“Now the parking lot is empty. Everyone’s gone someplace.
I pick you up and in the trunk I’ve packed a cooler and two day suitcase.
There’s a place that we like to drive, way out in the country.
A mile out of the city limits we’re singing and your hand’s upon my knee…”
Today is my 25th wedding anniversary. I have been stuck for months trying to figure out what to give Mary that would be as special as everything she has given to me over the past 2 ½ decades. Glamorous travel? Nah. We are both homebodies; the highlight of our week is our Saturday and Sunday morning breakfast outings at Mel’s diner. Expensive jewelry? Nope. Besides her wedding ring, the only jewelry Mary wears is the pendant-shaped Equity Risk logo I gave her last year after we sold the company. So, I am stuck.
“You know the things that I am afraid of
I’m not afraid to tell
And if we ever leave a legacy it’s that we
Loved each other well…”
What do you give the person you fell in love with before you ever even saw her face? That’s right. Mary and I both worked for CIGNA in the 1990s – her in San Francisco and me in Philadelphia. She was a senior underwriter. I was the home office financial analyst. We talked every day on work-related subjects. Slowly, the conversations evolved into more personal topics. Soon, we were talking after hours. Given the time difference, I used to wait until after Mary had put Keaton to bed (he was three at the time) before we could talk. Some nights, it was midnight in Philadelphia before we connected.
What do you give the person you fell even more in love with when you finally did see her face? June 1990. About seven months after we started our phone friendship, I came to San Francisco for a training session. I get anxious even now remembering how I was feeling waiting for all of the SF employees to filter into the conference room. I stood at the head of the table. I knew it was her as soon as she walked in and took the third seat from the end on the left side. To this day, I cannot recall one thing that I said in that meeting.
“Cause I’ve seen the shadows of so many people
Trying on the treasures of youth
But a road that’s fancy and fast ends in a fatal crash
And I’m glad we got off to tell you the truth…”
What do you give the person who embodies this universal phrase? “You will know when you find the right person.” Shortly after our first date, January 25th 1991 (and, yes, we celebrate the anniversary of our first date every year), my head was spinning. Mary was the first woman I had dated. Prior to that, my only experience was the girls I dated in college. Being a single mom, she had a worldliness that I had never encountered before. She took life in stride. While my head was spinning, her advice was “Now, don’t go wigging out on me.”
What do you give the person who lived this saying? “If you love something, set it free.” If we were to be together, one of us had to relocate. Mary had joint custody of Keaton and the agreement prohibited her from moving more than three hours away or she would forfeit custody. I was on a corporate fast track in CIGNA’s home office in Philadelphia. My family and friends were located in NJ and PA. Moreover, as I have recounted previously, my father thought relocating and getting married would be the biggest mistake of my life. I had never gone against my father’s wishes. Mary and I spent the July 4, 1991 weekend at a bed and breakfast in Carmel, CA. I arrived on my flight from Philadelphia with the engagement ring in my pocket. I departed back to Philadelphia after the weekend with the ring still in my pocket. Mary could not ask me to give up everything I had to come to San Francisco full time.
“All the shiny little trinkets of temptation
Something new instead of something old
All you gotta do is scratch beneath the surface
And it’s fool’s gold
What do you give the person who actually acted surprised as I drove around Door County, WI on that night in August 1991 – after our romantic dinner – trying to find the perfect place to propose? My life changed when she accepted my proposal, that “I would be honored and blessed” if she and Keaton became “part of my life forever.”
What do you give the person who lets you ease into becoming an instant father and who immediately steps into your family? She helped me learn how to be a Dad. She comforted me during the inevitable “you’re not my real Dad” outbursts (very rare, I might add). My Mom and Dad became her Mom and Dad. She was right there – in a “back up” role – as my sisters cared for my parents as each declined in health. Never once did she say, or act, as if they weren’t her own parents.
What do you give the person who gives you the single greatest miracle known to humanity? Matthew was born on March 18, 1993. I have always told people I have two sons. It is what I believe. The only difference is that I only got to witness one miracle. You can sign me up for that outcome 100% of the time.
“Now we’re talking about a difficult thing and
Your eyes are getting wet
I took us for better and I took us for worse
Don’t you ever forget it…”
What do you give the person that put her career on hold to become a full time Mom and allow your own career to skyrocket? Never, in 25 years, was there a word of frustration over the missed meal, the late flight, the early hours. Always, in 25 years, has there been a welcome ear and an unshakeable support. To this day, I cannot go to sleep at night without “downloading my day” to Mary. I have prided myself over the years on my ability to attract and align myself with world class talent. They have all had an extraordinary impact on my career. But, my single greatest business advisor? Mary.
“The steel bars between me and a promise
Suddenly bend with ease
The closer I’m bound in love to you
The closer I am to free…”
What do you give the person who encouraged you to take the single most audacious risk of your business career without any consideration to how it would impact her? On October 31, 2000, as Mary and I sat at Primo’s Pizzeria in Danville, CA, I told her I was leaning heavily toward my desire to start a new company called Equity Risk Partners. But, in order to get the start-up capital, I would need all of our savings, as well as a 2ndand 3rd mortgage on our house. I carefully explained to Mary that, if the business did not work out (as the overwhelming majority of new businesses do not), we would likely lose our house. Her reply: “I did not marry you for the house. If it doesn’t work, we’ll move into a condo just like when we started out and we’ll build it up all over again. Just go do this, so that you don’t have any regrets later in life.”
“Cause we’re okay
Baby, I’m here to stop your crying
Chase all the ghosts from your head
I’m stronger than the monster beneath your bed
Smarter than the tricks played on your heart
We’ll look at them together then we’ll take them apart…”
I have listened to this Indigo Girls song 1000 times since I included it in a video card for Mary’s 50th birthday. The song just so encapsulates everything about our life together. It’s funny, though. Every time I have heard the refrain, I always assumed I was the hero of Mary’s life – that I was the one chasing the monsters away. After all these years, I finally realized, it was her protecting me.
I always say that the two best decisions I made in my life were the two times I followed my heart instead of my head. One was the decision to bet it all on Equity Risk. The other was to bet it all on Mary.
“Adding up the total of a love that’s true
Multiply life by the Power Of Two.”
So, what do you give the single most spectacular achievement of your life to recognize all she has done for you? It just dawned on me.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.