I met my husband in the early ’90s. Our meeting was a great sports story. He was a married sportswriter, and he called me from a Final Four (that he was just attending, not covering) because he had been shifted to the Features Department briefly and was working on a piece about fantasy baseball leagues. I happened to be the commissioner of the Manuel’s League, which included a number of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporters. He figured it would be easy, but, knowing he couldn’t actually quote anyone from the paper, he called me. During the interview, he asked me how it was being the female commissioner of a fantasy league. I told him I liked to tell people I drafted my team based on cuteness. But, I noted, I had Chris Sabo (a rather homely Reds third baseman) on my team, so, clearly that was a joke. When the article came out, it quoted me thusly, “Janet Ward, the Marge Schott of the Manuel’s League, drafts her team based on cuteness.”
I was, to say the least, frosted.
A week or so later, I was sitting at Manuel’s Tavern, the home of the Manuel’s League, watching the Braves, who had opened on the road, when a fantasy league friend of mine left to attend to some personal (bathroom) business, and came back to tell me, “Hey, Jack Wilkinson is sitting at the end of the bar.”
This was about the eighth inning, and I had been drinking since before the first inning, so I just pulled myself together and went to find [my future husband] at the end of the bar and said, “Are you Jack Wilkinson? How could you write that about me? Why didn’t you call me the Joan Kroc of the Manuel’s League?”
Well, he said, “Sorry if I offended you, but I was writing for a Features audience, not a sports audience, and I figured they would know Marge Schott better than they would know Joan Kroc.” He did apologize for the “cuteness” thing.
Anyway, time went on, and I met him another time at a different bar where a bunch of us had gone to watch the World Cup (yes, I know how bizarre this all sounds). By this time, I was divorced and his marriage was on the ropes. And, somehow, we just clicked. There’s some other sports stuff, including the Tour de France, in between, but, basically, we got together.
When I inherited him, I also inherited a large, unusual family. He and his first wife had two daughters, 3 and 5, and she was dating a jerk. She had reservations about me from the get-go, but they didn’t last, mostly because I told Jack that I was not interested in having children, and if he was interested in marrying me, he was going to have to get a vasectomy. Which he did. And which, I think she appreciated, knowing that I loved her kids and was not going to be interested in replacing them with one of my own.
So we became friends.
The girls would spend half the week with us and half with my husband’s ex. I learned to cook the foods they liked and tried very hard to make them feel at home when they were with us. I picked them up from her house after I got off work and drove them to school in the mornings.
Then the ex met a great guy. We all loved him. And he had two boys that we also loved. There were ups and downs. My husband’s oldest daughter spent a bit of time hating my guts. The boyfriend’s youngest son spent a bit of time hating the ex’s guts.
But we worked it out eventually. All birthdays, all Christmases, all Thanksgivings would include all of us — me, my husband, his ex, their two girls, her boyfriend and his two boys.
Then, one night I was sitting on my back porch having a beer when I got a call from the ex’s boyfriend. He was “in the neighborhood” and wanted to know if he could stop by. It was unusual, but I said, of course.
And he told me that he and the ex were breaking up because he was trans-gender. He loved to dress in women’s clothes, and he had always felt like he was female, and it had become just too much for the ex. He was sad, but he seemed sure of what he wanted. I assured him that it made no difference to me, and I would always consider him a friend. When my husband got back from a Braves game that he was working, I told him, and he said the same thing.
The ex met a wonderful guy online. He is divorced and has a 7-year-old daughter adopted from China. Our girls loved him immediately, as did my husband and I, and the ex-boyfriend.
So now, the family has enlarged to include me, my husband, his ex, her new boyfriend (whom she will marry soon), her ex, our two girls, the ex’s two boys and the new boyfriend’s daughter.
The ex-boyfriend has surgery scheduled soon in Colorado, surgery that will let her be what she was born to be. For the past year, he has looked like a she. And she gently corrected me when we were all at dinner for our youngest daughter’s 23rd birthday and I accidently referred to her as “he” to the waitress. It’s all a work in progress, but we are doing fine. Her boys are totally accepting, as is his ex (my husband’s ex), her new love and our girls.
It wasn’t easy. Her parents are well-off and were pretty much stunned by her admission. But I think they have come around.
My husband’s ex had her moments, too, but she has embraced her ex as a new “girlfriend.”
Meanwhile, our family is one big happy, loving group of people. We love each other, and we support each other in everything. My husband’s ex’s new love has had numerous health issues, and we are all concerned and supportive. He is a remarkable man, and we are all so happy that she found him.
Meanwhile, the kids are doing swell, one of our daughters is a Rhodes Scholar bent on saving the world from climate change, one is a gorgeous and funny 6’1″ part-time model and college student, and the boys are remarkably successful and fun.
And today, as I write this, is the ex’s birthday. She is an amazing mother and friend. And it is largely because of her that all this worked.
I love them all.