We drove to Atlanta last week to visit my wife’s family. And even as I write those words, they feel odd, because the reality is that they are now my family as well.
When Merry and I became husband and wife, we not only formed a new family, but we each joined a family at the same time. Merry now had a new mother and father and sister in Oregon, along with a couple new grandparents. I added a dad and mom in Georgia, along with two new sisters. We each gained new brothers-in-law, and nephews and nieces, and aunts and uncles.
We had some pretty good premarital counseling, but I can’t remember any advice on dealing with the new family that you join on your wedding day. That’s one of those things they don’t tell you about.
Nobody told me how to be the outsider in a group—how to get along with people who all know each other so well. Nobody offered counsel on how to fit into a family environment that is so different from mine. Or how to deal with all the different personalities, and the conflicts, and the misunderstandings.
Yet over the years I’ve learned that the difficulties of joining a new family seem like nothing compared to what I’ve gained. I got to enjoy new family gatherings for holidays and summer reunions. I gained a mother-in-law, Roxie Dodd, who held her family together through her fierce love for her daughters and grandchildren. A mother who, when she knew her days on earth were limited, called me into her hospital room because she wanted me to know she loved me and was grateful for how I loved her daughter.
In Atlanta last week we visited Merry’s father, Jim Dodd, who lives in a facility for the memory-impaired. I thought of all the moments we had shared over the years, starting when he walked my new bride up the aisle on our wedding day. I thought of the time he helped me pack a trailer with furniture and household goods; he was 67 at the time, and I hoped I would be as active and strong when I’m that age. I remembered the joy in his eyes when he saw his daughter and granddaughters, and how he wept every time we left and drove home to Arkansas. And now when we visit, I’m not sure he recognizes me at all.
They don’t tell you about all these things before you get married. And even if they did, we probably wouldn’t listen. I had to learn for myself that joining a new family is not always the easiest part of marriage, but it’s one of the best and most unexpected blessings.