Love & Marriage Across the Hate Barrier
As we lay a foot apart but side by side across Melissa's bed, tired but wide-awake, I told her about Addy's pregnancy, her refusal to have an abortion or to let me provide financial support. Melissa made no reply and nothing in her stony expression suggested she was hearing my words. We continued to lie there for another hour before she finally spoke.
"Yes, I do want to marry you," she said.
Her father's cold-blooded calculation had backfired. Melissa could neither fathom nor empathize with that kind of hatred and it alienated her. She became determined to marry me in direct opposition to his wishes. Only later would I learn the consequences that this mindset would produce for our marriage. I was uneasy but happy. I felt as though I had defeated a dragon to win Melissa. I just wasn't sure the dragon was dead.
The one bright spot was Melissa's mother. Once she learned of her daughter's decision, she threw her wholehearted support behind us. "Norman is a good, decent man," she told me. "But he is stubborn. That's his strength and his weakness. I just hope you won't judge him by something he set his mind to as a boy. I am sure that when he comes to know you, he will change his mind."
The news of my engagement was a visible disappointment to my mother. She bore it stoically. When she learned of the opposition of Melissa's father, her stoicism turned into active concern. "How can you marry a girl if her father doesn't want to give her to you? No matter what, she is his daughter. You cannot forget that." She went silent for a long time, as though trying to understand how such a thing could happen. "Please don't get angry," she said, "but I cannot help wondering what kind of girl would go against her father's wishes."
At that I lost my temper and raged at my mother's old-fashioned thinking. "Her father is a racist!" I shouted. "What do you mean how can she go against his wishes?" My mother just sipped her tea quickly and said nothing. But her eyes did the talking. They seemed to say to me, "Still, he's her father, you know." My father just rolled his eyes and said, "Let's just be happy for Ken."
I arranged a meeting between my parents and Melissa. My father seemed impressed by her. My mother's eyes studied Melissa with that same astonishment at the sheer idea of a girl who was defying his father's wishes. Her manner irked me all the more because it seemed fueled by her own disappointment at a son who had defied her wish for a Japanese daughter-in-law. My mother's attitude hadn't escaped Melissa. "She doesn't like me, does she?" she asked as soon as we were alone.
I tried denying it but Melissa refused to believe me. "Does it have to do with my father?' she demanded. I ended up having to give her a long explanation of my mother's feelings. Melissa became angry that I had revealed her father's opposition. "You couldn't just save that for later? Do we have to show off all our dirty laundry at the first meeting?"
I refrained from pointing out that her father's position would become all too apparent the first time the parents met. As though reading my mind, Melissa collapsed resignedly into her seat.
"It just seems so hypocritical," she muttered. "She's married to a caucasian."
"It's not the same thing," I said calmly. "She was alone and had a son."
"You mean like you."
"Are you going to throw that at me every time we have a disagreement?" I was surprised at my own flareup.
The argument escalated until the engagement was called off. The next day it was back on and stayed on until the wedding. True to form, her father quietly but firmly refused to participate in the wedding. Melissa was given away by her maternal uncle. The resulting strain between Meslissa's parents lasted for the rest of their days together. Her father always arranged to be out of the house whenever we visited. After a while, we were all careful not to mention him in conversation. Considering this odd void, our marriage was happy. But privately I was nagged by a sense of dread of unfinished business. Was it really possible to be happily married without the blessings of a parent?
It was only after our daughter was born that Melissa's mother told us that her husband had been diagnosed to be in the advanced stages of lung cancer. He had just been hospitalized and wasn't expected to live more than a few weeks. He had been healthy during the last checkup. The cancer had begun and spread like wildfire in the space of a few months.
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“Please don't get angry," she said, "but I cannot help wondering what kind of girl would go against her father's wishes.”
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