We thrill to the idea of a man giving his all for love but we know that it’s just a novel and, in real life, love isn’t quite like that. Relationships are more stable, more about compromise and equality.
Grand, eloquent statements of love only happen in the movies and on our wedding days.
And sometimes, we hear odd, touching stories on the Internet or in our communities about someone who has done something wonderful to declare their love, like sending five hundred letters to carefully selected businesses so that the right windows in the right office towers spell out “Dan Loves Mary” the night he proposes in the restaurant across the river.
But that’s just at the start of the relationship, when the endorphins are high and everything looks just wonderful.
Then there’s my grandfather.
Actually, he’s my step-grandfather, but he was always there right from my earliest memories, so he may as well be my grandfather.
I called him Grandy, and I have no idea where the name came from. He had a strong Welsh heritage, so that might have had something to do with it. Grandy was always just there and frankly, I took him for granted up until he died.
It wasn’t until I went back to Australia in May this year — fifteen years after I left the country, and nearly twenty-five years after his death — that I learn how the man subsumed his personality, his life…for love.
Cecil Albert Radford married my grandmother, Isabelle, before I was born. He was a car salesman, and a good one — one of the best in Western Australia.
That was a surprise for me, because the man I knew had been so quietly spoken and introverted, and car salesmen…well, they aren’t. So there had been a major change in his personality, or else he had just been good at his job despite his natural personality. Or something in between.
When they met, Grandy had been a 2 handicap golfer. That means he was very, very good. And when he got married he stopped playing, because my grandmother didn’t play.
Okay, so far. Lots of people give up major passions to keep the love of their life sweet. Happens all the time. Clearly, he made a decision and stuck to his guns. Good for him.
Then, later into my trip, I found out just how decisive and bloody-minded he could be, in order to keep the woman he loved.
I learned that Grandy had been married once before. And he had a daughter from that marriage. Both his ex-wife and daughter were still alive, and he cut them both out of his life when he married my grandmother, at her request.
He never saw his first family again.
It’s both appalling and uplifting, what real love can do to people and lives. On the one hand, it melded two people together for over forty years. On the other, it ripped a father away from his daughter for forty years…and counting.
For that reason, and for one other, you could never write about the real power of true love in romance novels.
Real love doesn’t show up in conveniently show-cased moments, like the man who writes “Dan Loves Mary” on office block towers in a single scene.
It shows over forty years of stubborn refusal to visit a daughter who lives in the same city, because of a woman’s request, and the discipline to give up a loved sport because that same woman doesn’t have an interest in it.
You can’t write dramatic scenes that show that sort of love. Readers would fall asleep over it. And they would be angry at the negative side of it, too, because romance novels persist in only showing the positive, upbeat side of love.
And real love sometimes hurts at the same time it gives pleasure.
When real people fall in love, there are other people whose hearts get broken…for real. There are ex-partners and would-be-partners who despair because they know their chances are finally over. There are parents who despair because unsuitable partners go on to destroy their children’s’ lives and they must stand back and watch, and merely pick up the wreckage.
There are children — both adult and minors — who must stand by and watch as parents fall in love with new partners while their discarded other parent goes through the pain of watching their ex fall in love and deal with all the jealousy and rage that goes with it.
Even for the pair who are falling in love, there is often doubt and fear and adjustment. Compromise — lots of it. But there is also the high of first love to make up for it all, which helps.
But that’s the sort of real love that life is made of.
I wish I’d got to know my grandfather better. I never really knew him at all.