Friday, October 07, 2005

Just a little self pity and anger...

For those of you who would prefer to see me as happy, well-adjusted, and living the good life, close your browser and go home. Now.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m on the outside looking in at someone else’s happy life.

Ever feel that way ?

I don’t even know what the divorce numbers are now-- what is it-- half of all marriage end in divorce, huge numbers of kids living away from at least one biological parent? Pretty sad. Most of them living with moms, only seeing their dads as custodial agreements agree. There are so many kids who see their biological dads either as absentee jerks who can’t seem to get it together, or get to watch from the outside as dads move on to find their own happiness.

I’ve never been divorced. But my oldest child is from previous relationship. He’s the joy of my heart and the delight of my life. He is so completely precious, brilliant, compassionate, pensive, and special that I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to be deeply a part of his beautiful life. His father, when he was conceived, was going through a divorce that existed only in his heart and mind and lies. He was stupid, and a liar, and manipulative. After his real divorce, he went through a few years of just plain being stupid. He would come to visit our son only when he knew I wasn’t seeing anyone. He was regular as ex-lax when it came to paying child support-- anything to keep me away, and keep me from pursuing a deeper relationship between him and our son. And he saw his child once every 12-24 months, when I made it convenient.

The standard script goes a little something like this:

Me: Hey, we’re going to be coming through Atlanta next weekend on our way to Birmingham. Would you like to get together and see ____?

Dad: Oh, let me check... Yep, I have a 9:30 business meeting, but I bet I could work you in for an 8:15 breakfast at Shoney's. I just won’t be able to stay long.

I’m really not making that up. That is how the past 5 visits have been arranged (the only 5 visits that have happened in the past 6 years, just as a note). There have been promises of visits, last minute cancellations, and other lies and let-downs.

6 years ago, I married an amazing man with awesome integrity and a gentle spirit. I never told my son to call him “Daddy;” it just happened over the first year we were together. He is (like me) a child of divorce, and is the father of all three of my children, nevermind the biology. He’s incredible, and I could never express how thankful I am to have him in my life, and our sons' lives. Whenever my oldest’s biodad would cancel another visit, tell another lie, or make another excuse, I had two comforts. First, my son has a dad, even if the biodad is a sorry excuse for a human. Second, I comforted myself in the knowledge that biodad has made life choices and career decisions that have simply created in him someone who is not capable of being a dad. He wasn’t able to be a dad to his first 5 children or to our son; he’s just not dad material, which is a sad and sorry state for him to be in, given that he has fathered so many children. So many precious moments he’s missing-- so many sweet kisses and bedtime giggles and dinner table stories. I’ve tried to mitigate my anger all these years by telling myself that he is just not dad material. He’s a rotten dad, he’s finally realized it, and he is cutting loose and moving on.

Sometime early in 2005, we had scheduled another extremely convenient lunch date for our son to see his biodad. It was cancelled 3 hours before the start time because (surprise surprise) “non-dad material” biodad and his “career-minded, doesn’t want children” third wife were in the hospital, welcoming a new baby. I thought he was insane, having another kid to neglect, and we didn’t hear from him again for months. When he did eventually call, he told me about the web site where our son could see pictures of his new baby half-brother (the half-brother he will probably never see, if the current pattern keeps up).

When I went to the site, expecting a few portraits, instead I found tens upon tens of pictures of a beautiful, happy, loving, joyful family. All these years of his misery, I’ve been praying for him to be happy, thinking that a more emotionally healthy and happy biodad would be in the best interest of our son. And now I was sitting at the computer looking at biodad’s happy, healthy family, and had never felt more pain. If he had it in him to be a dad, even a sort-of bad one, but an involved dad nonetheless, then WHY HASN’T HE BEEN DOING IT ALL THESE YEARS? WHY ISN’T HE DOING IT NOW, FOR HIS LOST SON????

Today, my dad hurt my feelings. A little hurt-- tiny like the point of a needle-- touching the balloon of pent-up heartache and anger that’s been building for a while. I don’t remember my parents ever living together. My only childhood memories of his involvement in my life (up until I could drive and go to visit him myself) were that he sent a little over $200 a month for child support, even when his income increased far beyond what it was in 1980, when that amount was determined; that I saw him 2-3 times a year, most years, and that we did lots of fun stuff when I’d go to be with him; that he didn’t protect me from the step-brother who was thankfully only in my life for a short time; that he could play songs on the guitar that made me laugh; and that I always liked his third (and current, and last) wife a lot, even though they didn’t invite me to their wedding. I still idealized him in the way that daughters do when they don’t live with their fathers, and thought he hung the moon because he never hit me and his house was big and old. I had a step-father, too, but we never got along [{---understatement], and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I fully came to appreciate that he did love me, but in his own way.

At 18, when I went through a particularly angry phase, I couldn’t stand either of them, to be honest-- my step-father for being who he was, and my father for coming in after 18 years of being (in my eyes) a non-parent, suddenly ready to be the dad that he never had been. By 21, I loved them both very much, although there will always still be moments of hurt and confusion, and many tears cried (some of the inherent risks of being part of a family). I’m 30 now, and I understand that everyone is human; everyone is going to have times when they inadvertently hurt someone else. But it still hurts, even after quite a few years.

And when my dad hurts me, like he did today (certainly without meaning to, and probably without even realizing he had), it reminds me what it feels like to be on the outside looking in at someone else’s father-of-the-year. I’ve never lived in the same town as him until the past year, and I’ve never been around his family quite as much to see what they’re like. We’re learning how to live near each other again, how to work together, and how each other operates. And maybe the hurts are happening now that I managed to escape with 25 years of scheduled visitation and weekend get-togethers. And when it happens, it makes me do a little mental housecleaning and sorting out of old memories.

For example, here’s a few things my stepfather has never done:
Told me it would cramp his lifestyle to have me living with him.
Told me I couldn’t come to something he was doing because it was family only.
Made me feel like I was in any way not a part of his family.

He’s done things that made me hate him when I was younger, so much so that I sometimes (in the angst of my teenage frustrations) envied kids who had the guts to kill their parents. But he has always been unhestitatingly, unreservedly, and unapologetically my dad. There has never once been a single thing he has offered my brother and sister that he didn’t offer me, never a thing they were invited to that I wasn’t, and never once a time that he withheld something from me that he had to give. I don’t think I ever told him enough how much I love him; I was too busy expecting him to be something he wasn’t. Expecting him to somehow be something for me that even my own biological dad wasn’t.

Every parent has flaws. There isn’t a single one of us who doesn’t at some point say or do something to or about our children that hurts them deeply. There isn’t a single one of us who has found the book or video that explains how to raise a child. None of us has cornered the market on being a perfect parent, and none of us, no matter how idealized or hated we may be by our children at times, has cornered the market on being a bad parent, either. We’re all a little bit of both, depending on the time of day and the mood of the moment, and we’re all living this same human experience in the best way we think we can.

I love both of my dads, neither more than the other. The older I get and the more I live as a mother, the more I realize how important they both are to me, and how much power they still wield to comfort or break my heart. I’m a grown woman, a wife, and a mother to my own children, and yet somehow, in spite of my best efforts and against my better judgment, I’m still in love with my dads. I wish they could see that.

I’m on the outside looking in at someone else’s happy life
watching the parents I never had raise the child I’ll never be...
Feeling lost, trying hard,
still trying to do enough be enough love enough
(like a stupid little girl that thinks she can fix her parents by just being good)
yet knowing all along that it’s all just a ruse
and I’ll always be looking in from the outside.

1 comment:

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