A crowded bar. The man is sitting beside me. He’s wearing a tuxedo. Which is a little weird. It’s not every day you see a guy in a tux on the Fourth of July.

The place is crowded. Everyone is getting their patriotic beer. It’s elbow-to-elbow in this joint.

“I’m wearing a tux because I’m going to surprise my girlfriend,” the man says. “I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

“You need a tux to do that?”

“What. You think it’s a little overboard?”

I jingle the change in my pockets. “No.”

He’s no spring chicken. I’d guess he’s in his mid-50s. Maybe older.

“I’m 43,” he explains. “But I’ve got kids.”

He’s been dating his girlfriend since last year. Their story is unconventional. They met on a trip to Texas on a Greyhound bus. He was traveling to attend the funeral of his former father-in-law. He was bringing both his daughters with him—ages 5 and 9.

They were all on the bus. His 5-year-old was struggling in the bathroom, trying not to pee on her dress. She kept calling from the commode for her daddy to help her. The woman seated in the row outside the bathroom asked if he needed help.

“No,” he told the strange woman. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”

He is once divorced. His ex-wife decided she didn’t want to be a mother about six years into their marriage. She just walked out. One day she was there. The next day, all her clothes were gone.

“I was instantly a single dad.”

The woman on the bus listened to his story. Which was this: He was going to a funeral to see a lot of people whom he didn’t want to see because it was the right thing to do. She offered to be his plus-one. For moral support.

So that’s what happened. The man and his two daughters and one stranger from the bus went to the funeral. They paid their respects. Then they went out for pizza.

“It sounds like a plot from a Hallmark movie,” he says. “But that’s how it all happened.”

She was natural with his girls, the man adds. “It was like she fit into our family from Day One.”

They started dating. She lives near Talladega. He lives in Birmingham. Most of their dates have involved shrieking kids. But the girlfriend has never seemed to mind. In fact, she seemed to thrive on the energy. They hang out a lot and rarely spend time apart.

They have even taken trips together. A few weeks ago, they went to the Grand Canyon. They traveled by car. It was a huge expense in gas money and a long, cramped ride. But it was great.

“We slept in separate hotel rooms,” he says. “I didn’t want my girls seeing us in the same room, thinking that it was cool to… You know.”

Sometimes his girlfriend surprises him by sneaking into his house before he gets off work and cooking supper for his family. Occasionally, he shows up at her place of work and delivers candy and flowers anonymously.

He’s right. This does sound like a Hallmark movie. A cheap one.

“It’s just nice to have someone who cares about my family,” he says.

A few months ago, his daughters’ school had Grandparents Day. Sadly, his parents live in Canada, and they couldn’t visit. So he told his girls they would just have to make the best of it.

But on Grandparents Day, his girlfriend showed up to school unannounced. She sat with his girls. She did all the things the grandparents were doing so that his kids wouldn’t feel left out.

“She didn’t have to do that,” he says.

And when his oldest daughter had recent health problems, it was his girlfriend who stayed at his daughter’s bedside for 72 hours in the hospital while he held down a full-time job.

The man is weepy as he tells his story. Or, perhaps, it could be the beer.

And so it is, tonight, while you’re watching fireworks, a man named Chad is going to get down on one knee before his best girl. He is going to present a woman named Susan with a simple silver band. No diamonds, no gold, because he can’t afford them.

“I’m going to say, ‘Susan, you’re my everything; will you do me the honor of growing old with me?’”

He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Put out some good vibes for me, man, will you?”


Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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