Sixty years is a long time for anything, but now more than ever, sixty years of marriage is an incredible feat reserved for the extraordinary.
The still vibrant and charming Jake (88) and Dorothy Parker (78) just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in November, and their story is extraordinary, indeed.
Born in 1927 and 1937, theirs is a story of perseverance and progressive love. The Great Depression marked their childhood, but great joy was found when Jake Parker first met the “freckle-faced 14-year-old” Dorothy Culpepper. Following work up the Chattahoochee River, the two families met in Phenix City, Alabama, and an inseparable bond began to form.
With Dorothy being underage, and ten years younger than Jake, their friendship developed long before their romantic relationship.
“Jake and I, along with our brothers and sisters, were constantly spending time with one another,” Dorothy says. “And honestly, I even used to help him get ready to go see his girlfriends. I would help him pick out his clothes, lay them on the bed, and polish his shoes.”
Despite years passing, Dorothy getting older, and each of them dating everyone else around them, there was always an underlying feeling for one another. This became increasingly apparent to friends, family, and themselves.
After Dorothy had an altercation with Maurice, one of her boyfriends of the time, because he and Jake left her alone while they went swimming, he ended the conversation by telling her, “I think I know who you are really in love with.”
Similarly, one day as Jake and Dorothy were getting ready to leave the house, Jake’s mother told him the following, which has stuck with him to this day.
“J, you need to find you a wife,” his mother told him. “And she’s probably right under you and you just don’t know it.”
Their affection for one another at this young age, while not outright, was significant, and it finally manifested itself when Dorothy was 17 years old. An ordinary night turned sour when Dorothy mouthed off to her father about having to clean up the kitchen while her sister, Lucy, didn’t.
With Jake outside on the porch, her father spanked Dorothy for her misconduct. Although it wasn’t abusive, Jake was overwhelmed.
“Hearing her crying just made the hairs stand up on my head,” Jake says. “I couldn’t handle it. So as soon as Dorothy came back outside and sat with me on the porch swing, I told her, ‘He will never whip you again. We will get married as soon as you turn 18 years old.’”
Shortly after, they went and bought engagement rings. Her family was not too happy, and at first they didn’t even believe it to be true. Despite loving Jake for the man that he was, they still didn’t believe that Dorothy should marry him. Her family thought Jake to be too old for her and that he should marry Dorothy’s older sister, Lucy, so they simply wrote off their relationship as “infatuation.”
But they soon after silenced any doubts; the day after she turned 18, November 23, 1955, they became Mr. And Mrs. Parker.
The wedding was very modest. It was on a Wednesday night in front of the fireplace of a friend’s house, had only a handful of witnesses, and was officiated by a friend of theirs that was a reverend. But the reason for that was a good one. They were given a choice: use the $800 that had been saved to fund a bigger, nicer wedding and honeymoon, or use it to make a down payment on a house.
Knowing what would be best in the long run, they chose the latter, officially planting the Parker roots. Sixty years, three children, six grandchildren, and (currently) six great-grandchildren later, it was certainly the right investment.
Then and now, Jake and Dorothy have always had their priorities in order:
“God is always first, your spouse comes next, and then the rest of your family,” Dorothy says. “Keep the family together. Know that you have each other. Because without family, what do you have?”
Yet it seems that this family-focused mentality is becoming counter-cultural. Dorothy and Jake both expressed their views on how the cultural view of marriage has changed over the past sixty years, contrasting with how their marriage has succeeded.
“People don’t like to make commitments anymore, and when they do, they don’t mean anything,” Dorothy says. “I was raised that when you are married, you are married. Nowadays it’s too easy to get out of a marriage. You can just say ‘I don’t love you anymore,’ and then leave. We all have our ways, things we don’t like about each other, but God didn’t create any of us the same way, and that was so that we can learn to grow and love through it all.”
And after over sixty years of knowing one another, there were countless times of joy, but there have also been plenty of times that tested the strength of their marriage. The word “divorce,” however, has never been a part of their vocabulary.
“From the beginning we agreed that we would never even think about getting a divorce,” Dorothy says. “We had some rough times, but forgiveness is so important, knowing that is the way that God intended it. Whatever it was, no matter how hard it got, I would look back and remember how much we loved each other when we first got married, then we would work through it.”
Love, or at least the brand of love that lasts a lifetime, dynamically progresses towards the ultimate goal of supporting, caring for, and selflessly serving your spouse. They perfectly model marriage, not because they are perfect individuals, but because they understand the refining process of marriage.
As the heads of the now expansive Parker family, they have survived to see their legacy lived out before them: a legacy of love and devotion to one another, and to their children, who are now passing along these same ideals.
“We told our children as they grew up, ‘in the everyday walks of life, anywhere you see me step, just follow in my footprints,” Jake says. “Wherever I go, you go. Whatever I do, you do it.’ When it’s all said and done, Dorothy and me should have lived a life in which our children want to follow in our footsteps that we have left behind. We bear the responsibility of modeling what marriage should look like to our children and beyond.”
Both Jake’s and Dorothy’s parents each were married for over 60 and 75 years, respectively, and now they have followed in their footsteps, passing along exactly what it means and what it looks like to be married. The covenant they made sixty years ago was no casual commitment, and for the Parker family, it’s no mere marriage. With their lives, Jake and Dorothy are in the process of leaving a legacy of love that will echo through the generations after them.
As you grow, you learn to love each other more. “Love grows, and it grows in different ways,” Dorothy says. “You love each other because of who they are, and you take care of the people that you love. As you get old, you realize more and more how much you need one another.”
Marriage is about infinitely more than signing a legal document, living with a person, or even simply loving someone. Marriage is a life-changing commitment: a covenant that, for better or worse, in sickness or in health, until death takes its toll, that you will love your spouse, not just that you currently do.
Health-Life / January 2016
Jake and Dorothy Parker
Written by Cole Parker
Photography by Lindsi Jones