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Before You Were Born
Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth.
BY JULIET LINDERMAN
This is the story of how my father, Bob, a skinny nerd with thick glasses and commitment issues, convinced my mother, Paula, who couldn't have been less interested, to marry him.
Dad, how did you and Mom meet?
D: It was May 23, 1973. I was running an errand for my then-girlfriend in Harvard Square.
How long had you been dating this girl?
D: That's a good question. You have to understand, my relationships with women were... far more casual then. We were, more or less, casual. But she was living with me.
What happened that day?
D: It was 2:30 in the afternoon. I was twenty-one years old. Walking down the street, I looked to my right, into the window of a restaurant called the Pewter Pot. Through the window I saw a former... it would be hard to call her a girlfriend... let's just say, a relationship of mine.
D: Fine, it was a hook-up. Anyway, I saw her having tea with a girl — your mom — and I was quite smitten. I walked in and I was immediately attracted to your mom. She was petite and blond and pretty, and obviously very intelligent. So I sat down, uninvited, and spent about an hour mooching cigarettes and talking, and trying to get her attention.
Wasn't it awkward to be sitting with your ex-girlfriend, trying to hit on her friend?
D: She wasn't my girlfriend! But yes, it was a little bit awkward.
M: I was having tea with my friend Rebecca. She looked up, obviously saw somebody she knew, and said something along the lines of, "Uh-oh, there's this guy I went out with, and I think he's coming in."
D: I'm sure she didn't say that.
M: Let's put it this way: She definitely didn't look up and start beckoning him to come in. She was more like, "Oh, there's Bob." But that didn't stop him. In he comes, and sits down. I think we did as much as we could without being overtly rude to encourage him to go on his way. We were cool. I don't mean cool like hip — I mean not all that warm. But he stayed.
What was your first impression of Dad? This guy wasn't even a prospect for you, right?
M: Oh God, no. He was the biggest dork I had ever seen. He was as tall as he is now, six feet, but he weighed probably 125 pounds.
Could you tell that Dad was flirting with you?
M: I had no idea.
Dad, did you try to get her phone number?
D: I did not. I walked out and I thought I had blown it. I didn't have much success with making a connection with your mom at that meeting, and I was kind of despondent. Still, I went home and told the girl I was living with that she had to move out. She asked why, and I said because I had met the woman I was going to marry.
Why did you take that risk?
D: Because it was the right thing to do. I was just smitten by the entire package. There are so many things that go into making up a very complicated relationship, and an enduring one, but I had a certainty. It took quite a while to convince your mom, but that certainty was real. I have never been one to talk about love casually. That's not my style at all. I'm very cautious about the concept of love.
How did you know you'd find Mom again?
D: I didn't have much doubt that I'd find her again for several reasons. First of all, I'm a fairly determined guy. Plus I knew Rebecca, so I thought I could track your mom through her. What I didn't anticipate was that Rebecca wasn't exactly going to be forthcoming with your mom's phone number. She wasn't that easy to get ahold of.
M: She just wasn't returning your calls.
D: So I was despairing.
How did you find her?
D: My senior year, I was doing my thesis, and Mom was doing a teaching internship and wound up having an office right below mine.
M: It turned out that our departments were in the same small building.
D: Almost the first day of school in our senior year, we ran into each other. September of 1973. I was thrilled! Mom was less thrilled.
At this point, after the whole summer had gone by, was she still on your mind?
D: Oh yeah! I spent the whole summer thinking about her. I remember seeing her in the entryway of the brownstone as I was on my way up to my office and I remember saying, "Paula!" but I didn't ask her out right then. Later though, I was very persistent in asking her out, and she was equally persistent in saying no. She didn't agree to go out with me until October, but even then I had things to do before we actually started dating.
What did you have to do?
D: I had to break her up with her boyfriend.
There was a boyfriend?!
M: Well, there was more than one. I had started going out with a guy from Brooklyn over the summer who I really liked, and I was also going out with a guy at the Harvard Business School. Your dad had been asking me out and I had said no over and over. I kept giving him excuses. Eventually, he invited me out on a proper date, as opposed to a college-kid type of date. He was on a full scholarship and work study, and he was driving a cab to pay for his education, and he invited me out to dinner.