fish, which my wife and I also desperately wanted, but there was no time for eating.  There was music, dancing, and a terrible MC who made everyone uncomfortable.

My groomsmen and me.  Yeah, I had to wear a dress.

Then it was over.

Whether I enjoyed the wedding is immaterial.  I was a bit player.  I got through it.  And I did have some fun here and there.  My wife, on the other hand, suffered mild PTSD for several years afterward.  Somewhere, there is video of that wedding floating around.  We may have a VHS tape of it in a box in the garage.  But even if there were some way to view that tape, I don't think we would be ready yet.

********

I don't know if I can speak for my wife, but I don't think we've had a year as hard as that since we've been married, and we've had a couple tough ones.  I'm sure I've never seen her as miserable.  But as traumatic as the wedding was, as furtive as we had to be in the years leading up to it, and as brutal as the months immediately preceding it were, I would do it all over again in a second.

I love you, [Embarrassing Pet Name].  Next year, we can splurge and get chips with our turkey subs.

   


*In case my wife's parents stumble upon the internet somehow, let me just explain that by "together," I just mean we were casual friends who didn't date other people and were waiting for the right moment to ask permission to start courting each other.


24 comments:

  1. As far as 'the dates'... they don't have to be expensive... How about if u traded babysitting dates w/another couple??? In other words like a 'co-op'... I am sure u have families in the same situation.. Trade off sitting ( for free) w/another couple in the same predicament... And yes, couples do get comfortable w/each other... Believe me when the kids get older, the romance comes back! BELIEVE ME!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've talked about doing a babysitting share for a while. It's really more a matter of mustering up the energy to go out at night.

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    2. Our date nights consist of climbing into bed, once the kids are asleep, and watch maybe an hour of hilarious videos together. Sometimes we share a bottled root beer, sometimes we go all out and we each have our own. We've been married 13 years, together* since I was 15, and we have 3 kids (ages 12, 8, and 5) 3 cross country moves, a false foreclosure (one of those robo things that happened to random homeowners a few years back), and continuing both our educations under our belts.

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  2. If you survived that wedding, you will surely survive a little dry spell in the romance department. Plus, imagine what a Vietnamese divorce must involve.

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    Replies
    1. I think we can survive anything after that!

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    2. OMG, I don't even want to imagine!

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  3. I love the way you tell a story! (And that you had to wear a dress at your wedding.)

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    1. Thanks! The dress was pretty comfy.

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  4. What a beautiful story. The only bad part is that you have now ruined the super-secret deck at the gym for the next anniversary as the whole world knows about it due to your blog. Foolish man!

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    Replies
    1. Who says I didn't use misdirection to send snoopy people on a wild goose chase?

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  5. That traumatic year entitles you to a lifetime of bliss! Your wedding was beautiful, even as it was astonishing moving through the required steps. My favorite moment was when, during the solemn bride-and-groom-meet-guests hour, there was a sudden outburst of "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

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    Replies
    1. I don't remember that moment at all! It was all a blur.

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  6. "Besides, do you have any idea how many dates we've had? After seventeen childless years together? I think we're good in that department until the kids are in college."

    Hilarious. (And very sweet.)

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  7. This is almost sweet, in a Beta Dad kind of way.

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  8. I don't even know what to write because I'm still laughing! That was awesome. Dang I'd love to see your wedding video.....
    As for the romantical date thing; your kids are gonna grow up so fast you guys won't even remember not being able to have an adult evening. Live it up and congratulate yourselves on the fact that you're still married. Nice work.

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  9. For the record: you make that dress look good.

    Happy anniversary.

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  10. A very inspirational post Beta Dad, I hope to one day in my future have some one to gladly work that hard for. You rock =)

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  11. I was at the wedding and have seen your love grow over the years. You're my favorite "Thao & Andy Plus Eight Minus Six" Show on earth.

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  12. I'm new to your blog. This is the second post of yours Ive read. Have to say I'm hooked! I love your writing. I used to be a SDL reader but the guy drove me nuts after awhile. Glad to have a new daddy blog to read :)

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  13. How funny--my brother was with his Vietnamese girlfriend(well, she is American and her parents were and always will be Vietnamese who happen to live in America) for eight years.

    She converted from Buddhism TO Catholicism for him. The deal breakers were my brother was a bartender (now an R.N.) and my father's service in Vietnam. A whole strange thing that worked out for the best. Though I miss her very much.

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Don't hold back.

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