Husband & Wife Articles

Three Valentine's Days

The perfect gift is the perfect sacrifice

By Tom Hoopes

On Feb. 14, 1990, my heart was in my throat as I ventured to Pauline Books & Media in downtown San Francisco.

Six months earlier I had been at a get-together when she walked by. April Beingessner crossed the room. That was all. But my heart was in my throat then, too. After seeing her, I changed everything: I dressed better, got a job, changed my schedule and began to arrange ways to meet her.

Six months later, my plan was working. The first date had been sandwiches from a deli that we ate in Golden Gate Park. We had met for study nights at the beach, with Chesterton books and blankets. We had even experienced the giant quake of ’89 together, when the earth literally moved under our feet.

But this was my first Valentine’s Day as the boyfriend of April Beingessner, and I wanted the gift to be exceptional. I decided to get her a crucifix, and I paid $70 for it, even though there were much cheaper ones available. None of the others seemed good enough for her.

Tom Hoopes, after receiving his master's degree, celebrates with April and their eight children.

On Feb. 14, 1995, came another Valentine’s Day, but my heart was no longer in my throat. Life was difficult. We had been married for three years by then. April was a full-time student earning her master’s at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and working in after-school care to help make ends meet. First, I had a newspaper reporting job in the Washington, D.C., area whose starting salary was $17,000 a year. Then the newspaper filed for bankruptcy, laid me off, and I was out of work for months.

I eventually landed a great job on Capitol Hill — but the “press secretary” title was more impressive than the pay. I was in over my head, working late every day and struggling to keep up.

I came back to our apartment that night tired and demoralized, to find April smiling and saying that dinner was ready. She served a homemade pizza, shaped to look like Arizona, with a heart-shaped tomato over Tucson, my home town. February 14 isn’t just Valentine’s Day – it’s Arizona Statehood Day. It was incredible to think that April, a Southern Californian, not only remembered Arizona Statehood Day, but was celebrating it with me.

Which brings me to a third Valentine’s Day: last year, Feb. 14, 2010.

It was Sunday. One daughter had a birthday party in our new hometown of Atchison, Kansas. Two had to go to Topeka for a special piano concert. April and I went to the same Mass, then became chauffeurs. I took the two pianists and did some work from my laptop in the concert hall as they practiced (I was in over my head again), while April shepherded the remaining six children through the day, then joined us.

We spent the afternoon taking turns squinting down at the pianists or walking cranky babies in the hall.

My gift for her that Valentine’s Day: some beat-up looking supermarket roses and a “Party-Pack” of M&Ms. She got me a card.

But for some reason I think that was the best Valentine’s Day of all.

In our first one, I gave April the gift of a crucifix. But we barely knew what that meant because we had not suffered yet together. It was a pretty image of sacrifice.

In our second one, April gave me the gift of her sacrifice and support as I struggled to find a way in the world.

In the third one, life had already had its way with us. In 18 years of marriage, we had experienced excruciating loss in our families. We had felt the heartache of betrayal from people we loved. We had made gut-wrenching cross-country moves. We had come through the trial by fire of our own disagreements and dissatisfaction. And we are more in love than ever.

I think this Valentine’s Day, I’ll take that old crucifix from our bedroom wall and put it on the table next to the M&Ms and the flowers. After all these years, I have learned that love looks like that: costly, total and beautiful.

Tom Hoopes is Vice President of College Relations and writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, where he received his Master’s of Business Administration. He is an instructor in the Journalism and Mass Communications department.