Mike Biscan and Patty Ryan recently returned to their home in Lincoln Park from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — it's a trip they take every year for Valentine's Day, and they did what they have done every time they visit: After checking into their hotel, they stroll to Trio, a restaurant where they make a toast to each other.
To some, it may seem an extravagance. But for them, it's not just about the day's obvious romantic trappings. The holiday's purported origins of resilience and perseverance — according to one legend, St. Valentine defied the Roman emperor by performing weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry — are what resonate for the couple.
For what Mike and Patty, now both 66, celebrate each year is a relationship that took them nearly 20 years to get right. Though they met and fell in love in 1969, they did not marry until 1993 — and the years between included a long time apart.
Their story began when Mike came home to his family's
What started out as field trips to concerts to fulfill course requirements soon morphed into dates.
"I liked Mike's energy and passion," Patty said.
"I liked her demure nature and the way her eyes twinkled and her face lit up when she smiled," Mike said. "And she laughed at my jokes."
But Patty's father, Marty Ryan, a Chicago police lieutenant, was not crazy about the boyfriend with the long hair and beard who showed up at his home in Talley's Corner.
"I'll never forget picking up Patty in my blue '63 VW," Mike said. "I'm under the awning in the rain, and Marty answers. He's a big man — fills the doorway. He looks at me and then shuts the door.
"I wait. And I wait. Finally, after what seemed like 10 minutes, Janie (Patty's little sister) comes to the door: 'Does Patty know you're here?' She finally goes to get her."
"Dad was just protective of all seven of his daughters," Patty explained.
And Mike never took it personally. Although it took some time, Mike eventually felt that Marty accepted him, pointing out that he had even bought him a Christmas gift the next year. (So what if it was a razor?)
Then, in 1972, Mike suddenly called it quits with Patty and took off on an extended road trip out west with his best friend, Erv.
"There was just no reason," Mike says. "I needed space. I was young. I had always been an individual and wanted to strike out alone."
Patty was devastated. "For the previous three years, I thought I was in a secure, loving relationship with my best friend," she said. "I felt betrayed."
Her family grieved with her, and her father wondered if he were to blame. It took years, but Patty restarted her life, moving to the North Side and teaching science and language arts for
"I dated off and on," she said. "(I) even had one other lengthy, serious relationship."
Mike's wanderlust ended when he married in 1974, settling down in Buffalo Grove with his wife and two children. But the marriage ran into problems, and he divorced in 1986. He lived for a while in Texas, working as a furniture manufacturing representative.
But somewhere deep inside, home beckoned. In 1989, he returned to Chicago, moving in with Erv and his wife, Lorraine, until he got his bearings.
"We hung out at Irish Eyes in Lincoln Park," Mike said. "It's like 'Cheers,' where every night you could see 500 of your 'closest' friends."
Fatefully, that corps of friends included the unmarried Patty Ryan.
Seventeen years had passed since their breakup, but the two were drawn back together.
"We found we had the same feelings for each other," Mike said.
Soon, they were going on double dates with Erv and Lorraine, to the opera and to plays. Patty was understandably cautious.
"We all had to go through a transition of building trust," she said. "Mike had to earn his way back into our family."
Before long, though, word spread around Talley's Corner that they had become engaged. Marty Ryan had died in 1990, and when Patty's sister Katherine called the others about the engagement, she joked, "Mike must finally believe that dad is dead."
Mike and Patty were married in a civil ceremony in July 1993, and months later in a Catholic church after an annulment of Mike's first marriage.
Regrets still linger over the original breakup, but they're more focused on the present.
As Mike put it, "Patty and I are grateful we received a second chance."