PORT ANGELES — He was, by his own description, a “long-haired, motorcycle-riding janitor.”
She was an 18-year-old from Kansas.
And from the day Paul and Cathy Daley met some 40 years ago, they had big differences. She’s ultra-feminine and genteel, and he’s a brash, big-belt-buckle-wearing guy. He is a long-story teller, while she smiles and adds just a few choice words to the conversation.
They have been married 37 years now; 27 of those have been in Port Angeles, where Paul, a psychologist, and Cathy, his office manager, have built a busy private practice.
To hear the story of this alliance is to hear about an evolution, an education — and large portions of mutual admiration.
“Cathy is the very best human being I have ever met in my life,” Paul says. “And she is very, very good to me.”
“It’s really quite easy,” his wife says. “He’s an interesting character. Life is not dull.”
Being together, however, has not been easy for this team. Their two years of dating before marriage was in Paul’s word “tumultuous.” There were disagreements, family issues, misunderstandings.
But amidst all that, there was, well, a powerful attraction. The Daleys met at Seattle Children’s hospital, where he was a janitor and she a ward clerk.
“You had me from hello,” he says now, unabashedly quoting from a country song.
She had a feeling he was it for her, too. “From the day he read my name tag, I had that connection,” Cathy says.
And even though Paul was extremely shy, he managed to place himself in her line of sight. Since he knew where she worked at the hospital, he adjusted his janitorial territory accordingly.
“I buffed her floor, even though it wasn’t my floor to buff,” he recalls.
That led to him working up the nerve to ask her to take a motorcycle ride with him. She accepted; he borrowed a dollar for gas from his roommate; they vroomed off to the beach to sit on a log and talk.
The conversation that day gave birth to a four-decade journey.
A big disagreement came early on, when they couldn’t agree on whether to live together or get married. Paul felt that “we don’t need no damn piece of paper to show our love to the world.”
Cathy, however, thought her father would kill both of them if they chose to “live in sin,” as it were.
“So we argued and argued and argued. Then we decided to flip a coin. I won, and she looked devastated,” Paul remembers.
OK, so the winner of two of three coin tosses would get his or her way.
But Paul won again. And again, Cathy looked exceedingly sad.
It became clear that they would keep on tossing that coin, until Cathy won at last.
They smile at the memory now.
“It was a face-saving way for me to say, ‘OK, let’s get married,’” Paul says.
The Daleys tied the knot on the bank of the Stillaguamish River in Arlington on Aug. 30, 1974. Both wore blue jeans; he was 21 and she 20.
Then the evolution began in earnest.
Paul decided to leave the janitor job behind to go to the University of Washington — where he finished his undergraduate degree in three years — and then study for his doctorate at the University of Colorado.
The reason he went to college at all? “Her,” Paul says.
After his yearlong internship in Milwaukee, Paul and Cathy moved to John Day, a tiny town in the middle of Oregon.
He became director of the county mental health program and proceeded to work 14-hour days. And the town makes Port Angeles look like a metropolis; there was just one stoplight in the whole county. After a few years, Paul ran into clients everywhere.
By the time he was 30, he was ready to go somewhere new, to do something different.
Starting a private practice was a big risk. But Paul and Cathy decided to go for it, together. Paul became one of the first psychologists to open such an office in Port Angeles, and through it all, Cathy took care of the business side while providing moral support.
“Where would I be without her? Nowhere,” Paul says now.
The Daleys moved to Port Angeles in April 1984. They raised their sons here; Jeremiah is 32 now and Levi 28, and both have moved to Bremerton.
Bringing them up was an adventure, as was moving to Port Angeles and opening a business.
They chose Port Angeles because it was close, but not too close, to their family members in the Seattle area. Paul had grown up there, while Cathy had spent most of her childhood in Wichita and then moved with her family to Everett.
The Daleys have gone through some mighty big fights amid all the stresses of moving, running a business and raising children. Yet they have arrived at this point not merely married, but also — very obviously — deeper in love.
The first three years were hard; the young couple fought, and though they tried to communicate, “we did it childishly and poorly,” Paul remembers. They separated for a planned six months, with the help of a therapist. When they got back together, the childish fighting started again.
Suddenly, Paul had an idea: Let us try to talk to each other, he suggested, with our eyes instead of our words. Cathy made a face, but then started to cry. So did Paul. They knew then that they didn’t want to treat each other badly any more.
“I don’t know how it came to me,” Paul said of the talk-with-your-eyes notion. But it was “probably founded in facing that what we were doing was obviously not working and wasn’t going to work.”
“It helps to get out of the rut,” says Cathy, referring to the classic verbal-analytical arguments that bog so many couples down.
There have been times since that separation when she and her man spoke with their eyes, or spoke Spanish to each other, having both studied it. They find that alternate forms of communication somehow defuse the fury.
Not that the Daleys had a smooth time from reunion on. The whole first decade of their marriage was riddled with loud conflict. But they made it into their 30s together, they say, because they learned how to soften toward each other.
Back when Paul and Cathy were in therapy, he would get angry at something she said, something he didn’t understand. The counselor would ask him to count to 10 before reacting, but he couldn’t even get to “o — .”
“I felt too stabbed,” he remembers.
But through practice, practice, practice, they did learn to pause. They learned that they didn’t have to go full-speed at every conflict.
“If I stop arguing with her, and treat her softly, her response will be a little softer. Then I will be a little softer. And by the third go-round, we’ll be talking softly with each other,” Paul says.
“We’ve had a lot of different problems,” adds Cathy.
She does not, however, believe in trading in her life partner. And somewhere around the 20-year mark in their marriage, Paul and Cathy came to this understanding: that love means accepting your spouse, flaws and all.
“She taught me how to do that,” Paul says.
Meantime, Paul counsels couples. It’s harder than he expected. Relationships are just plain difficult, he says, due to the differences between the way women and men see the world.
Yet Paul likes working with couples.
“I find my relationship with my wife to be so central to my happiness, so foundational,” he says. “I like to help people toward that.”
Cathy feels strongly about family bonds, and about loving your people no matter their flaws and foibles. That includes her husband, of course. When she and Paul have disagreements, she believes the key is not to “fix” him, but to change the way they’re interacting.
The measure of when the fight is over, Paul adds, is when the partners like each other again.
“And we know how to do that,” he says of himself and Cathy. “We know how to get to the point where we feel extremely lucky.”
The day-to-day gestures, both Paul and Cathy find, are like food for the hungry soul.
“When we were young and poor and it was his birthday, I would put $2 bills in his pockets,” Cathy remembers. She wanted to give him that little joy of “Oh, there’s money in my pocket that I didn’t know I had.”
“I thought I had magic pockets,” Paul adds with a smile.
Cathy also remembers the romantic dinners they had when they were first dating. Paul would prepare all of the ingredients for tacos, and bring the skillets to the hospital where she worked, so they could assemble everything and dine during her break.
Paul, for his part, spoke of his wife’s thoughtfulness when his mother was ill.
“Cathy sent her a get-well card every day,” he recalls.
Later on, he figured out that the old standby, flowers, have magic powers.
One time, “I bought her a bunch of roses . . . and I was surprised,” he says, “at how it filled the office with love.”
Very often, Paul admits, he’ll be in his upstairs office, writing reports and evaluations, and he’ll leave the phone line open just so he can hear Cathy rustling papers.
“It’s silly,” Paul acknowledges. But after all this time, the pair just likes being in each other’s company. They like the perks of working together, too.
“She gets a hug almost every hour,” Paul says. “I sneak downstairs between clients and give her a hug.”
Evenings, they like to drive out onto Ediz Hook for a walk, or just to park and read to each other. They play backgammon just about every night.
“It really comes down to the simple things,” Cathy says.
Mornings are sweet, Paul adds. “When I wake up, I touch her. If nothing else, it’s just tangling up our ankles, or bottom of foot to bottom of foot.“Sometimes,” he says, “that’s the nicest part of the day.”