Those 3 words were the first-ever words I spoke to Gail. The date: October 1989. The place: backstage at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre. The occasion: JN Burnett Junior Secondary School’s fall concert. As our respective choirs were getting ready to perform, I passed by this cute, unassuming girl on my way to the restroom. While hurriedly rushing to take care of business, I guess “Are you nervous” was the best and most relevant thing I could come up with!
This encounter started an 8-week courting period, culminating in me asking Gail to be girlfriend exactly 26 YEARS AGO TODAY. On Thursday, December 14, 1989, 2 lives changed forever in the hallowed halls of Burnett. That was the day a scrawny, immature, goofy-haired boy asked this beautiful, humble, quiet girl to go to that night’s school dance with him. Thankfully for both of them, she said yes. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s amazing to think it’s been 26 years already. Gail is still beautiful, while I am still immature. Gail is still humble, while I am certainly not scrawny. And I guess the jury is still out on my haircut.
I was 15 and in grade 10, and serving as the Student Council President. Gail was 14, in grade 9, and one of the “Classroom Reps” and thus, she attended biweekly meetings of the general Student Council that I led. In the few weeks leading up to Christmas, we held our annual Canned Food Drive and in my role as President, I would be in the school office every morning receiving cans from the Class Reps, who collected cans from their entire class. Gail would bring a can of food every single day, even if no one else in her class did, just so she could come down to the office to drop it off (and of course, see me in the process). Meanwhile, I (in my think-I’m-cool phase) didn’t really notice her.
So let me say it one more time just to be clear: she liked me first…haha.
It was the school musical “Lumberjacks and Weddingbelles” that ultimately brought us together. I was originally paired with my ex-girlfriend Elaine while my best bud Javier was paired up with Gail. Then, for whatever reason, the drama teacher decided to switch the pairings and have Gail and I go together. We hit it off quite well, although I thought she was a refugee from the Philippines. As the rehearsal days went on, I started to find myself becoming attracted to her, regardless of her citizenship status. Then, after one of our hoedown dances, the music stopped but Gail and I still held onto each other’s hand. A few people nearby started whispering and giggling. Gail asked why. I told her they were laughing at my haircut. Which may have been true actually.
On our first night as a couple I didn’t kiss Gail, rather I ended up getting kissed by another girl. Carrie, a fellow member of the Student Council, was running around with her own mistletoe. So while Gail and I were talking during my shift in the concession stand, Carrie ran up to me, held the mistletoe above my head, and planted a kiss firmly on my face…right in front of Gail! I don’t think Carrie knew that I had a new girlfriend…at least I hope she didn’t. I’m thankful Gail didn’t go Bruce Lee on Carrie’s behind!
This new couple seemed to be an odd-match at first. I was foul-mouthed, irreverent, and popular (at least I thought I was). Gail was the good Catholic girl, and associated with only a few close friends. I was the athlete, musician, and social butterfly (at least I thought I was) while Gail was the homebody who valued family time.
My parents welcomed Gail with open arms immediately…a fact my late Father referenced at our wedding in 2000 when he said that he and Mom were forever indebted to Gail for removing me from their house! Gail’s family was another story: her parents were slow to accept me while the brothers would make fun of me and try and steal money from my wallet when I visited. Even John shot a rock at my neck with a hockey stick. At least I was accepted by Gail’s cute 2-year-old baby sister with a mushroom haircut: Julie Ann.
Gail and I count our blessings when we consider the fact that she almost didn’t go to Burnett. She originally applied to go to LFA for grade 8, but there were no available spots. So the counselor (my Auntie Tomi) at Cook Elementary School suggested that she go to Burnett instead, where her husband George was the vice-principal. I’m thankful for Auntie Tomi’s convincing, otherwise Gail would likely have gone to Palmer…not that there’s anything wrong with that fine school…haha.
Gail and I also reflect on my conversion to Catholicism and her huge role in introducing me to Jesus Christ and His Church. Most people know the story already: how I would go to Mass with Gail and her family mostly for the free Chinese meal afterwards. How Gail patiently taught me a few prayers while I tried my best to behave during Mass while looking forward to the Sign of Peace (where I would become a handshaking machine, grabbing any loose limb I could find). How she sponsored me through RCIA the same year we both joined the brand new 9am choir (the pre-cursor to the 6:30pm Mass Choir). How I received the Sacraments of Initiation at Easter 1993 and went to World Youth Day in Denver as a 4-month-old Catholic. How Gail and I served on the original Core Team for Life Teen at St. Paul’s and how I took over from Richard Vetter as the Youth Ministry Coordinator in 1997. How I failed my CA exams and bounced around the worlds of accounting, human resources, and financial planning, all while serving in youth ministry. How I went to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002 asking God for guidance with respect to my career. And how I obtained the position of Director of the Youth Ministry Office for the Archdiocese of Vancouver just 3 months after returning from Toronto, a position I’ve held for the past 13 years.
Gail and I speak often as to whether or not I’d be a Catholic if I hadn’t met her. Back in the day, very few of my friends from high school and/or university were and are practicing Catholics. It’s hard to say for sure: I’d like to think that God would have eventually led me to faith. But who knows what church or denomination that would have been.
As Gail and I reflect on 26 years of good time and challenging times (way more good than bad), I realize more than ever how lucky I am. Gail was born to be a mother and wife: she is amazing with our kids and with me. She is patient, caring, wise, and she loves us unconditionally. I have no problem admitting she wears the pants in the family. She likely wears the shirt, socks, shoes, and underwear too (not that I don’t wear underwear…haha).
Yet she humbly stands behind me and supports me as I hog the spotlight, travel for work and for speaking, do talks at conferences and rallies, make cheesy Canucks and Seahawks parody songs, post videos on YouTube, tweet all about our lives, and update my Facebook status. She is the consummate encourager, advocate and cheerleader.
They say that behind every strong man is a stronger woman. Gail and I prove this to be true time and time again. After all, it takes a pretty strong person to live with and put up with me!
Thank you Gail. I’m grateful for you and thank God for placing you in my life. I love you very much!
Happy 26-year (dating) anniversary!