My Mother Married an Astronaut

While he may not have been to space, this new dad was truly out of this world.

The one wedding, other than my own, that I remember well is my mother’s. Not many people can say the first wedding they ever attended was their mom’s, but I can. I was nine when my mother got married.

It was December 1969. My mother worked for a local drugstore in Chatham, Ontario, and the time was fast approaching for the annual Christmas party. This particular year, everyone had to bring a date. Mom had been divorced since January 1962. I don’t recall her going on any other dates, but she needed one for this occasion. Mom had met a man a few years earlier at a church camp. She decided he would be a great candidate as her escort to the Christmas party. When she finally got up the nerve, she called Ron in London and asked him if he would be her escort. Since he already knew she had three sons, why he ever said yes is beyond me. Anyway, he readily agreed and arrangements were made.

Did I mention that his name was Ron? Ron Armstrong? Flashback five months earlier to July 1969. A man named Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon. Now, a man named Ron Armstrong was taking my mother on a date. To me, the man that walked on the moon was going to date my mother. As a nine-year-old boy, no one could tell me any different. I didn’t hear the name “Ron,” I only heard “Armstrong” and that was enough for me. My mom was dating an astronaut! I was going to be the coolest kid in school. I told all my friends about it and couldn’t understand why no one believed me.

Finally the day arrived when I was going to meet the astronaut. I don’t know who was more excited about this date, my mother or me. He arrived. He wasn’t the astronaut. He was just some guy from London that wanted to date my mother. I was devastated. How could my mother do that to me? How was I going to face all my friends at school on Monday?

My Mother Married An AstronautPhoto: Courtesy Robert Stanlick
Robert with his mom and new stepdad on the couple’s wedding day.

A New Beginning

It didn’t turn out all that badly, though. Apparently, Ron was taken with me and decided to ask my mother out for another date and I was invited along! Ron wanted to take Mom and me to a New Year’s Eve party at our church. My brothers Mike and Tim came along as well. Ron was obviously not scared off by Mom’s three sons, because he came back for more.

Ron, who eventually became our dad, said that I didn’t influence his decision to marry my mom, but I doubt that very much. During that second date, I went up to him, tugged on his suit jacket and said “Gee, Mr. Armstrong, I sure would like to have you for a father.” Now, how could any man refuse an invitation like that? Since he didn’t run away, I can only conclude that he agreed with my idea. Six weeks later, he proposed to Mom. Five months later, they were married. I don’t know if it was my mom’s suggestion to get married so quickly (being afraid he may change his mind about her and her three sons), or if it was his idea (wanting to get it over with before he actually realized what he had gotten himself into).

Ron proposed to Mom on Valentine’s Day, 1970. It was a Saturday night and I had my pajamas on. Mom was sitting on the couch with Ron right next to her, when she called me to her. When I got there, I sat on the arm of the couch. Normally that would have been a capital offense and I would have been punished, but for some reason that didn’t happen. Mom said, “Mr. Armstrong just asked me to marry him. How would you like a new father?” I didn’t answer her. I guess my actions spoke louder than words. I literally flew over her and landed on Ron’s lap facing him with my arms around his neck. I remember that moment as if it happened yesterday. I was getting a new father! I didn’t care anymore that he never went to the moon—I was there myself knowing I was getting a dad.

Lessons Learned

June 13th 1970 arrived very quickly. As a nine year old, there wasn’t much I could do in the wedding but Mom and “Dad” were able to find something: my job was to “give away” the bride. When the minister asked “Who gives this woman to this man?” I was to stand and say as loudly as possible, “My brothers and I.” How many nine-year-old boys can honestly say they gave away their Mom?

My mom always said that living with and raising three boys by herself was very difficult. Not only was it lonely, but stressful as well. Now with Ron in the picture she felt things were going to get a little easier. I thought things were going to be great.

We moved from Chatham to London, from a small one-bedroom apartment to a three bedroom home with its own backyard. It wasn’t long after we moved that I learned a very valuable lesson, as well as one of the perks of having both a mother and a father.

I believe it was the day we arrived in London. I wanted to ride my bike around the block and proceeded to ask Mom if I could. Her answer was “no.” I was so disappointed. I wanted to explore this new world. I then came up with a great idea. I asked Dad if I could go. His answer was “yes.” So around the block I went thinking this was great. Whenever Mom said “no” to anything, all I had to do was ask Dad and he’d say “yes.” This having a father was going to be a real good thing!

And then I got home! Mom was not happy. I got punished for disobeying her. “But Dad said it was okay to go around the block,” I argued. Not a good thing to say. Not only did I get in trouble with Mom, but so did Dad! He got off easy as he was new at being a father, but apparently I was to know better than to ask him after I had asked her. So I did learn a lesson. From then on, I asked Dad first.

I don’t know if Mom caught on that I was asking him first or not, but eventually Dad started answering me by asking “What did your mother say?” Well, I was back to square one again.

Dream Dad

My mom may not have married an astronaut, but she sure married a man who was out of this world. He was the best thing to happen to me in my short nine years. Dad passed away in 1992, so I had only 22 years with him, and yet we shared so many wonderful times together.

Dad loved sports and we were able to share a number of events together. When he and Mom first got married, he was the business manager for the “Chester Pegg Diamonds,” which was an Ontario Intercounty baseball team. His involvement enabled me to be a ball boy at a number of the games. This helped fuel my love for the game. Together we also saw the Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and the Detroit Pistons. Dad also took me to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the “Indy 500.”

Dad was not a handy fellow around the house. Whatever needed to be done, my mother either did it or a handyman was called in. I may not have learned how to do things around the house from him, but he taught me many other things. He taught me to be compassionate, but also passionate; how to love unconditionally; how to fall asleep anywhere, anytime; and how to treat my own children.

I remember a couple of days before he died, I was sitting by his side in the hospital and he was telling me that he didn’t have very many friends. When I tried to dispute him, he wouldn’t listen to me. After his funeral, on the way to the cemetery, I looked behind me and saw the long processional and said to him, “See Dad, there are all the friends you thought you didn’t have.”

Dad was 45 when he married my mom. It was his first marriage. He never had any children of his own, but he accepted the three of us boys as his own. It takes a special kind of person to do that. He was that special person.

Next, read the heartwarming story of how a mother and son healed their troubled relationship.

Originally Published in Our Canada