Thursday 22 August 2019

Write from the heart: Irish woman marries her teenage penpal and is expecting a baby

If Siobhan Roth had been told last February that she'd be married, pregnant and living in the USA this Valentine's Day, she'd have laughed, but....

California dreaming: Siobhan and Dave Roth started their relationship as teenage penpals in 1993, and are now married and expecting their first child together.
California dreaming: Siobhan and Dave Roth started their relationship as teenage penpals in 1993, and are now married and expecting their first child together.

Andrea Smith

In 1993, two teenagers living on different continents and studying German at school were encouraged by their teachers to find a German pen pal so they could practice communicating in that language.

The girl, Siobhan Moran, was from Co. Meath, and after duly writing to a German girl, she applied for a second pen pal in California. "I was obsessed with the movie star Edward Furlong," she admits. "I decided to write to a boy in California in the hope that he might know Edward, so that I could somehow meet him. Because California is such a small place!"

Meanwhile, the boy, Dave Roth from Madera Ranchos in California, totally ignored his teacher's instruction, and ticked Ireland on his application form because he heard that Irish girls were "cute". He was matched with Siobhan and they got on really well, writing to each other for three years, and sending photos, postcards and newspaper clippings. However, when the artistic Siobhan moved to Dublin to do art and design and visual media courses at DIT, she got embroiled in the excitement of college life and her letter-writing waned. Then her dad Nicholas died of cancer in 1997, which was very traumatic, and her letters to Dave stopped altogether.

"I wasn't to know that he was left broken- hearted, as he had fallen madly in love with the girl writing those letters," says Siobhan, who grew up near Collinstown as the eldest of Brigid and the late Nicholas' four children. "Dave worked up the courage to tell me how he felt in a letter and also recorded himself on cassette tape, describing how his bag was packed and he was ready to come to Ireland to be with me if I wanted him. I never got the tape or letter, so he assumed that I had rejected him."

Siobhan's career path led to her working as a medical secretary, before becoming practice manager for podiatrist Isobel Guckian, which she loved. In September 2014, on a quiet day in the office, she checked Facebook and noticed a message in her inbox that she somehow hadn't spotted before. It had been sent seven months earlier, and it was from Dave, asking her if she was his pen pal from 20 years earlier? When she replied that she was, Siobhan was touched and amazed to discover that Dave had tried many ways to find her over the years. These included joining an online group for past pupils of Loreto, calling every Siobhan Moran in the phone book, and even contacting the hospital where she was born.

"I was so nervous that Siobhan would reject my feelings towards her and dismiss me as some kind of obsessive stalker type," Dave admits. "So I was relieved and amazed when we clicked almost instantly, initially through emails. Then, when I picked up the phone and heard her voice for the first time, her Irish accent and infectious laugh were like music to my American ears."

Siobhan found Dave's genuine honesty and openness really refreshing, and they fell in love over marathon phone and Skype calls (their record was nine hours one night). She discovered that after he lost hope of reconnecting with her, Dave went travelling and met and married a Russian girl. The marriage ended after eight years and his thoughts returned to Siobhan, sending him on a quest to find her. He was very down, having had to return to live with his parents, Jay and Christine, after his divorce, and turned to fervent prayer to rescue him from the sadness he was feeling. He had an inexplicable sense that Siobhan was the only one who could save him, and the following day, she logged on and found the Facebook message he had sent seven months earlier.

Siobhan and Dave quickly knew that they had something very special together, and while previously cautious, having had her heart broken too many times before, Siobhan made the decision to take three months off work and travel to California to give Dave the chance he wanted to "prove his worth". He met her at San Francisco airport on Valentine's Day 2015 and they fell into each other's arms. Dave proposed to Siobhan in the moonlight on Treasure Island, and she accepted, gave in her notice at work, and moved to America to be with him.

"Neither of us was in a good place emotionally when we came back into contact," says Siobhan, now 39. "I was suffering from anxiety attacks, but have since put those behind me, thanks to Dave's love and support. I suppose you could say we sort of saved each other."

Siobhan and Dave were married on May 5 in Fresno County Clerk Wedding Chapel, with Dave's parents as witnesses and his nieces Brianna and Victoria as Siobhan's bridesmaid and flower girl. "I knew from the very first letter I ever received from Siobhan that she was the girl for me," says Dave, now 40. "I couldn't rest until I found her again, and I thank her often for leaving everyone and everything she knew behind to start a new life with me. She' s a wonderful, charming, caring person and I tell her every day how special she is to me and how lucky I feel now that I'm finally married to her. We have such a laugh together - I tell my friends that she is me with boobs!"

While Siobhan misses her mum Brigid, siblings Pauline, Kevin, Fergal, nephew Flynn and friends, she was made to feel really welcome by Dave's parents and three younger brothers. The couple now live in Fresno, California, where Dave works as a truck driver with Dependable Highway Express. They dream of one day returning to live in Ireland. Two months after they married, Siobhan discovered she was pregnant, and their baby boy is due on April 27. She and Dave decided that the role of home-maker and mother-to-be would be her main job for now, but she has rediscovered her creative side and is making and selling hand-knitted scarves and hats online.

The pair go out to lunch or dinner together a few times a month, and also love taking trips. Siobhan says that Dave makes her feel safe and secure, loved and desired, and works very hard to provide for them both. They also both have a stubborn streak, but disagreements don't last long. "Dave is loving and loyal and has a very kind heart," she says. "Our advice to anyone yearning to find love would be to never lose hope. Your fairytale ending could be just around the corner. And to anyone who has feelings for someone but is afraid to voice them, take a chance. You might just be pleasantly surprised!" Check out Siobhan's hats and scarves on (see EmeraldIsleKnits)

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