PART 1: The Story of Lisa & Johnny

Certain movies capture your heart in ways that make lasting impressions on your hopes and dreams. Father of the Bride is definitely one of those movies. The instrumental title track for the film is enough to ignite your emotions. It paints the picture of a family in San Marino, California, experiencing all the excitement and sentiment of a daughter’s wedding. And it’s easy to lose yourself in the idyllic backdrop of this seemingly perfect family.

This was certainly the case for Lisa Mior. When she was finally old enough to get a license, she loved nothing more than driving in the fall along her grandparents’ street, which was lined with mature trees, leaving a wake of colourful leaves behind her—reminiscent of Steve Martin’s character in the movie. The film (and its sequel) also made an appearance the night before her own wedding. Lisa’s Maid of Honour, her childhood best friend, gifted her copies of the movies, knowing they would conjure all the emotions that were awaiting them the following day.

She married the boy she fell in love with the summer after high school: Johnny Winstanley. When Lisa tapped into her mind’s eye there was only one man she ever saw herself walking towards. The distance brought about by her university days and his burgeoning hockey career did little to weaken the pull of fate. Johnny was The One. 

Their relationship strengthened in the years that followed. They came from different worlds, yet below the surface they had so much in common. Their love of sports and fiercely competitive natures made for hours of entertainment and laughter. They could turn just about anything into a rivalry.

Their vastly different upbringings were most apparent at the dining table. Lisa was a deliciously crusty loaf with a crunchy golden exterior and soft centre, ideal for soaking up anything left over on your plate. Johnny, on the other hand, was Wonder Bread. Lisa cradled her plate of plain pasta protectively when Johnny once attempted to pour a can of Ragu over the noodles. Hard to believe this was the same man who would one day turn a cold shoulder to homemade sugo retrieved from the freezer because it wasn’t fresh enough.

Lisa’s parents are both first generation Italian-Canadians and equally proud of both heritages. She is the second of four daughters, all born within six years of one another. At family functions it wasn’t unusual for them to stand in their birth order to aid recognition. ‘Seconda’ might as well have been her middle name. Lisa’s parents raised the girls to be strong, independent women.    

Johnny grew up not far from Lisa, in Brampton. His father is one of 15 brothers and sisters from Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. Johnny is as Canadian as they come and his deep love of hockey proves it. After playing in both the OHL and CHL, Johnny landed a job coaching a AAA hockey team in Ontario.

By June of 2009 Lisa and Johnny had been dating for well over four years. Johnny knew it was time to put a ring on her finger and he knew just the way to do it. One of his player’s families owned the Venetian Banquet Hall in Vaughn and was all too happy to offer it as the venue. It was the perfect nod to Lisa’s heritage. And of course the food was sure to be good! He told Lisa that the owners insisted they come for dinner.

When Lisa’s friends got wind of the dinner plans, engagement alarm bells were immediately sounded. They offered Lisa the best advice friends can give: Go get a manicure! Put it down to Lisa’s no-fuss style, or a fear of jinxing it, or perhaps even the knowledge that Johnny loved her just as she was—for one reason or another, she didn’t get her nails done. 

The pair arrived at the Hall and were ushered into the Boardroom. The large doors swung open to reveal a beautifully decorated table with freshly ironed linens, a centrepiece, and perfectly placed silverware. The red and gold colours were definitely Johnny’s idea, knowing they were Lisa’s favourite. They even had their own private waiter. Lisa raised her eyebrows and scanned the ornate room. She knew exactly what was happening, but her nerves refused to let her admit it. She carried on throughout dinner as if it were any ordinary date night.

When dessert arrived the waiter brought out a tray of bite-sized chocolates. The deviation from the typical dolci immediately raised Lisa’s suspicions. As Johnny stood up and made his way over to her side of the table she felt her face flush. Is this really happening? she thought to herself. Being the true gentleman that he is, Johnny got down on one knee and proposed, holding Lisa’s hand in his. Overwhelmed with emotion, Lisa couldn’t even turn her head in his direction. The tears cascaded down her cheeks. She had been waiting for this for so long.

After taking in the moment together, as well as a few deep breaths, Johnny encouraged Lisa to share the news with her mom. Unable to reach her on her cell, they decided to venture out of the room to find their hosts. When Johnny and Lisa burst into the hall they were met by all their family members and the room erupted with applause and shouts of joy. The evening that started as a dinner date turned into a massive family celebration, complete with a decadent waffle bar. What better way for Lisa and Johnny’s parents to meet for the first time? Lisa saw their worlds colliding, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect night. 

They were married by October of the following year and shortly thereafter they began looking for their first house. Lisa knew a fantastic neighbourhood in Etobicoke that was placed between their work locations. It was her grandparents’ community and she remembered it fondly from her childhood. Weekly Sunday lunches, trips to La Rose bakery, and how could she ever forget the first time Nonno let her drive his car when she was only 13.

The newlyweds found the perfect starter home and settled in, making plans for a renovation immediately. They also agreed they wouldn’t try for kids in the first few years, to give them time to adapt to life under the same roof. But a year later, in the summer of 2012, Lisa and Johnny were invited to a destination wedding in the Dominican. Several of Johnny’s friends also attended, complete with the newest little additions to their families. To him it seemed as if everyone had kids. Babies were not new to Johnny. By the time he was in high school he had two nephews. But that trip felt fundamentally different. And so it was there that the idea of fatherhood began to take root in Johnny’s heart.  

PART 2: The Story of Lisa Johnny, Ella, Jackson & Tessa

The trip to the Dominican was splendid, but Lisa was happy to be back in the comfort of their newly renovated home. She propped up the pillows on her side of the bed and snuggled in with her latest read. Life felt great. Her work with Indigo was going well and Johnny was excelling at all three of his jobs.

Johnny lay next to her, arms behind his head, staring up at the ceiling as he launched a curveball over to Lisa’s side. “So when are we doing this kid thing?”

Even Lisa’s extensive varsity fastball experience did not equip her for this pitch. Her book dropped to her lap as she spun her head sideways. “What?” she said, perplexed.

“Everyone on that trip had kids. And I’ve been ready since I was 16,” Johnny stated factually.

Lisa was certain Johnny would be an excellent father, but she just wasn’t sure if she was ready. There were still so many thing she wanted to do. Like exploring Europe with Johnny and showing him all the treasures of Italy. Johnny listened to her attentively. He shifted to face her directly and took her hands in his.

“You’re telling me all the things that won’t be possible with a baby, but you’re not saying anything about all the things that will be possible,” he said insightfully. Lisa’s outlook began to soften as his words of truth landed softly on her heart.

A few months later, as Lisa dressed for work one morning, she glanced in the mirror and noticed her bust line looked surprisingly full and feminine. Even without a test, Lisa knew she was pregnant. She made a trip to the drugstore to be 100 percent sure before telling Johnny the news.

That evening, after staring at the plus sign on the pregnancy test for a solid five minutes, Lisa walked downstairs to show Johnny. With tears streaming down her face she extended her arm to deliver the news. Johnny looked up from the television, slightly alarmed by his wife’s expression. He made his way over to her and looked down at the test.

“Okay!” said Johnny. They stood there hugging, realizing their life was about to change forever, for the good.

Pregnancy agreed with Lisa’s body for the most part. She didn’t experience any major nausea, except for the odd crab dip that turned her face green. Luckily, she didn’t have to modify her diet too much. The euphoria of a McDonald’s Happy Meal only seemed to intensify. The pregnancy was uneventful in all the ways one hopes for, and seemed to pass quickly. Lisa’s pragmatic nature prevented her from buying maternity clothes, making do with the stretchy fabrics and flattering cuts of her existing wardrobe. Johnny spoiled her with two tops from Thyme Maternity. At 37 weeks, Lisa’s younger sister got married, and the memory of Lisa’s full body was captured for posterity in all the family photos.

The baby’s bedroom set, a gift from Johnny’s parents, was assembled and the hospital bag was packed. Lisa made her way to her 40-week appointment. Her OB, Dr. Wong, had a great sense of humour and reminded Lisa of a Chinese version of her father. She pulled out her phone to reference the questions she routinely prepared for her visits. There had been no sign of a mucous plug and no water breaking, just a lot of swelling. After conducting an internal examination to assess the situation, Dr. Wong reported the update to Lisa.

“It doesn’t feel like a head,” he said calmly. Utterly confused by the comment, Lisa wondered what on earth it did feel like.  “You need to go downstairs for an urgent ultrasound so we can confirm the lie of the baby,” Dr. Wong instructed her.

Lisa obediently went for the scan and returned about an hour later with the results. The baby was breech. Lisa’s confusion escalated to shock as Dr. Wong specified what would happen next.

“I can’t deliver the baby like that, so come to the hospital tomorrow at 9 a.m. and I’ll section you when I have time,” he said matter-of-factly.

Lisa wasn’t sure if she interpreted the meaning of his words correctly. Did this mean her baby would be in her arms in less than 24 hours? Despite the nine months of pregnancy, the certainty of this information felt astonishing. Lisa collected her things and speed-walked to the car, eager to disrupt Johnny’s golf game with the news. Dialing his cell phone, Lisa could feel tears welling in her eyes. It was a lot to process. And on top of everything, she knew Johnny didn’t do well with blood—or anything to do with surgery.

A call from their friend who had experienced three successful C-sections helped soothe her hysteria and anticipate what was to come. Once they had wrapped their heads around the new plan, Lisa and Johnny decided to celebrate their last pre-child night with a steak dinner. The combination of excitement and nerves painted permanent smiles on their faces.

The next morning, Lisa and Johnny made their way to the Church Site of Humber River Hospital; the same hospital where both Lisa and her mother were born. Little did they know, it would become a day-long game of ‘hurry up and wait.’ As the hours ticked on, Lisa’s fast became harder to endure. By noon, they finally moved into pre-op. The curtained room was cold and institutional, but was warmed by the motherly disposition of the nurse with the Caribbean accent who cared for Lisa. Lisa changed into a hospital gown and the nurse initiated an IV and inserted a catheter. A monitor was strapped to Lisa’s abdomen to observe the baby’s heart rate, heightening her discomfort. Johnny sat dutifully by her side, trying his best to also fast out of allegiance despite the constant temptation of Tim Horton’s.

Finally, at 6:30 p.m. it was showtime. The parents-to-be parted ways as Lisa walked down the corridor towards the surgical suite. The sterile room induced a bout of cold sweats as the anesthesiologist began to explain the procedure. Sitting on the side of the bed, Lisa’s feet dangled and her head was pressed into the chest of her caring nurse as she held her still. Moments later, Lisa felt the searing pain of the needle in her spine; her breath escaped her completely. This was the part she had been dreading most. But within minutes it was thankfully over. Laying on the operating table she tested the anesthetic by attempting to move her arms, which only flopped across her face like deadweights. To alleviate her claustrophobia, Lisa convinced the nurses not to strap her arms down. She lay motionless as the team of professionals danced around her setting up the room.

Johnny entered the operating room, fully clothed in hospital gear. As he assumed his assigned position at the head of the bed, Lisa could sense his tension. He stared into Lisa’s eyes with laser focus. He hadn’t even looked at her this way on their wedding day and it made her even more nervous. The angled mirror affixed to the ceiling gave them a complete view of Lisa’s exposed abdomen, which was being sterilized with an orange iodine solution. Johnny’s eyes only widened further. Once the procedure was about to begin a curtain was thankfully hung over Lisa’s chest to block the view.

The tone of the medical staff seemed to indicate the surgery was progressing normally. Lisa could feel her body being manipulated, as if the front of a denim jacket was being tugged sharply on either side. There was no pain, but the medication made Lisa nauseous.

The procedure was nearly finished 45 minutes later. As the physician raised the operating table the curtain in front of Lisa began to buckle, giving the impression it was falling. Johnny began ducking his head erratically, avoiding the view at all costs.

“Lise, it’s falling! It’s falling!” he panicked. Lisa diverted his attention by alerting him to the nurse who was walking to the back of the room with something in her arms.

“Are you going to go and find out what it is?” she asked eagerly. Lisa empathized with all the fathers of the world who are relegated to the backstage as moms enjoy the centre spotlight during the birthing excitement. Lisa and Johnny wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise, and this was Johnny’s moment to shine.

He darted towards the nurse and soon discovered he was the father of a baby girl. He stood paralyzed by the gravity of the moment. He had a daughter. Flashes of the future crossed his mind instantaneously: watching her crawl across the floor, teaching her to skate, attending her graduation, walking her down the aisle.

The nurse placed Johnny’s daughter on the scale on her back to confirm her weight. He furrowed his brow, taking note of her legs sticking straight into the air, like a doll fixed in a sitting position (a common consequence for frank breech babies). In true Johnny-only humour, he made a sarcastic joke about her legs remaining like that into her teen years. The nurse eased Johnny’s worry, reassuring him that her legs would relax over the next few days.

He ran back to report the glorious news to Lisa. After quickly savouring the moment with his wife, Johnny turned to follow the nurse while they finished some additional tests. But as he rushed along the side of the operating table his eyes fell on the mound of bloody gauze that had been left on the floor. It turns out there is a reason dads are usually backstage. It was more than his stomach could take. His knees turned to rubber and he bent over, gripping his thighs tightly, and quickly sitting in the first chair he saw. The nurse offered the baby back to the proud father.

“Not yet…”Johnny said quietly. The words trailed out of his mouth like they might be his last.

As Johnny dealt with the sight of blood, Lisa endured the physicians sewing her internal organs and muscle back up. She got to kiss her daughter briefly before they rolled her into the recovery bay. She’d have to stay there until the medication wore off and she could demonstrate full control of her legs. She had never been more motivated to wiggle her toes. Her daughter needed her mother.

In the meantime, the nurse swaddled the baby in a hospital baby blanket, trimmed with the instantly recognizable blue and pink stripes. Johnny placed her in the basinet and wheeled her out to the waiting room where family members had been eagerly awaiting her arrival for hours. Johnny wanted to let them finally see his beautiful daughter, but they would have to wait for a cuddle until Lisa had a chance to hold her first.

Everyone stood immediately when Johnny entered the room. The two grandmothers both let out involuntary sighs of pure joy and stepped towards the baby taking in the miracle of the moment. Lisa’s sister moved in to offer her congratulations and meet her new niece. Behind them, Lisa’s father stood tall, feeling prouder than ever before. He was immediately at ease, the years of experience with four of his own little girls preparing him well for this moment. He broke through the crowd and scooped up his granddaughter in one smooth motion. She belonged in Nonno’s arms, and Johnny knew better than to resist.

Over the next hour the crowd of family members began to grow and the hospital staff invited them to congregate in the maternity ward room that was awaiting Lisa’s arrival. By 9 p.m. the guests of honour were wheeled in. The noise in the room only grew louder as Lisa propped up her daughter in her arms. The comfort of Lisa’s family and the familiar sounds of their chatter dissolved the remaining worry from her body. Remarks of celebration flew through the air like fireworks, one after another.

After the initial excitement simmered, Lisa’s mother-in-law was the first to realize no one knew what to call her.

“Well, what’s her name?” she asked excitedly.

Lisa paused, reflecting on the significance of the name they had chosen. The room fell silent.

“Ella Dina,” she said looking up towards her mother.

Ella’s middle name created an instantaneous bond between the baby and her nonna. Lisa wanted her mother to know how much she respected her sacrifices, her elegance, and her strength. She wanted her daughter to carry the infinite qualities she saw in her mother. Her name would be a constant reminder of who she was and who she came from.

Tears fell down Dina’s face as she stood there, humbled by the honour. The room slowly enveloped her in a wave of hugs. The moment was worth every ounce of pain, anxiety, and discomfort Lisa had suffered over the last nine months. 

At 10:30p.m. the celebrations reluctantly wound down as the nurse indicated it was time for people to start going home, or at least remain in the room (referring to Lisa’s father and zio who were strolling the halls like a piazza on a summer’s day). Lisa’s mom immediately started ‘Nonna duty,’ staying overnight while Johnny went home to get some proper rest. She didn’t mind in the least, welcoming the alone time with her girls.

Over the course of the next two days, there was a revolving door of visitors for the new family: Lisa’s nonna, sisters, cousins, and friends of everyone. Lisa’s recovery eventually ticked all the safety boxes and they were allowed to bring Ella home. Despite being 8 pounds and 4 ounces, she looked miniscule in the car seat they’d had installed by the local fire hall. Lisa struggled to bend as she tucked into the front seat of the car. Johnny’s Mazda 3 hatchback felt so low to the ground and she suddenly craved a minivan.

Lisa, Johnny, and Ella settled into their new routines and the days quickly turned into months and years. In 2015 Jackson joined the team, and Tessa a few years later in 2019. Their life before kids was far from empty, but now their world felt incredibly full. The days were dotted with all sorts of traditions, like post-dinner dance trains around the kitchen island. They spent weekends and evenings at practices and family functions. They could see their kids growing into their own personalities, with hints of inherited traits.  

Parenthood demanded nearly all of Lisa and Johnny’s time and attention but they didn’t begrudge it for a moment. To fuel her body and relieve her stress, Lisa would often escape for a run. It was the one place where she could zone out and focus simply on completing the task at hand.   

One fall afternoon, Lisa headed out for a quick jog. Her thoughts quickly got lost in the monotonous rhythm of her feet hitting the pavement. The beautiful autumn leaves made her think back to those picturesque streetscapes at the beginning of Father of the Bride, and in that instant she realized exactly why she adored that film so much.

It wasn’t the hilarious supporting characters, or George Banks’ crazy reactions to the engagement. It wasn’t the beautiful house, sweeping romantic gestures, or elaborate wedding plans. It was the love of a family, and it echoed the deep affection she had for her own. Lisa’s family is her greatest joy and source of strength. When she walked the halls of the maternity ward, recovering from the birth of Ella all those years ago, she saw so many women sitting alone, absent of visitors. She remembered how her room overflowed with family in stark contrast and how she felt overwhelmed with gratitude.

She and Johnny share a Great Love, forged by a wedding on crutches, a hurricane on their honeymoon, major ice storms, power outages, and countless other catastrophes. Their love is deep and lasting and is their greatest gift to their three beautiful children.