Dream Woman

Rachel and Ella. Yes, the woman on the right hand side married me.

Wednesday, some of the students I work with at the Grayson High School Christian Learning Center asked what was my most embarrassing moment. As a life-long goober, that’s like asking Michelle Duggard to pick her favorite kid: there’s just too many to choose from.

However, one of my church students called out, “Tell them about your first date with Rachel.”

And immediately, I knew she was right. There couldn’t be a more embarrassing story in my past, with the exception of the time I threw up in the planters outside the Georgia Theater. But that is another story for another time.

So I began to regale the kids with the story: how I, nervous and shy, worked up the courage to email Rachel for a date, and how she, intelligent and beautiful, agreed to go. We went to dinner at the Old Norcross Train Depot, and I talked the entire time.


I just couldn’t shut up. I was young and intimidated, and I wanted so desperately to impress her that my mouth just uncoupled from my brain and the the most inane, banal, flat-out ridiculous stuff poured out of my mouth. And it wouldn’t stop. It just kept coming, like a bad magician’s handkerchief.

So there I was with verbal diarrhea, and she with a case of the zips: she wasn’t saying a word, just suffering in silence. I tried to wow her with deep thoughts, bad thoughts, empty thoughts; she just looked at me as if I were a blank wall. Sure, she tried to be kind to me (as she pointed out later, I had this annoying, lost puppy quality) and made small talk when she could, but after a while she reached her threshhold and just shut down.

It was the footrace that was the last straw.

We had left dinner and gone to Stone Mountain to just walk around and talk (okay, she walked, I talked), and in a rare moment of lucidity, I asked her what she liked to do for fun.

“I run,” she said.

What happened next has been permanently scrambled in my brain. I remember it like a Monet painting: deep impressions but scant detail.

I challenged her to a race. An honest-to-God forty yard dash. And for some reason, she accepted.

And if that weren’t bad enough, I beat her. Badly. And then poked fun at her.

“I thought you said you were fast?”

I’ll skip to the end: the rest of the date, all 45 minutes of it, were completely silent. Rachel didn’t say a word. I could tell things had gone south, but was utterly at a loss for how to fix it. So I drove her home. The entire car ride was silent.

When we pulled into her driveway, she simply got out of the car, shut the door and walked inside without so much as a glance back. I didn’t even have time to get my door open.

I had done her the ultimate disservice: I had acted like a macho jerk. I tried to impress her instead of get to know her. I had, for lack of a better term, been everything that she despised about men.

Until the phone call.

See, we went out on a Saturday night, so the next morning as I was sitting in my church choir, I felt a strong conviction that I needed to call Rachel and apologize. I didn’t hear one word of the sermon, the thought was so strong in my heart. And when service was over, I walked into my office and picked up the phone and dialed her number.

She answered. “Hello?”

“Hi Rachel, it’s Jason.”


“I just wanted to call and apologize for last night.” And apologize I did. Sincerely. I told her that I was wrong to talk as much as I did, that I was trying too hard to come across as cool and impressive, and that by doing so I betrayed her faith in agreeing to the date. I told her that, while a second date was obviously out of the question, I wanted to remain friends because she was an intelligent, Godly woman and I appreciated her insight.

More silence. Then…

“Thank you.”

It turns out God was telling her to be gentle with me because I was different. She listened, and now, 13 years after that date, we’re getting ready to celebrate 11 years of marriage.

Which is why I KNOW there is a God.

But I told this story to the kids in the CLC class and they laughed at my stupidity, awwwwwed at the way things turned out and in general seemed to appreciate the humor of the story. One of the guys even leaned forward and said, “You just gave me a buttload of hope.”

That’s when my student yelled out, “Oh – and she’s hot. Really hot.”

At which point I smiled and said, “Yes she is.”

I went on to tell them that before I ever met Rachel, way back in the day when I was just a dorky kid with no romantic prospects whatsoever, I sat down and wrote out a list of what I wanted my wife to be like. It had all of the normal shallow boy stuff (pretty, athletic, thin, cheerleader, blonde) and some of my personal quirks (smart, funny, kind, Southern) as well as some bizarre specifics too embarrassing to list. I didn’t keep the paper that the list was on, but as I grew up I kept the list in my head, adding and subtracting as time and maturity dictated.

When I met Rachel, every single item on the list was checked off. Every one.

In short, I married my dream woman. And have never regretted it.

My heart still beats fast when we have a date (and I try really hard not to talk too much). I still wake up amazed that she’s next to me. I look at our beautiful children and thank God she had the dominant genes.

And with Mother’s Day being this weekend, I am happy to be able to celebrate her, because she is an amazing mom, forgiving friend, and the best wife in the world.

You want proof?

For her celebration, we’re going out to eat and then seeing The Avengers.

A smokin’ hot ex-cheerleader with advanced degrees, a beautiful soul, and a small nerd streak she likes to exercise every once in a while?

Dream woman indeed.

Everything Old Is New Again

My Ella, the Dancing Queen.

Last Friday, I took my daughter to our first Daddy-Daughter Dance. I was nervous. She was hyper. We had to go buy toothpaste before we went.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was nervous because I wanted to make the evening memorable. I wanted to make sure that I set high standards for her, to ensure that future suitors would have a tough act to follow. To that end, I shaved. I wore a tie. I opened the doors for her. I bought her a corsage. We got our picture taken together thanks to Andrew Watson photography. And then we entered into the actual dance.

(Quick aside: while waiting to get our picture taken, I told Ella that Andrew Watson was the photographer that Rachel and I used for our wedding. Ella made a funny face and said, “He’s not dead yet?” I now know how old my daughter perceives me to be.)

But I was also nervous because my past history with dances is not good. I think I mentioned that at two of my high school homecoming dances I got ditched by my dates, and I never even made it to either prom. So there was a strange sense of deja vu escorting my daughter to a school-sanctioned dance. The only real ace that I had in my pocket was that no matter what happened, Ella had to come back to me at the end of the night. But even that was cold comfort.

I was really hoping that Ella would want to hold my hand, dance goofily with me, and just in general spend the whole evening at my side. I dreaded the idea that she might ditch me.

That’s exactly what she did.

We weren’t even five minutes in the door before the pulsing music called to her and she ran off to find some of her friends. My heart broke. Actually, my heart disintegrated in my chest and the ashes fell to my feet. My worst fear was realized as I watched a silky pink bundle bounce off to “Party Rock Anthem“. With nothing left to do, I naturally started looking around the room to see if everyone else was laughing at my shame. I shouldn’t have worried.

If you’ve never been to a Daddy-Daughter Dance then you won’t understand what I’m about to describe. If you have been, then you know it all too well: slumped dad syndrome. The walls of the gym were lined with chairs, and almost 90% of them were occupied by fathers who had been likewise ditched, their heads hanging low, their faces lit by the screen of their smart phones, their shoulders slumped as they lean awkwardly against the wall in chairs too small for their butts. There is no more solemn glow than the backlight of an iPhone; it highlights the true despondency of modern fatherhood in all of its ugly glory. The men sat there like victims of Medussa–silent, stoned faces hiding the internal scream at a clock that will not move fast enough.

And seeing all of this, taking in the fact that I wasn’t alone in my apparent ineptitude as a father, I felt better. In fact, I gained enough confidence to move farther out onto the dance floor in search of Ella.

The general rule is that good daddies are goofy, the kind of person who lets you dance like mad while joining in the insanity himself. And truly great daddies are goofy even in public. I think that goofiness is fueled by a love that we can barely comprehend, let alone harness; when it comes to our daughters and their happiness, there’s just not much we goofy daddies won’t do. So it was that I pressed into the mad throng of pre-teen girls, bobbing my head like one of the Butabi brothers and embracing my inner goofy. I was joined by other dads who had similarly decided to brave the Floor of Death (i.e., the dance floor) in an attempt to find their little girl and vie for her attention. Collectively we looked like drunk chickens pecking for food, but when an action is performed en masse, it takes some of the sting out of the humiliation.

When I finally found Ella, she was parked directly in front of the DJ, hands raised firmly in the air, eyes shut, her little body rocking with the rhythm of the music (C&C Music Factory, I believe). She was surrounded by her Kindergarten friends, and for a moment the scene reminded me of some of Rachel’s old sorority photos. When the music changed, the girls gathered together in a group just as a photographer happened by, and they instinctively linked arms, cocked their heads to one side, and smiled for the camera. At first I thought it was just a fluke in the moment, but every time a photographer walked by the girls would stop dancing and strike the exact same pose. And again, all I could think of were the countless pictures I’d seen from Rachel’s days as an Alpha Chi Omega and my own memories of sorority parties at UGA. Here, fourteen years before it could happen, I saw my daughter’s future written out.

I texted Rachel: “Ella is going to end up in a sorority.”

Though it took me a while, I finally convinced Ella to let me take her to the snack table for a piece of cake and some lemonade. It took her thirteen whole seconds to dump her cake on my shoes, and another fifteen seconds to eat the replacement piece I brought her. She gunned back some of her lemonade and then said something that really took me back to my past:

“Here, would you mind holding my drink while I dance?”

Ditched again. Only this time, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I felt a strange nostalgia come over me, as if somehow I were Marty McFly caught in the wrong time. Watching Ella navigate the dance floor, bouncing and laughing from friend to friend, finding her own space within the crowd and spinning herself silly to the music, I realized I was getting a preview of her young adult life. I was getting to see how she might be as a woman. And as a father, it brought tears to my eyes. It was beautiful. She was confident; she was friendly; she was at home in a group or by herself. But what I was most proud of was the fact that she possessed not one hint of mean girl; she danced with friends who were popular, friends who were hiding behind their daddy’s legs, friends who had tried to blend into a group only to be shut out by the dominant female.

Or as I texted Rachel: “You can definitely tell which of the girls have the Queen of Mean gene. It just flows out naturally.”

Ella seemed immune to that, seemed to only care that she and whichever friend might be in front of her at the time were having a blast. And to see that–to witness first hand just how special my daughter really is–well, it made every other observation pale in comparison. I stood there, alone, holding my daughter’s lemonade like a good little dork, my heart bursting with pride. And if the evening had ended right there, it would have been entirely worth it.

But it didn’t end there. The DJ announced two back-to-back horrible songs that were meant to be for “daddy-daughter dance time” (horrible in the sense that the slow songs he played weren’t exactly intended for daddy-daughter dancing) and Ella came and found me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the floor. I broke from her momentarily (to put down the lemonade), and then joined her.

And there, in the middle of 200 other daddy-daughter couples who were in their own little worlds, Ella and I danced. The fact that she didn’t want to dance to the beat of the music, but instead wanted to do West Coast Swing spins, and dips and under-leg sweeps just made it all the more memorable. And when she finally paused long enough to give my poor arms a rest, she nestled her little head next to my hip and wrapped her arms around my waist.

“I love you, daddy. You’re fun.”

My evening was complete. Ella’s was not; I had to drag her away from in front of the speakers, even after the DJ had announced it was time for everyone to go home. My daughter, it seems, loves the night life. She loves to boogie.

She got into the car a little pouty, but we managed to get home without me having to get ugly and ruining the mood. When we walked through the door she went straight to Rachel to give her all of the details and to show her the corsage and to just float around and enjoy the night that much longer. And when I put her to bed, she kissed me on the cheek and said she couldn’t wait to go dancing with me again. And I told her I that, despite my history, despite how nervous I was for the evening, I couldn’t wait to go with her again too.

That’s the magic of your kids: they can take everything old and make it new again. They can take those parts of your past that might still be a bit scarred and somehow smooth them over. They can take your heart and heal it.

If you’ll let them.

Still Crazy (About Her) After 10 Years…

My wife, the best woman I know.

So Rachel and I were sitting on the couch last night – well, I was sitting, she had her feet propped up on my lap for her nightly massage – and suddenly she sits up, looks at me and says: “Tomorrow is our tenth anniversary. I almost forgot.”

I laughed.

Because I had forgotten.

We’ve been hip-deep in VBS this week (and, honestly, that’s normal – in our 10 years of marriage, I think we’ve had VBS or some other church-related event going on for nine of our ten anniversaries) so between 200 kids, some crazy preschoolers, a mouse on the loose, and just general lunacy, we’re lucky we remembered we were even married to each other, let alone what day it actually happened.

And we celebrated in our usual, over-the-top manner: I bought her a smart-aleck card, a bottle of Diet Coke and some Peanut M&Ms. She bought me some cupcakes that her and the kids like. We go huge in the Brooks home, I tell ya.

But it’s been the best 10 years of my life. I could never imagine life with anyone else. Through deaths, surgeries, cancers, and multiple job changes, we managed to always find each other and stay sane. She’s been my rock, and I’ve been her comic relief. She’s taught me to stand up for myself and not take (much) crap from anyone. I’ve taught her that there’s no situation so dark that it can’t be a viciously funny joke. She’s taught me that with faith and sharp financial acumen, we can not only survive on one salary, but thrive. I’ve taught her that I shouldn’t even have a prepaid phone card.

I’ve told the story of our first date before, but I can’t remember if I’ve ever written it down. I’ll have to do that soon, but the short version is this: the date went so astoundingly well that Rachel didn’t speak at all the last 45 minutes. When I pulled up to her parent’s house in my car, she simply opened her door, got out, and walked inside. No “goodbye”, no “you suck”, no nothing.

She got out and all I saw was the slamming of her door. From inside my car. I never had time to even get out.

The next day, in the middle of church, feeling lower than a flounder’s colon, I felt the overwhelming conviction from God (and I say God because I emphatically know that it was Him and Him alone who spoke to me) to call Rachel as soon as church was over. I sat there for 45 uncomfortable minutes writhing in spiritual agony because I was almost certain that as soon as Rachel heard my voice on the phone, she would either slam the phone down so hard that it would send a shockwave through the phone line that would disembowel me, or she would do the verbal equivalent.

She did neither.

I called her, and when she heard my voice, she said one word. Not even a word, really. More like a noise. She made one noise: “Uhmmmmn.”

I apologized for the date. I apologized for being an ass. I apologized for wasting her time by being phony, instead of just being myself. I think I even apologized for Rico Suave, Ishtar, and the first Bush presidency while I was at it.

Finally, I wrapped it up. “I hope that we can at least be friends. And I sincerely mean that. I like you because you’re smart, funny, and interesting, and I’d hate to let my stupidity prevent us from being friends.”

For a few seconds, she said nothing. Those seconds passed slower and more painfully than a golf-ball sized kidney stone.

The she said, “Okay.”

It was the world’s greatest okay. The most benevolent okay I’ve ever heard, even to this day. Ten years later, I can still feel the grace infused into that one “Okay.” What I didn’t know at the time was that God was speaking to her, telling her to “Be Gentle. Be Gentle.” She was, and a love I never really thought possible blossomed and continues to right now.

It’s changed, of course, like all relationships do, but I still mean today what I told her not too terribly long after that horrible date.

I love her unconditionally. Even if she were to wake up tomorrow and decide that she no longer loved me, no longer wanted me in her life, I would go to my grave loving her. And now that we have children, and I know that kind of love runs even deeper and stronger, it’s still the same. She could hate me all she wants, but I could never love her less.

It’s that love, that inhuman capacity to care for another person (a capacity that comes only from God), that told me then and still tells me today that she is the only woman for me.

And 100 years from now, that love will not have changed.

Happy anniversary to you, Rachel. I love you.