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August 7, 2007

Father Knows Best

Lauren Wilson allowed her father to orchestrate her engagement.

The bride before the ceremony, says she's never kissed a man...until today.

Photo Credit: Amanda Marsalis

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For the next seven years, Lauren avoided boys altogether. Then, in February 2006, the Wilsons paid a visit to the Air Force Academy, which Lauren’s brother Colten was considering attending. Accompanying the family on the tour was 23-year-old Brett Black, a blond-haired cadet. Lauren had met him before through church, but “from that moment on,” Lauren sighs, “I was just, like, head over heels.”

She returned home that evening and asked God if Brett was the one for her. “I set aside 40 days to really pray hard and ask for direction,” she remembers. Meanwhile, Brett also decided that Lauren and her two teenage sisters were “gorgeous.” The idea of a permanent commitment entered his mind.

“I thought, Am I crazy? I’m graduating in three months and possibly moving away,” he says. “But I could see myself marrying one of those girls!” Brett, too, began to pray. The future pilot soon found himself being “guided toward Lauren.” Two months later, he arranged to meet Randy at a coffee shop. There Brett said, “I’d like to start a relationship with one of your daughters.” He thinks he specified Lauren. Randy invited him to dinner. After the meal, Lauren and Brett were left alone. “I’ve noticed your character and I’d like to hang out with you. I hope I don’t sound stupid,” he said. “It would be an honor,” she said.

Over cappuccinos at the local Starbucks, Randy and Lisa share their theories about the success of Lauren’s courtship. “I’m the one who knows Lauren,” Randy explains, describing how he met with Brett every few weeks after their initial conversation for what amounted to marital coaching. “Brett doesn’t know anything about Lauren. So I can help them be a success.”

As much as I respect Randy’s sincerity, I find his involvement in Lauren’s relationship medieval. And if he doesn’t appreciate that, surely Lisa — woman to woman — can see the peculiarity of this arrangement?

Lisa, a voluptuous, emotive blonde who will spend 31 years (1990 to 2021) homeschooling her seven children, sees no such thing. Her own father walked out on her family when she was 2. “I felt like he threw my heart on the ground and said, ‘Deal with it,’” says Lisa, bursting into tears. I pass her a napkin.

And Randy’s father? “He was good at providing, poor at relationships,” he says. Absent any examples, Randy and Lisa wrote their own rules.

After meeting at Ohio’s Cedarville University, Randy and Lisa married in 1982. That year, they moved to Austin, TX, where Randy started a roofing company. It dissolved in the mid-’80s, by which time the Wilsons had four small children. When Randy got a job offer in construction in Colorado, the family moved there, but soon after, the job evaporated.

“He pounded the pavement eight hours a day and couldn’t get a job flipping burgers,” says Lisa, who remained at home, caring for their children. After months of looking, Randy landed a position as a salesman for a print-media company — not exactly a financial coup.

In such difficult times, other men — and let’s face it, women, too — might have taken to drinking, crime, or promiscuity. Some would have just taken off. Randy, however, took to the Lord.

After coffee with Randy and Lisa, I spend the evening trying to put Lauren’s relationship into a context I can understand. I imagine my own husband receiving marital advice from members of my immediate family. (“Amanda can be bitchy, but if you bring her a bottle of chardonnay she cheers up considerably.”) Depending on his mood, my husband would have burst out laughing or run screaming from my entire clan.

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