by Bruce A. Gardner
Bruce Gardner is President of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona. By all of societys measuring sticks he is today in every way a successa leader in his community and his church, a senior attorney with a major corporation, a member of the citizens advisory council in his city, a scout troop official, a real estate owner. Just the kind of man you hope your daughter will find and marry. You do, that is, until you learn that he is also blind. Then what? Or what if the gentleman in question has not yet accomplished these things but offers only his high hopes for such a bright future? What do you tell your daughter and her young man? Do you tell them that they will have to make other arrangements?
These are the questions Bruce faced when be sought to marry Becca. Here is how he tells the story:
A girl I dated a time or two in college, after I began using my white cane, asked me to Sunday dinner and church afterward. As we left her apartment to walk to church, she turned to me and said, "Why dont you just leave your cane here. You wont need it at church because you will be with me the whole time." Although she was a nice young lady and I could tell that she quite liked me, I felt like saying, "Why dont I just leave YOU here." She had now confirmed what I had suspectedthat she was embarrassed to be seen with my cane. She was not comfortable having others know that she was dating a blind man.
I decided to do both. I left the cane behind when we went to church for her sake. Then, for my sake, I left her behind when we got back.
Shortly thereafter I met Becca, and we hit it off immediately. She was very comfortable and at ease being seen in public, going places and doing things with a blind date. However, unlike so many others I had dated, Becca did not try to deny that my blindness could have an effect on our relationship. In fact soon after we started going together she told me that she did not want to get serious until she knew whether she could deal with my blindness. That was refreshing!
About a year earlier I had learned of the National Federation of the Blind, and I was finally beginning to deal with my blindness and come to know in my heart that it is respectable to be blind.
Becca was getting ready to leave on a two-week vacation, so I asked her to read a couple of articles while she was gone. I explained that the articles had been written by Kenneth Jernigan when he was President of the National Federation of the Blind and that they expressed how I felt about my blindness. She agreed to read them and when she returned from vacation, her ability to accept and deal with my blindness was no longer a concern to her. Within a few weeks Becca and I were engaged.
Beccas mother happened to be coming to Utah and planned to stop to see Becca, so we took that opportunity for me to meet Beccas mother and announce our engagement. She seemed happy for us, but she made a few troublesome comments like, "Dont worry Becca, I wont say a thing to your father."
A day or two later I met Becca on campus after finishing my shift as the supervisor of one of the breakfast crews at the dorm cafeteria. I asked Becca what her mother had meant. Becca said that her father was a little old-fashioned and that perhaps I should ask him for her hand in marriage. So I said, "I know where the pay phone is; Ill give him a call." Still I could tell there was something more to it. We were going to school in Provo, Utah, and Beccas parents lived in California. Even so, apparently her father had heard that she was dating a blind man.
When I made the call it was still early in the morning. Beccas father (a physician) was just getting into his car to go to his office, which was at the hospital. When he came to the phone I said, "Dr. Loeb, you do not know me, but my name is Bruce Gardner, and I have been dating your daughter Becca. I am asking your permission for her hand in marriage."
It would be an understatement to say that his response was less than I had hoped for. He said, "I do not give permission to marry my daughter to just anyone, and to me you are just anyone. You will have to make other arrangements." He then hung up the phone. I had the distinct impression that what he meant by "make other arrangements" was "go marry someone else."
When I hung up the phone, Becca asked me what had happened. In answer I said, "Get the phone book. I need to call the airlines; we are going to visit your parents." Those were the "other arrangements" I chose to make.
The earliest flight we could get was late the next day, which was a Friday. That gave us time to call Beccas mother to arrange for me to have an interview with Dr. Loeb at his office Saturday morning, and to relay to him, at his request, all the medical details I could provide about my blindness.
Of course I was scared. What was I to do? What could I say to this pediatric cardiologist that would alleviate his concerns about his daughters marrying a blind man?.
On Saturday morning when Becca and I arrived at her fathers office, we learned that Becca was to have an interview first.
Only a few months earlier Becca had graduated from college and begun work as a registered nurse. Her father was concerned that Becca did not really love this blind but only felt sorry for him and wanted to take care of him as she had done so many times before with stray or hurt animals and birds.
When it was my turn to be interviewed, I discussed with Dr. Loeb the medical aspects of my blindness, and he told me the results of his hasty research and conversations with the ophthalmologists he worked with at the hospital. We then discussed my plans to finish college and attend law school.
I also explained to Beccas father what my philosophy was regarding my blindness and asked him to read two articles written by Kenneth Jernigan, which would explain how I felt. They were, of course, the same articles I had earlier shared with Becca: "BlindnessHandicap or Characteristic" and "Blindness: Of Visions and Vultures." Of course there was a lot of other NFB literature I could have given him, but these two articles summarized the issues well and had helped Becca work through her concerns, so I used them again.
After my interview, Becca and I went to lunch with her parents and then accompanied them on their Saturday afternoon grocery shopping expedition, which was a weekly tradition. Although I was staying at their home in the guest room, nothing more was said either about my blindness or my engagement to Becca.
The next morning, which was Sunday, Becca and I were preparing to go to church. At the breakfast table Beccas mother turned to her father and said, "Becca and Bruce are going to church, and she wants to wear her engagement ring. So, have you made up your mind yet?"
With that her father turned to me, cleared his throat and said, "Did you have something you wanted to ask me?"
I just about fell off my chair. I muttered some lame apology for the awkward way I had asked the first time and then formally requested Dr. Loebs permission to marry his daughter. He got a tear in his eye and a lump in his throat as he gave me his permission. He then excused himself and left for work at the hospital.
That was all there was to it. It was clear that he had read the articles I had given him and that he was impressed with the attitude I conveyed regarding my blindness.
I have since made good on my plans to finish college and law school, and for the past fourteen years I have been successfully practicing law. Becca and I now have six bright, healthy, happy children, three of whom are teen-agers. Since that interview Beccas father, I have grown extremely close to her parents, and my blindness has not been an issue of concern for either Becca or her parents.
I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for helping me learn the truth about blindness and enabling me to share that truth with my wife and in-laws.