Not Just Any Father Will Do

Posted: June 16, 2014 in Addiction, Crime, Family, Siblings
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I thought a lot about fathers today, of course, and how important their presence can be in our lives.  A good father (or stepfather) can serve as a teacher, a guiding star, an inspiration, or simply a haven of love and support that you know will be there, for as long as life allows.  (The same is true of mothers, of course.)  If you have a father like that, don’t miss your chance today (and every other day) to show him your love and gratitude for the gift he has given you.

I wish (as I have my whole life) that I would have had that kind of father, so I could be typing his praises right now.  But nobody promised me a rose garden, and hey – we all have our cross to bear.  I hope you won’t mind if I share this particular one with you.

For my brothers and I, fathers were more like a game of musical chairs – every time the music stopped, another Dad had left.  My older brother Marty and I were left by our father when I was 2.  No visiting, no child support.  My mother married again in 2 years, and 9 months later my little brother Frankie was born.  Within 6 months of his birth, my mother had a nervous breakdown, and spent a few weeks in a mental ward.  While she was there, Frank’s father loaded up his things, and some furniture, and left.  Different father, same story:  no visiting, no child support.

According to our mother, the third game of musical chairs was the charm – when the music stopped this time, the new Dad stayed.  And for our mother, he was the charm.  He worshipped her and was a wonderful husband.  And by far the most wonderful thing he did, according to our mother, was when I was seven and Frankie was three.  It was then that our “three times the charm” stepfather legally adopted us.  Still, it was hard to be happy about it–for us, this was yet another paternal let down; our biological fathers had now both given up all rights to us forever. Adios, kiddos!  sSee ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!  That’s not exactly inspiring to a child.  And the man our biological fathers gave us to?  Our mother saw him as our savior, our “real father”, the man who put a roof over our heads, the man who deserved to be called “Dad”.  We kids, on the other hand, soon began to see him for what he really was – a father imposter.

Oh, he played the game in front of our mother.  Or manipulated the facts, if need be.  But when she wasn’t around–which was often, as she became a hypochondriac and spent a lot of time in bed with a “sick headache”–he was not a father.  He was mean, and ignorant, devious and (for me) dangerous, but my mother was either completely fooled, or, more likely, simply refused to see.  He drove us all away, one by one.  My older brother joined the Marines; I was kicked out at 18 “because you can’t get along with your father”, and my little brother Frankie dropped out of high school, and was arrested for the first time at 17.

In the aftermath, our “family” was broken for good, though my mother’s marriage to the imposter lasted till death did they part.  He got her, and my brother Frank and I lost our mother.  Marty moved to Florida with them, a choice I could never understand, and stayed a part of their lives till their deaths – it was only after their death that I learned that “Mom’s favorite” had instead been mentally abused by them both for years.  He now lives on disability and suffers from scoliosis and severe panic attacks.

My brother Frank and I instead sought out father figures.  Frank’s father figure was a criminal, who led him into a variety of crime and drugs.  My first marriage was to a father figure – not because he was so much older, but because he was as stern and domineering as the “father” I’d grown up with.  I would eventually seek out my biological father, and reconcile with him, and leave the domineering husband.

I guess we all learn in our own way, our own time. There’s a saying, “All that water and not a drop to drink.”  For my brothers and I, it was “all those fathers, and yet no fathering”.  Without a proper guide, we each stumbled through parenthood in different ways.

Marty married a woman who couldn’t read or write, with three children.  He later adopted a baby (a child of one of her relatives who had severe mental/physical handicaps, and was unwanted).  When she died, her children took her insurance money and left my brother with the burial bill and his adopted, physically/mentally challenged son.  Marty had to move back in with my mother and stepfather, and there he remained till their death.  No wonder he suffers from mental disability now.

Frank married young, had a son, and then spent the rest of his years in and out of prison, committing crimes and doing drugs.  He didn’t pay support, though he did see his son when he could.  He was a loving but absent father, and a very poor role model.  His son became addicted to crystal meth, and now suffers from schizophrenia.

I divorced my first husband, who had fathered our two sons, and when I met the man who would eventually become my second husband, I was very, very wary of bringing a stepfather into their lives.  Their own father was still in their lives, and I wanted to be sure that anyone I married would treat them right.  But my sons loved him almost from the start, and I soon became convinced, and rightfully so, that he would be a good father – and he has never disappointed me, or our (now) four children.  I am grateful, every day, that he is a loving and good man, and has been a positive influence in all of their lives.

So what was different about the men my mother brought into my life?

Let’s start with my father.  He spent the ages of 8-15 in an orphanage and when his mother finally came back for him, he told her he no longer needed her.  I found that out years later, when he and I were on a road trip to Bellingham Washington to see my oldest son graduate.  My Dad was telling me how his mother gave him and another sibling up for adoption when times were hard, and how he couldn’t believe she’d expect him to just welcome her back into his life when she finally returned for him.  I looked at him then and said, “Did you ever think about the fact that you did the same thing to me?  Only you never came back – I found you.”  My Dad was silent.  I don’t think he had ever considered that.

As for my younger brother’s father, I don’t know his story.  We never saw him again, and our mother never provided any details (we weren’t encouraged to ask about them, since she insisted our stepfather was our “real father”.)  But I’d wager a guess that his father wasn’t such a great example either.

Finally, our stepfather, too, was an orphan.  So he married a ready-made family, one which he had no idea what to do with, and obviously didn’t really want once he got it.

Compare those three to my husband and one thing stands out:  he learned by example.  My husband’s father, rest in peace, was an exemplary father.  He was kind, hardworking, loving and endlessly patient, both as a father and a grandfather.  He had a heart of gold, and my husband has many of those qualities.  The men my mother brought into our lives, conversely lacked a father, and their own parenting suffered for it.  The lack of a good parent can cause a chain reaction that continues on for generations – unless someone breaks the link.

That’s where I was lucky.  I am so thankful, every day, that my children have all their links intact (and an extra one to boot).  My older two boys have both a loving father AND a loving stepfather, and my younger two children have both parents, still together.  My eldest son has two children, and I am so proud of the love, time and devotion he shows them every day.

One good man can make a difference that can leave its mark on generations.  As parents, we all need to remember that, and if you’re not a parent, you can still have a positive effect on children whose lives you touch.

Here’s to all the good men in the world, whether fathers or stepfathers or uncles or anyone who positively influences a child:  you make the world a better place, for now and in the future.  Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

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