A 'No Rose' Romance

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4 Steps to a Great Valentine's Day Gift

The Fathers for Good editor goes out on a limb to share four secrets to giving your wife a gift. This podcast has been approved by his wife.


The Poust Family

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, Dennis and Mary DeTurris Poust stick to the practical aspects of their married love. It helps that she is “not a big fan” of Valentine’s Day and that they are both closely connected to their Catholic faith.

In fact, they could qualify as a “professional” Catholic couple. Dennis is director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, and Mary works in the Catholic media as a contributor to the weekly Our Sunday Visitor, a columnist for Catholic New York and the author of a number of books.

They have three children: Noah, Olivia and Chiara.

In this Fathers for Good e-mail interview, Dennis and Mary answered the questions separately, without sharing ideas or input, yet their responses were remarkably similar.

Fathers for Good: Men often agonize over what to get their wives. What’s your approach? Is it all hype or is it a day for true love?

Dennis: I would come down on the side of “hype,” but at least it keeps the greeting card companies and florists in business. We traditionally have a very low-key Valentine’s Day. An exchange of cards, maybe a special dinner. With restaurants booked solid on that day and often with jacked-up prices, our preference is to go to dinner on a day near the actual date.

The reality, though, is we don’t go out by ourselves nearly enough at any time of the year. So Valentine’s Day is usually spent at home with the kids.

As for flowers, Mary is like all women in this way: She loves to get them. That said, she would probably hit me over the head with them if I brought them home on Valentine’s Day, because they are so expensive. She’s very practical that way. She would much prefer to get flowers for no reason on any other day of the year. I try to do that from time to time, but I’m certain she would appreciate it if I would remember to do it more often.

Mary: I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day and don’t like all the hype that surrounds it. I don’t need or want expensive jewelry or overpriced roses or even dinner out. To me the focus on one day of super-romantic love takes away from the deep and abiding love that husbands and wives express toward each other in less exciting but more practical and powerful ways day in and day out.

FFG: An encyclical may not be the most romantic lines to quote, but how do you view Pope Benedict’s observation in Deus Caritas Est that the person must be present in the gift?

Dennis: I always knew Benedict was a hopeless romantic. Seriously, though, while the Holy Father was not specifically speaking of the kind of gift you give your spouse on Valentine’s Day, his observation is very much consistent with his style of writing -- very profound while at the same time very simple to grasp.

In some ways, it is like saying, “It’s the thought that counts.”

I know Mary would much rather have something inexpensive but from the heart and filled with personal sentiment than the largest diamond or most precious pearls. That works well for me financially, but it also challenges me because it is much simpler to throw money at a gift than to give it serious thought and truly figure out a way to give a part of yourself.

Mary: I could easily see Deus Caritas Est as verging on romantic in places. Then again, I feel the same way about the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s language on marriage and love, so what can I say?

Seriously, I view the idea of being present in the gifts we give as essential in marriage and family life, where the gifts often don't feel like gifts -- the washing of laundry and mowing of lawns, the disciplining of children and planning of budgets. And yet, if we are not present in these gifts, these vital parts of our vocations, they will become nothing more than meaningless chores, like business transactions between two shop owners and their customers.

I can’t say that I’m always successful in seeing those little actions as a way to sainthood as a couple, but I try to keep going back to what Blessed Mother Teresa said: “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

To me, that sums up what Pope Benedict said in his encyclical. Everything we do has to start with love in order to be authentic.

FFG: Mary, you write about motherhood, family life and other topics. What's in a woman’s heart when it comes to gifts -- what do women (or this woman) really want?

Mary: Well, this woman probably should not speak for all women. I think I’d be in very big trouble come Valentine’s Day. From my perspective, the greatest gift is certainly not a material gift of any kind.

In fact, I would have to say that I have already received the greatest gift many times over -- a loving husband who is truly my partner in every sense of the word, three healthy children, a comfortable home. I think most women, whether they want the bells and whistles that go with 
Valentine’s Day or not, really want a deep connection with their husband, something that rises to the level of a true spiritual bond.

That being said, for this Valentine’s Day to be ideal to me it would be one spent at home with the kids, listening to music while Dennis and I cook dinner together and share a bottle of wine. Simple but sweet.

FFG: Dennis, what do you think your wife would like best for Valentine’s Day?

Dennis: I think she would like some alone time with me where we can connect as a couple and not as mom and dad. That can be as simple as a romantic dinner out or, ideally, a weekend getaway.

Our biggest challenge as a married couple is to make time for each other. I’m pretty comfortable in saying that this is the gift she would like the most.

FFG: How does the Catholic faith help marital love? Can you give a specific instance or set of circumstances when your faith enhanced love, or even rescued love?

Dennis: When you look at the high divorce rates in our country and contemplate society’s acceptance of marriage as a temporary institution, it’s easy to see how without an appreciation of the sacramental nature of marriage, one can easily fall into the divorce trap.

Mary and I have a strong marriage but, like all couples, we have had our disagreements and even serious fights. Without the commitment that comes with having God as the third person in that union, it is very easy to see how in a moment of anger, you might just throw it all away.

If you don’t understand your marriage as a covenant, it becomes just about you. And you leave. I suspect that happens all the time in non-sacramental marriages. I’m sure in many cases these marriages could have been saved.

Knowing that we are part of something bigger, that our marriage is a vocation, has taken that option off the table for us. We still might get angry with each other at times, but neither one ever seriously contemplates walking away. It’s unthinkable. What I’m saying is, in the bad times God gives us the grace to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. We always get through the tunnel into that light, which gets a little brighter each time. And that has made for a very happy marriage.

I am a very lucky man.

Mary: I think our faith is absolutely central to our marriage. Certainly our faith played a particularly important role when I went through a difficult miscarriage and throughout my other pregnancies, when we were putting everything in God’s hands and hoping for a good outcome.

But I think it would be a mistake to see our faith as something that impacts our marriage only in difficult or significant times. I feel like it is a constant undercurrent that carries us along day after day. Even when we are not consciously focusing on our faith, it is there, anchoring us to God, to each other, to our children.

To read more of Mary’s ideas on family life and motherhood, visit her blog, Not Strictly Spiritual.