Your mom and I started dating during grad school, with some help from Gonzaga basketball. She had graduated from the University of San Diego and, while she hadn’t followed their athletics in the years since graduating, she did strike up a friendly rivalry with me when she found out that I had gone to another WCC school. When the Zags ended up playing at USD that year, we decided to go down to the game together. We chose to make a weekend out of it since, at the time, her parents still lived in the home where she grew up in north San Diego County. The weekend was magical. We went to the beach. She took me to her favorite Mexican fast-food restaurant. I met her sister and her parents. I saw how much family mattered to her, and my attraction for her doubled. On the drive back to campus, further emboldened by the euphoria of a Zags win, I asked her out.
Almost a year to the date later, we decided to go back to USD for another Zags game. We had been talking about getting married, so I’m sure she had started to wonder if I would ask her the big question that weekend. My mom had given me the family engagement ring, which had taken care of the primary financial barrier to proposal. I had started to make plans for how the engagement would go. The jumbotron at the game? I figured your introvert mom would not like that much public attention. A fancy dinner proposal? Even with a free ring, money was too tight for that. What I started to fix on was the idea of a proposal at the beach, since your mom’s favorite place in the world was on the sand next to the roaring ocean. I also figured this would give me the opportunity to surprise her, since there didn’t need to be anything suspicious about going to the beach. Or so I thought.
A few days before the Zags game weekend, I called your mom’s dad, trying to complete what I saw as an outdated but still important step in the process. Your grandma answered the phone, and I could tell she knew what was coming when I asked to speak to your grandpa. Now, you have only ever known him as Poppy, the man who lets you play with his hearing aids and laughs with you about farts, which he calls “pongu-Janes” for some reason of which not even he is entirely sure. But at the time I did not know him too well, and I hadn’t seen the full extent of his gentleness and generosity. All I knew was that he had served in the Marines in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart after being hit with shrapnel from a landmine, and then later attended to the President at Camp David while working as a Naval Medical Corpsman. So, I was a little trepidatious to ask this man for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
I took a deep breath, then managed something along the lines of, “Hello, Greg, I was calling because I love your daughter very much, and I am planning to ask her to marry me. And I wanted to call you before I do that to ask for your permission.”
To which he responded, “Oh, I think you better ask her.”
I wasn’t sure if this was some Art of War mind game he was playing, or if he was genuinely unfamiliar with the ritual of asking a father’s permission. I tactfully tried my best to explain that I was planning to ask your mom, and of course the decision was totally up to her and I didn’t mean to imply that we were engaging in some sort of dowry negotiation but I just wanted him to know that I respected him and your Grammy and oh anyway look at the time I really hate to keep you all so late so I’ll let you know how everything goes. He was kind, though, and somehow conveyed sufficient information that I figured I had achieved an approval, or at least the absence of a disapproval.
I don’t recall what happened after that, but I must have talked to your Grammy and explained to her my plan to propose before the Gonzaga game. I know that I tried to convey that I was going to be very lowkey about the day to throw off any suspicions your mom might have had. I know at some point I told your Grammy that we would stop by their house first and after a little while I would suggest we leave early for the game so we could stop at the beach and put our feet in the water.
The day arrived at last. The first hiccup was the SoCal traffic. I remember it was particularly heavy that day, which was annoying, though not really too much of a problem because I had budgeted sufficient time to swing by the beach. I would just suggest that we leave your Grammy and Poppy’s house a little sooner than I had otherwise been planning. But when we arrived, your Grammy had other plans. She must have wanted to contribute to the sense of nonchalance, since she suggested that we go with her to the craft store at the local mall to pick out some fabric for a sewing project. “I think that we probably have time for that, don’t you?” your mom asked me. “Mmm-hmm. Yup. Definitely,” I said in my chillest of tones.
We went to the mall, and as your mom and Grammy leisurely shopped for fabrics, I nervously paced outside the store, checking the time on my phone and adding up the length of the commute, how long it would take to park, and how far the parking garage was from the gym.
Finally, the shopping trip concluded and we headed back to the house. “Hey, I was thinking maybe we could stop at the beach on the way to the game, you know, just to put our feet in the water and whatnot. So, maybe we should leave once we get back. I mean, if that’s something you’d be interested in doing. If not, whatever. I’m cool.” Your mom agreed that a beach stop would be nice.
We sat in more traffic before finally finding a suitable beach not too far from the USD campus. As is customary at SoCal beaches, we found the nearest parking spot about 2 miles away from the actual beach. We trekked down to the water and finally arrived, 30 minutes or so before tipoff. I started talking to your mom about how nice of a day it was, how great it was to be there with her, and how much I loved her. I finally looked over at her and saw she had tears running down both cheeks. I realized my hope of a surprise engagement had ended minutes or hours ago, if not days or weeks. I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She said yes. We walked a little further, hand in hand. Then I checked my phone and told your mom what time it was. We sprinted back to the car 2 miles away and sped off to the game.
That night, Erroll Knight made a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to give the Zags a win. I commented later, mostly in jest, that it was good the Zags won so they didn’t ruin the perfect day. After the game, your mom and I walked together through the beautiful USD campus. The Toreros loss had not diminished her smile at all, perhaps an early indication that she would later join me as a Zags fan.
The sun began to set on a mild January day in San Diego. Your mom asked me if I would like to sit on a bench outside the chapel. Like me, I think she was wanting to slow time to savor this moment. I said yes and so we sat there, her in a grey and blue Toreros sweatshirt and me in a red and navy Bulldogs tee. We kept squeezing each other’s hands and kissing, then talking about which of our friends or family we should call next to share the news.
After some time of sitting there, a man walked by and took notice of our shirts and our demeanor. “Now that’s true love,” he said.
And he was right.