Ode to Black Love

To Marilyn and Garfield: 
Thanks for everything, 
Ashley Burton

On February 18, my parents celebrated 29 years of marriage.  That is a long time.  It’s longer than either of my parents had to spend with their fathers.  Together, they’ve been through seven presidential elections, the death of both of their mothers, birthed and raised two children through to adulthood, and have adopted and mentored many more.  My parents have been together for a long time.

I was sitting and thinking about how much of a feat it is to still be together and happy after that long.  Some people unfortunately will never experience that.  Truth is – I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever experience it.  Either way, there is so much that my parents’ marriage has taught me and I thought I’d reflect and pay homage to them.  

It is because of my parents’ marriage that I have such a strong passion for marriages and families today.  It is why I am working towards being a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Watching them as I grew up, I was able to know – and believe – that in time I could desire good things for myself, among which a great education, a good job, a lovely marriage, and a family of which I can be proud.  Though my life’s experiences have dimmed my views at times, I have always been able to look at my parents as a source of inspiration and I am so proud that I can say that.

From my Dad, I learned the value of a man and I learned how to know how to value a man.  My Dad is a strong man with strong words and opinions but he also has a strong heart and a strong love for his family.  There really is no such thing as half stepping with my Dad – if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right and we’re going to give it our all.  From my Mom, I learned how to carry myself as a woman and how to honor and respect a man.  I learned that what I think does not always have to come up but I also learned that I can still advocate for myself using wisdom.  Both of my parents are hard workers who apply that good ol’ Protestant work ethic to everything they touch.  So I guess it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that after all these many moons, the G. Burton’s are still tugging right along (I have to make clarifications these days since my younger brother is now married…lol).

I saw my Mom honor my Dad, even during the times when he could be brash and a bit quick with the words.  I saw my Dad love my Mom, even when she couldn’t or didn’t articulate what was going on within her.  My parents are a team and they won’t let anyone – much less themselves – forget that.  When my parents got married 29 years ago, they weren’t making much money.  My Dad was a school teacher and my Mom was a federal worker who was trying to work her way up.  They have built their lives together.  They have struggled together, they have struggled with each other, they have struggled to allow love to preempt emotion in those low times and as a result, they have found themselves where they are today.

Many days I have questioned what my parents did and why they did those things.  And I have, imperfectly, tried to emulate the lessons I have seen and been taught.  Sometimes, I internalized the aspects that I could not see about their relationship and idealized their happiness as one that comes easily.  Though I know my parents and their relationship aren’t perfect, I still managed to expect fairytales.  But as I’ve grown and I’ve experienced things, I have learned that the only thing fairytale-ish about their relationship is the stubborn hope of trying and trying until things get right.  Over the years my parents have had many ups and downs; they have hurt each other and have had moments where I’m sure doubt could have truly crept in and done some serious damage.  But they refused to give up – and that’s fairytale enough for me.

I appreciate what my parents have given to me by way of example and by way of attitude.  I come from a line of hard workers and fighters and I gladly walk in that heritage.  Though I have my days of intense preoccupation of what may or may not happen down the line for me, my ultimate hope is that the audacity to love – myself and someone else, should the Lord will it – will be as strong as theirs.  But it seems to me that I have no other choice and that’s the one area of my life that I’m actually OK with things being that way.



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