The Vow: The Journey of a Love Story to Fulfill One Last Promise

A man sat gazing upon an urn of ashes embedded in delicate white lace and tropical flowers as it prepared for entombment into a final resting place. Though in vivid description, it was precisely how this Facebook image came to my attention. No language was needed. The photo profoundly captured the grieving man’s longing and heartbreak. 

John with his niece Francie’s baby who is named after him

Gripped by the emotional image, I sent a message to the original poster, a gracious woman named Frances. I learned that the ashes being interred are of her uncle John Godinet, and the man in the photo was his husband, Peter Dare. As if fate had intervened, I knew a higher power brought me to this story. The next few days were a testament to how deeply rooted our Samoan community is in the family. Frances connected me with her cousin, Pulotu, whom Peter was staying with. The day Peter was to fly out of Samoa, I received a reply and we arranged for a chance to speak with Peter at their home. 

In American Samoa, street names are nonexistent since many homes sit on communal lands. The only way to locate a house is to simply ask. I quickly sought the help of my cousin Grace, who was kind enough to take us. The drive took us all the way to the west end of the island in the Village of Leone where we were able to meet the man in the photo. 

John younger years

Since the inception of Fofola le Fala, this was the first time that I had no knowledge of the people involved or their stories. I followed a path led entirely by a deeply moving photograph. I learned that there is a story of nearly 50 years of commitment and devotion to each other. The photo I saw was the end of that journey to fulfill one last promise. 

Peter Dare grew up in suburban Chicago, as the middle child of three brothers. In 1970, during his senior year of college in central Illinois, he dropped out of school to join the Navy. Hoping to see the world through military service, life didn’t happen the way he planned. Eventually, he settled in Monterey, California where he met John Godinet at a bar. 

John joined the military when he was 19 years old. He was teaching shorthand and typing at a local high school when decided to join the military one afternoon. “In 1975, a friend of mine said, ‘Hey I am going to take the test to join the military.’ I said ‘Oh I will go with you. I don’t know if I will pass it, but I will go,’” Godinet said. “I passed, went home and told my parents. My mom cried and my dad said, ‘Let him go, maybe the Army will make a man out of him.’” (Journal News/2019)

“I made the first move,” Peter recalls. “I asked him on a date his response was, “I’m not gay.” “We met again a few weeks later and started a conversation. At first, he introduced himself as Hawaiian. But when I told him I read Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa” he was impressed and said “Oh, so you do know of Samoa. I’m from Samoa.” After that, we began dating. I only understood later that claiming he was other than Samoan was his way of avoiding the ignorant questions about his homeland.” 

After two months of dating, Peter and John moved in together in Caramel, California. It was about a 45-minute drive from Fort Ord where Peter was stationed. He served throughout the week and drove home during the weekends. When John was discharged from military service, Peter instilled in him the importance of having stability. “We were together because we wanted to be together.” Said Peter. “You’ve got to safeguard your future because at any given time when one of us wanted to leave, we have to be secured in our own right. That was critical to me to make sure John had his own support so there’s a lot of independence between us in that regard. I wanted equality in the equation.” 

Peter worked as a Surveyor and John was employed at Merril Lynch. When a couple of their friends moved to Washington D.C, John and Peter moved with them and the four of them rented a house together on Connecticut Avenue. Eventually, they moved out of D.C. and bought a home in Maryland. However, they were still close enough to go to D.C anytime. The metro train always ran through, and it was an easy trip to get downtown especially when friends and family visited.

John left Merril Lynch to work for Standard Federal Savings which later was bought by Citi Corp. He was employed there for over 25 years. “He helped people keep their mortgages by finding alternate financing for those who couldn’t make their monthly payment on time.” said Peter. “He was very proactive in helping to keep people in their homes. That was partly the Samoan in him too.” 

While John was the active part of their relationship, Peter was the homebody. “I’d rather be sitting in our yard having a beer. That’s comforting for me.” Peter reflected. “John would rather be dancing at a bar. He was the party animal. I didn’t mind because I had our dogs, so it worked well for us in the beginning.” But when John began having DUI’s, it became a problem. After the third DUI I told him, “You gotta realize if you injured somebody, we’d lose the house and everything we have.” At that point in time, he began changing his priorities. 

Magazine ad for his aerobics class. John taught exercise classes for over 30 years
John during his years as a marathon runner

John recovered with renewed enthusiasm, reemerging by channeling his energy into fitness and charity work. He joined and became President of the local Lions Club and brought Peter along with him to help generate money to give away. They also became part of the Fire Company. John taught aerobics and other fitness classes at Gold’s Gym, Fitness First, and other clubs in the area. He discovered his greatest passion in long-distance running including marathons and 50 and 100 mile races. 

John with his nephew AJ at a pride event in D.C.

His colorful outfits, infectious personality, and zest for life drew everyone to him. He treated everyone like family and became a beacon of hope to all he touched along the way. One of them was prolific award-winning filmmaker Robert Rooy who began filming John and the community he inspired. The documentary titled “Tail Twister” is still in production and will be televised on PBS at a future date. 

During their entire relationship together John and Peter made certain everything was jointly under their names from bank accounts to their home. It was a practical reality, should anything happen to either of them no one could take anything away. At that period of time, it protected them legally. After over 30 years together the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned. Finally, they were able to marry on July 11th, 2013. “That’s a date I could remember.” said Peter, “Everything else has been a blur for years I can’t even remember when my birthday comes up. But John doesn’t forget anything.” 

John with his mom and sister Maria

According to Peter his family never spoke the word, “gay”. It was never talked about. They just accepted them as life went on. The first time he visited Samoa he was a bit concerned. But like his own family, it was never an issue. They knew and just embraced them as they were. Everywhere they went, everyone was open and hospitable. Family is what Peter appreciates most about Samoa. 

During their last visit together, they were looking at land on John’s family plantation in Leone contemplating a move on island. But it was soon after that John began losing muscle use in his arms and legs. One day he was teaching an aerobics class and his arm suddenly dropped. It took a year and a half to eliminate a number of neurological disorders before John Hopkins University diagnosed him with ALS, also known as, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a progressive disease where motor neurons in the body die out and muscle control is no longer functional. There’s no cure. 

John and Peter

As an army veteran, they applied for medical care. In 2018, the VA acknowledged his illness was a service-connected disability which allowed priority help. They provided wheelchairs and even funding to modify their home to make it wheelchair accessible. Eventually, John could no longer move anymore so a lift was installed. The VA was a lifesaver to them. 

John found therapy in art when he was battling ALS. His art collection titled “a passage in time” was exhibited posthumously at the Delaplaine Arts Center in Maryland in November, 2021.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., it complicated things. Peter allowed no one from outside into their home so he had to provide 24-hour care. He retired from work and became John’s full-time caretaker. Many friends lived around their area so whatever they needed they did all the shopping and dropped it off at the house. “It was the nicest thing ever,” said Peter, “They were willing to do anything for us because they wanted to protect John. Every day we had visitors and I brought John to the window to see them.” 

John was taken to the hospital for a minor infection. Later he developed further infections, and the hospital stays became longer, all the while getting worse. They had a trach tube in place to force oxygen in to help him breathe. While in rehabilitation, John told Peter “This is never gonna get any better.” “As active as he’s always been, he said he was tired. He made his own decision. His mind was still strong, so he had every legal right.” said Peter.

The nurses removed John’s breathing tube and began putting him on morphine. It was the end stage of his transition. John was able to live an entire week before his inevitable passing.  Peter, John’s good friend Jennifer, cousin Matt and his wife Fay were all by his side when he took his last breath. “It took me six months to forgive him.” Peter expressed as his voice trembled with tears filling up his eyes. “That hurt. It’s hard to talk about it now. There was no option. John had the courage, and it was his decision to go.”

John and Peter mid years

John and Peter were together for 46 years. “What was your key to such long-lasting relationship?” I asked Peter. “We were able to stay together because we both had flexibility. If he wanted to go out, there was no jealousy. I wasn’t controlling. We don’t try to micromanage each other. We both got lives. We didn’t have to be tight knit because there was trust in each other.” 

After his death in 2021, COVID-19 restrictions were still active. It took a year and a half before Peter was able to make plans to bring him home. “We talked about it many times before.” He said, “If one of us was to die first he wanted to be buried next to his mom. I talked to Senator Faiivae Alex Godinet (John’s bother) the day John died,” he said “Peter we understand. There’s no rush. Whenever you can, just bring him home. We’d like to have him home.” It was my obligation to bring him home to his family. 

Sibling photo L-R: Faiivae, John, Antonia, Maria  Fred and Taimaiilelagi Muka
John (center) With his mom Pautonu Molio’o Godinet and younger siblings

In May of 2023, John’s family prepared a final service in American Samoa before his ashes were interred next to his parents’ graves. “I’m 77 now. It’s unclear but potentially I could move to Samoa, rent a place and live out the rest of my days here.” Peter reflected “I only have one of our dogs left. Our house is too big now without John. It’s more than I want and more than I could maintain being alone.” 

“Uncle John loved life. He loved his family. He loved his brothers and sisters. He loved us, his nieces and nephews each, in his own way. Definitely claiming the “Favorite Uncle” for our family. He is missed dearly, is and will be loved forever. Uncle John is Love.” – Niece Francie (pic John with his nieces and nephews)

As our time with Peter ended, we hugged and said goodbyes before my cousin, Grace and I drove away while admiring the idyllic atmosphere of John’s childhood neighborhood. We passed by his resting place and paused there for a bit. I thought of John and Peter and their life together. Imagining all the places they’ve been and the people who were part of their lives, all those decades together, the birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries. I thought of how extraordinary it was that a single snapshot on Facebook would ultimately deliver me to their story.

John in high school

For people like us, who have been ostracized, marginalized, and silenced by society to live our lives among the shadows. It is a most beautiful feeling to behold such a relationship, like John and Peter survived those challenges and withstood the test of time. A love story that embodies deep within the heart of those very sacred vows.

In plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. Till death do us part.”

3 thoughts on “The Vow: The Journey of a Love Story to Fulfill One Last Promise

  1. What a heart warming story. Very touching. I love the way you told it. I also love that photo of Peter with John’s ashes. Take care and God bless.

  2. Peter, do you remember visiting John’s aunty Alice in salinas? I’m thinking it was you with him, early 1970s.

  3. The Vow, a love 💕 story was well-written and well-said! Thank you 🙏 for sharing Peter and John’s life journey. The purity of their love for each other helped them survived the challenges and difficulties that they had to face and overcome through life. The Vow they dedicated to each other was scared, so beautiful, simple, and yet so powerful! He kept his promise…and he honored his wish. Rest-in-peace, John! Welcome 🙏 home!.

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