Back Story – Teens Raised by a Single Father

While getting to acquainted online, I learned from Duane’s profile that he had three children – teenagers!  My own children had friends who were expert in the art of sabatoge. One young lady ruined the girlfriend’s laundry and keyed her car, among other devious acts designed to break up her dad’s budding relationship.

Duane was raising his son and daughters and seemed like a great dad, but I really had no idea what his children would be like. I only had my second-hand experience and imagination as a guide. Then he sent me this picture, with his commentary found on page 61 of our book.

teen glamor pannellbytes

“Do these kids look too good to belong to a guy like me or what? Don’t let their good looks fool you; they’re quite rotten. I have promised them that because of their evil ways I’ll marry a wicked stepmother. You don’t know any wicked, single women I could *hook up with that happen to be LDS, do ya?” 

When I met Emily, Mallory and JR, I got to know another wonderful thing about their dad. They were bright and funny and happy, not at all like the teen terrors we hear about all too often. And they welcomed me into their lives without reservation.

As a step-mother who never had occasion to help raise them, I have the deepest respect for Duane and the wonderful job he did as a single father. It’s amazing to me even today, that not one of those teens was ever disrespectful or unkind to me in any way. As adults, they are still really cool, fun and incredibly caring and thoughtful. All step-parents should be so lucky.

After a stint in the Air Force and some time in Utah, JR is back in Virginia, working and being a devoted dad. Mallory is in Kansas, married to a helicopter pilot and makes being a stay at home mom to two little boys look easy. Emily graduated from college with two degrees and lives and works in Washington state with her husband and their golden lab.

*Hooking up back then did not mean what it means today!!

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story



A Remarkable Life Do-Over

There was no doubt my life had taken an unexpected detour when I looked at the two books lying on my night table.  The Wisdom of Menopause by Christianne Northrup and What to Expect: The Toddler Years by Heidi Murkoff were unlikely companions, but a perfect illustration of my life nine years ago.

I was newly married for the second time and 41 years old when I got the news.  I was pregnant.  I WAS PREGNANT?!  I thought all my eggs were dinosaur eggs.  I was wrong!  After my sister talked me down from the ledge, pointing out that nobody was sick or had died and reassuring me that this was good news  I was able to embrace this unexpected, yet distantly familiar experience.  The tiny source of my world being turned upside down’s next oldest sibling was thirteen.

I do believe most people thought I was crazy, but politely kept that to themselves as I continued my work at a small hospital in rural Alberta.  My grandmother was keenly interested in the fact that I was pregnant again and confided in her soft, low voice that I was the same age she was when she had her last baby.  My own mother  (and my husband’s biggest fan) was actually giddy.  My dear husband was thrilled enough for the both of us.  I confess I had my misgivings about the prospect of starting all over.

As I began to resemble the watermelons I was compelled to devour in copious amounts at all times of the day or night, the overwhelming nausea subsided and we prepared for a baby.  Our future was uncertain, as plans to move to southern Alberta turned into a move to the United States.  For three months after our precious little boy was born, we even lived  in my mother’s basement until our relocation south of the border.

 We laughed about it then and marvel now, how at our age, we were treated to a rare and remarkable do-over.  We were making our way with not much more than love and experience.  We were newlyweds with a baby, changing our boy on my mom’s ironing board in the basement hallway and starting over with very little in the way of material things.  Oh, and we were in our 40s. As one of my friends so aptly put it, “…having our own grandchildren”.

As reluctant as I felt at the time, I am equally sure now of the ‘rightness’ of the privilege of having a baby with my dearest love.  I’ve been more relaxed and ‘present’, knowing now how quickly the years fly by.  My oldest daughter and mother of 3 of our grandchildren has remarked more than once that, “Nathan got a way better mom” and she’s right.

I know what things matter (shutting off the computer and going for an impromptu hike, complete with snacks prepared by the boy and safely stowed in his Scooby Doo insulated lunch bag) and what things really won’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things (believe it or not, dishes and laundry wait and there are years of yard work ahead on which to dedicate our time).

I know that taking care of myself and being as fit and energetic as possible must be a priority, because he deserves young parents even if they are old(er).  And I will likely color my hair until he’s left the nest, just so he doesn’t have to explain that I’m not his grandmother.  This, of course, is a personal choice and I bemoan the fact I will also likely miss my window of opportunity to naturally participate in the current fashion trend of sporting ‘granny hair’. I would never have imagined how having a child at ‘my age’ would enhance my life and even improve my health.

I have wistful regrets about my youthful impatience, inexperience and imperfections that my grown children will undoubtedly remember.  Alas, going back in time to make it all right is not an option.  I imagine they would probably benefit from a few sessions on a therapist’s couch… because of me.

Because of them, though, I can give their little brother the best possible mother (still ridiculously imperfect, but more patient and experienced).  Because of them, the boy has “a way better mom”.  And because of them, I’m not taking my time with him for granted.

Somewhere along the way, I held each of them on my knee… for the last time.  And there was a last time each of them came to me with a book to read, an ow-ee  to be doctored, a school assignment to be proudly displayed and fussed over.  I don’t know when those times will be for this boy, but I’m not taking them for granted.  Every time is going to be precious.

~Selena Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Find Someone I Can Love, Too

I’m excited about the release of our book and I tell almost everyone I meet.  It’s a fun thing and most people are awesome in how they can be so happy for the good fortune of a complete stranger.  I believe that some folks wouldn’t care if the title of the book was How to Sort Tupperware, although less likely to buy the book, they’d still be happy for us.  After telling so many people over the past months, I have developed a synopsis that gives a good overview of the story.  It begins something like this:  “My wife and I met on the internet about 15 years ago, when that sort of thing was not nearly as popular as it is today.  I was looking for a bride and she was committed to never marry again.  I had stars in my eyes and she hated men…”

You would be surprised at how many women’s eyes light up when they hear that my dear love once hated men.  It was at this point in my little sales pitch that a woman said to me this week, “Oh, can I ever identify with that!”  She had her hands on her hips and a very self-satisfied smile on her face, but followed with, “Sorry, no offense.”

She told me a harrowing tale of her divorce and meeting a guy online after her divorce and having to get a restraining order…and for a few moments I hated men too.  Fortunately, the conversation went back to the book and she began asking questions.  A couple of anecdotes later and she was telling me that she might give the online singles thing another chance.  I hope that the next guy she meets is a real prince; for his sake and mine.

This is my hope for 3,000 Miles to Eternity, that the things that Selena and I learned along the way could help other people in their relationships.  Our special circumstances, being so very far away from one another, made us talk about things that were important to us.  I think it’s a shame when someone has had their heart broken so badly that they would forsake the idea of falling in love again to avoid another heartbreak.  Hopefully for some, our story would be inspiration to try again.

Many years ago, when my children were still preteens, I came to the realization that their mother and I were headed toward divorce.  While the marriage was always on the rocks, fueled by addiction and immaturity, there was a period of about 6 years where I really struggled to salvage it and make it work.  It was during this time that I began to preach a little phrase to my kids.  I had looked back at my life and identified a key moment where I had gone wrong and hoped that this short message would help them avoid the same mistake.  I told them that when the time came to find someone to marry that they needed to “Bring home someone that I can love, too.”

Just so you know, I didn’t tell my children that there was anything wrong with their mother, or even try to explain how I came to be the bearer of such wisdom.  I married their mom in defiance of my parents and family who thought that our age difference, among other things, was going to be more than we could overcome.  It was the fear that many parents have for their children; that we would marry and begin to have children AND THEN discover our incompatibility.  Neither of us was more flawed than the other, but we were not a good match and determined not to care what our families thought of it.  As it was, she wasn’t bringing home someone that her parents could love either.

“Bring home someone that I can love too” is a simple little phrase; easy to say and easy to remember.  Easy to do?  Not so much.  Both of my daughters had long-term relationships with boys that I knew were wrong for them.  I spent many long nights worrying about their futures.  My girls might believe otherwise, but I was under a constant state of self-restraint during those years.  It helped that I had Selena in my life at that time.  She would remind me not to get angry or do things that would drive my girls away.  Of course, she couldn’t always stop me before the words would spill out.  Once when we were all visiting, I looked one of these young men right in the eye and said, “I don’t like you.  You’re not good for Mallory, and I don’t see me changing my mind about that.”

The room fell silent, but I didn’t really say anything that we all didn’t already know.  Truth be known, he wasn’t a horrible kid.  In fact, if he would’ve been just a friend of my son’s, I would’ve liked him just fine.  But for my daughter, I couldn’t see it working out and I didn’t ‘love’ him.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.  – Proverbs 22:6

It was a long hard ride, but I have been blessed.  Both of my girls eventually came to their senses and married excellent men.  I couldn’t have picked better husbands for them.  My son married a girl that we also love very much.  Was it my preaching?  I don’t know.  They may have done the right thing without my corny little phrase.

What I do know is that a good marriage doesn’t just happen.  It’s hard to make good decisions when your eyes are all glazed over with love and we all need to think about these things before the moment comes.  Some things can be overcome if you prepare yourself.  Marrying someone of a different race, culture, political philosophy, or age can be stressful on a marriage, but not necessarily spell doom if you talk about it and decide how you will cope with the problems that could arise.

A common ambush to marriage is religion.  Especially in your early 20’s, religion can be a real non-issue.  It’s a time of life when some people stray away from the religion that they were raised with, and it doesn’t even seem like an important consideration when two young people start to look toward matrimony.  In a couple of years a baby comes along and all at once the two people who seemingly had no religious inclinations whatsoever, are thinking about christenings, baptisms, and Vacation Bible School.  They want something for their child that is fundamentally important to them in direct opposition to their spouse.  It’s more than just a little sticky situation and worth talking about way before the baby arrives.

I am a very happily married man.  I have wife that my family can love too!  Selena and I have wonderful adventures together and she is perfect for me.

It was not because I was so wise in my search for the perfect bride that I found her.  I really do have to give credit to prayer on this one.  I asked for the ideal wife, and I got her, but under the terms and conditions that would make it all come out right.  We were 3,000 miles apart and, in the beginning, did not believe we would ever meet face to face.  We couldn’t hold hands or kiss; we were forced to talk and get to know each other.  We were vulnerable with one another and honest.  On the day that she said that she loved me, I knew that she loved the real me and vice-versa.

I’ll bet that I have told several hundred people about our book this year.  And like I said earlier, there are many women who can identify with Selena’s man-hating phase.  There are also some crusty old dudes who don’t look like they’ve thought about any kind of romance in a long, long time, but when I tell them a little of the story, regardless of where they are in life, I see the interest.  It is said that the ‘natural man’ is an enemy to God; I believe that the natural man is also an enemy to true love—but the spirit?  The very essence of who we are, our spirit loves romance and true love!

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story