Friday, February 14, 2014

A Quiet Celebration of Love

On Valentine's day, we often think of love stories  -- our own and those of others who inspire us with their loving resilience.

Today, my thoughts are with two recently married couples a generation -- and a world -- apart in their experiences.

I got news of both marriages by email and Facebook -- a 21st century way to spread joyous news and wedding photos.

The most recently married is the couple with the longest relationship: Chuck Wibbelsman and David Hyman have shared their lives for 35 years.  They have had joyous times, fun times traveling and darker times when illness intervened or when home remodeling challenged their patience and sanity. They've been loving and supportive of each other through the years as Chuck's career as a doctor thrived and as David made a successful career shift from marketing to real estate.

In the early years, their relationship was private, almost secret, due to families slow to accept their sexual orientation and to public sentiments at the time. Chuck, especially, kept his private life quiet as he built his career as a nationally known adolescent medicine specialist/pediatrician.

Chuck had grown up in a strongly religious Catholic family in Cincinnati and went to Catholic schools through college. He worried quietly about his attraction to men, but quickly dismissed such feelings with the rationalization that he just hadn't met the right woman yet. He married right after his graduation from medical school but the marriage, arranged in haste and coinciding with Chuck's long hours as a medical intern, ended after less than a year.

Chuck and I met several years later -- forty years ago -- and shared love, many good times and a dream to build a future together, professionally and personally. The professional part of the dream came true with a classic, best-selling book (The Teenage Body Book) and several other books on which we collaborated over the years. But our romantic relationship ended when Chuck realized, at age thirty, that he was, indeed, gay. I was shocked and heartbroken when he moved to San Francisco with a man he had met while we were still a couple. But we continued our work together and when I married Bob, Chuck was there at our wedding, wishing us the best.

And we wished him the best when he met David two years later. David, too, had come from conservative roots. He was the only child of Jewish parents in upstate New York, growing up burdened with many expectations. He had a loving relationship with his mother, who died of cancer when he was 18, and a somewhat more difficult relationship with his father who loved him dearly, yet struggled to understand and accept who David was. A quiet man with exquisite manners and taste, David proved the perfect partner for the ebullient, outgoing Chuck.

David Hyman (l) and Chuck Wibbelsman (r)
And yet, as the years went by, marriage never seemed a possibility. They were faithful to each other and loyal  -- as any loving couple would be. And, until recently, they seemed resigned to having a relationship that would be mutually cherished, but never recognized legally.

When I was talking with Chuck two years ago, telling him about the wonderful wedding my friend Tim's son, actor Stephen Schellhardt and his spouse, actor Devin DeSantis, had just celebrated in New York, he looked wistful. The wedding, with just close friends and family, was both intimate and elegant. Their dear friend Jessie Mueller, now starring with great acclaim in Broadway's "Beautiful", sang at their ceremony. And Stephen's dad Tim wept with joy as he gave a toast.

Stephen (l) with Devin as Tim toasts them with love and tears

It made me remember the time when Stephen officially came out to his family when he was 14 and his family embraced him with love and acceptance. At the time, Tim told me that two thoughts had occurred simultaneously when he heard Stephen's news. His first thought was "Oh, please don't anyone hurt him!" quickly followed by "I hope he finds someone wonderful to love." And now that Stephen and Devin had found each other, their families celebrated with love and joyful tears.

Chuck had tears in his eyes as he listened. "What a different time this is," he said quietly. "What a whole different experience those two have had -- coming out and being accepted by their families right away and having this wonderful wedding with their parents there, celebrating with them. I'm so happy for them...."

It is, indeed, a different kind of love story for these two younger men. Stephen and Devin came out at a much younger age. They had the support of friends and family members as their relationship grew in the years before their marriage. Their lives and successes are much more public as their acting and singing careers flourish.

They recently serenaded Broadway legend Audra McDonald at a theatre community tribute to her.

Stephen Schellhart (l), Audra McDonald, Devin DeSantis
And currently, they're both enjoying star turns in musical revivals at major theaters in Chicago: Stephen starring as The Master of Ceremonies/Emcee of "Cabaret" at the Marriott Theatre and Devin starring as Dr. Frankenstein in "Young Frankenstein" at the Drury Lane Theater.

Stephen as the Emcee in "Cabaret" at the Marriott Theater
Devin (r) as Dr. Frankenstein in "Young Frankenstein" at the Drury Lane Theater

Recently, as both have garnered fantastic reviews in their respective shows, The Chicago Tribune spotlighted their loving and solid relationship in an article about them being each other's leading men.


This would have been unthinkable back in the day when secrecy, double lives and fear of exposure prevailed.

But times have been changing for quite some time, even for couples whose relationships were shrouded in secrecy during their younger years.

When Chuck recently was lauded for his work as a physician at Kaiser Permanente, the organization recognized David as his life partner and included him in the tribute. It was, at once, a small gesture of respect -- and a huge step forward.

And yet older couples, people whose lives have been lived well, but largely out of the public spotlight, quite often still feel most comfortable with quiet, private celebrations.

When gay marriage was once again legal in California, Chuck and David thought "Why not?" At this point in their lives, they wanted their wedding to be a quiet thing, a private commitment, in tune with the quiet, but profound love that has blessed their lives for over three decades. So one Tuesday last month, they met at City Hall in San Francisco and, in a ceremony witnessed only by one of Chuck's co-workers,  a favorite fellow physician, they were married -- announcing the event afterwards to friends and family.

Chuck, witness Alison Niederer and David on their wedding day
It was quiet. It was huge. It was a long-time coming. After 35 years together, it was an incredibly sweet moment -- and victory -- for a loving, devoted couple.

Happy Valentine's Day to all couples whose mutual devotion has kept love alive for all the days and years of their relationships.

And special good wishes to Chuck and David, Stephen and Devin for showing us that it isn't the gender of the person one loves that matters as much as the fact that one is willing and able to share a lifetime of love with another.


  1. So true about LOVE. Love is LOVE ---no matter who it is... Glad your friends have found such great relationships that have lasted for many years..

    Happy Valentine's Day.

  2. I don't know what I like most about you, your innate wisdom, or your ability to tell a story. Both, I appreciate immensely.

  3. What wonderful Valentine's Day stories!

  4. Kathy, this post really does bring tears to my eyes. It reminds me of several couples I know who are waiting for marriage to become legal in Michigan. Some have gone elsewhere and done it; some want to do it here, where they are. Either way, the time is coming. Everyone deserves the right to have the life they want with the one they love. Your post is a testimony to that right and to the joy that it brings. Beautiful in every way.

  5. Dear Kathy, your last sentence needs to go in a book of quotations that would grace the bookshelf of every house in the world. Peace. Thank you for writing this inspiring paean to love. Peace.

  6. My goodness, how times have changed. For the better.
    One day all prejudice will disappear and we can all live in harmony whoever we are.

    I think. I hope.

  7. I'm sorry I'm so late. We've been out of town and I've been playing catch up. Your always well written posts put such a warm spotlight on people! I love, love that you have kept up such a good relationship with Chuck after all these years. What the world needs now, is love, sweet love...

  8. Wonderful.
    Like Friko said "One day all prejudice will disappear and we can all live in harmony whoever we are"

  9. Kathy, I'm another for whom this wonderful posts brought tears to the eyes. There has been such a profound transformation of attitude in my lifetime, though there's still a long way to go in some countries. As equal marriage comes into effect in Britain, same -sex relationships are becoming illegal and punishable by imprisonment in others such as Uganda. Sigh....

  10. Beautiful - so glad your friends have tied the knot. It's sad they had to wait so long, but good that things are changing.