So I scrolled through my Facebook feed this morning, reading status after status of Father’s Day greetings. Some were for fathers who have died but are still being acknowledged for the influence they had on their children. Some were for the fathers of their children, even if they aren’t still a husband–and the fact that, once you have kids, you are connected to this man forever, no matter what you think or feel about him.
These messages were, almost 100%, positive and affirming, thanking men who had great influence on lives beyond merely donating genetic material for their lives. Many posters changed their profile picture to one of their father, or of their father and them. Several talked about the continued interaction they have with their fathers, even being adults themselves, and how this continues to make their lives more meaningful.
I guess you can tell that we’re not going to have that kind of conversation here.
I’ve blogged before about my father ( My Daddy ) so I won’t go into long details about my childhood here. But I got to thinking, as I was reading my friends’ comments, that while I love my father, I feel no particular connection to him. I may not even call him today because frankly, he’s getting old, he doesn’t hear well, he’s hard to understand on the phone–and he wants to talk about health issues and what I should be doing about mine. There’s not much left for us to talk about; computers, how my car is doing, health. When I do call, if he answers, once he realizes it’s me, he hands the phone over to my mom almost immediately.
I haven’t seen my father in almost 4 years; the last time I saw him (and my mother) was when they came to Baltimore to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with me, my children, my brother and his family. We tried to make the trip as pleasant as possible and they both just complained about everything. (Minor side not here: choosing the restaurant for the anniversary dinner was horrendous. Suggestion after suggestion was made, internet research was done and menus were compared. It finally came down to my father telling my mother, “ML, just pick one because you’re not going to like it anyways.” Prophetic words. They both groused about it later, how the food wasn’t that good and so on. I thought it was really good and so did everyone else at the table. Sigh.)
It is entirely possible that I will never see either parent again. And when they die, I am not going to TX to the funeral(s). I cannot afford it and I see no reason to go visit someone if they don’t know I’m there. Hmmm visits. I got to counting how many times I’ve seen my father after I left home to go into the AF (1980). He visited MY house exactly ONE time. I think the total is 8. And one of those is actually the 3 month period when I lived with my grandmother (who lived just 5 minutes walking from my mother, her daughter).
So in my adult life I continued the pattern of my childhood–my father loves me, provides what he can, whether it be advice or material things, but he’s just not around. My father is NOT my friend. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way. But you hang out with friends, you see them and call them regularly, you know what each other likes and dislikes. I don’t do any of that with the man whose genetic information I carry. I look like my father. I cannot tell you what his favorite color, food, band or TV show is. I don’t know what size he wears, or what kind of shirt he prefers. In fact, there’s an awful lot about my dad that I don’t know. And that’s true the other way around: he doesn’t know an awful lot about me.
So there’s no connection beyond that DNA thing. Not really. We might pretend that there is. We can talk about “remember when” from a history of 18 years together–but I don’t remember the first 3 or 4 real well and to be blunt, he wasn’t there for a great deal of the other 14 years. Not until I was in high school was he truly a routine part of my routine. And folks, it’s been 34 years since that time existed. We’ve all forgotten a lot about it, so there’s a few highlights that get mentioned whenever we’re talking about the good old days. We don’t have any current congruent events to discuss. And no upcoming common events to plan. So no connection of the normal social interaction that defines friendship and family. (You can have lots of family that has NO common DNA with you–it’s the family that you’ve chosen rather than the one you were born into. And generally, these are better and more assured places for support, resources and emotional bonds.)
He IS my father. As I said, I look like him. Even with him being gone so much of my childhood, my mother has told me that in many ways, I act like him. I believe that personality has at least 50% of its basis in your DNA; you are born with a personality framework that is in your genes. THEN your environment either brings out or suppresses various parts of the personality. So I can act like him without knowing how he acts. He has many characteristics that I respect; he has done many great things in his life. He has had an interesting and exciting life (and while it’s not over, I suspect that the drama factor has dropped substantially. The biggest event now is driving up to San Antonio for his doctor’s appointments. LOL). But I do not have a bond with this man whose genetic traits I carry.
Father’s Day. I honor my father for all that he has given me, for all that he has taught me, for the example he has been to me and my brother. I respect him for the life he has led, even though I cannot tell you most of it. I love him in a way that I will never love another man, but in many ways, he is still a stranger to me. And all I can tell you for sure is that he is my father.
So I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, reading about fathers and feeling sad about these truths I hold about my father when I read my daughter’s status. Like many others, she mentioned her biological father as well as the father of her children. I read that status a couple of times and while I would have loved to click the “Like” button on this status as I had on so many others, I just could not.
Here’s why. She could have mentioned a third man, honoring him for being another person in her life who loves her and is a resource for her–emotionally, physically, financially. Someone who is there to talk to, who visits and who also loves her children. Someone who has no children of his own, will have no grandchildren that look “just like grammpa!”. A man who wanted nothing more than to be a part of my family–my husband. It’s not that there is a nasty scene with high drama that explains why she didn’t mention him. She CHOSE to preclude him from the status of “step dad” of her own free will and without any cause from him. And this makes me both incredibly angry and terribly sad.
It affects me because it affects him. I talked about this in my earlier blog, “Changes, Choices and Chagrin” and obviously, nothing has changed since then. Today’s status was just another emotional slap in the face and frankly, I am not in a condition to deal with it. Which is why I’m writing it here. If I can write it down, share it with you, perhaps I can let it go out of my heart and not continue to cry about it. He never wanted nor meant to replace her “real” father in her life. And I truly believe that we can never have too many people who love us. So it always makes me sad when people choose to refuse offers of genuine love and support.
I was told that it would get confusing to the granddaughter to have all these grandparents, that the biological father’s wife wasn’t being called “grandma” either, so my husband didn’t have to feel that he was being singled out. Well, guess what? No child can have too many people to love them, either. And just exactly WHAT do you call the husband of your grandmother or the wife of your grandfather? I was initially told that the title also could not be used because we weren’t married. And the impression I got was that there was this conga line of men going through my life, and it WOULD get confusing if Grandmom had a new grandfather with her every time she visited. Not sure where that impression was based, because Beloved was the first man I had dated in several years, and the first man I moved in and was living with since a relationship that had died in 2002. We’re not talking conga line. We’re barely talking MEN plural. And regardless of that, we ARE married now. Have been for quite a while.
And it’s not confusing to the kids if you say “Grandmom Lisa and Granddad John are coming over.” And then there’s Granddad Bill and his wife, Grandmom Julie. And considering that my daughter’s quasi-in-laws are also divorced and there’s 4 of them as well…it’s just the way things are, and there’s a lot of families that are having to use this same kind of naming system because divorce occurs so often. This doesn’t even begin to include the “greats”–the still living parents of the grandparents. Or the dear, dear family friend who is too old to be “Auntie” or “Unk”. And when a small child is referring to this one as a grandparent, do they call the spouse by their first name? Unless said spouse has indicated that’s the preferred method of naming, it’s kinda rude.
“The child will pick their own name for the (not) step-grandparent.” Really? Then we’re in real trouble, especially considering that my Froggy calls his other grandmother “Nut Nut”. And my granddaughter calls her (not) step-grandmother “Poopie”. No thanks. I’d like SOME control over what I’m going to hear out my beloved grandchildren’s mouths for the next oh 18 years. Truthfully, I’m not caught up in the title part. I really am okay with my grandchildren calling me by my name. It’s short, it’s easy, even a child can say it without too much problem: Kate. But that denies the social nicety, almost necessity of that title, which defines my relationship to the child. Which is why I’m peeved that my husband is going to have to be explained–and the explanation comes down to, “This man is my grandmother’s husband, but he’s NOT my grandfather.” Fuck that shit.
And up a generation, the introduction sounds like this: “This is my mother’s husband, but he’s NOT my father.” Wow. Really? What’s wrong with, “This is Jim, my stepdad.” Because there are step-parents who are as bad (or worse) than your biological ones. It’s a title, it explains the relationship between the two people without having to make someone feel bad because you talk around the connection. Oh connection. That’s right, it has been chosen to refuse that connection. And in refusing to make *that* connection, the grandchildren are also denied the connection. It could not be made any clearer that my Beloved, MY husband, is not a part of my family.
My family, that I have loved and thought was strong, my children who I also call my friends. Seems like I was wrong and I’m not sure where I lost that. But it’s gone. I have to acknowledge that while we have a different relationship than if we were just parent and child, we really aren’t friends any more, for the reasons listed above about why my father and I aren’t friends. Same reasons, same results. And if I have to choose between my children, who are grown and have children (and lives) of their own–and my husband, there’s no choice. Why should I give up my happiness and my love to sit at home and wait for my children to visit me at their convenience? They have lives of their own, it is not their responsibility to take care of me nor to be at my beck and call–or even to be a regular part of my life, given the geographical distances there are between us.
I expect them to be smart enough to know that the last sentence works both directions. I have a life of my own, with my own Beloved and this is the life that I choose. I do NOT choose to exclude my genetic offspring. I would prefer to see them often, to have time together…but it’s just not the reality of our lives. I have offspring by choice–young people who do seek me out, that I spend time with, who are my friends. I consider them family just as much as the 3 I pushed out of my body and into the world. That genetic bond will always, always be there; I do and will always love the children of my body dearly and would do anything I could for them if they needed it–BUT I will also live my own life, with my love, with the family of my choosing. I hope that I will choose wisely and always welcome into my life the people who will love me, support me, be a resource and a help to me. I know that people will come and go; there is a tide to who is in the family just as sure as the tides of the ocean. Being related means that you get first dibs, but you don’t get the only dibs. And if you don’t maintain the other relationship ties, the genetic tie can end up not being enough to say that you are family any more.
I say this even as I acknowledge that I have both a mother and a father, still living. I have a brother (who has his own family). Are the original four members of the first family I ever knew still a family? No. Not really. Being family requires effort, it’s a relationship, same as being in love, or being married, or being friends. It requires the expenditure of time definitely and money possibly. It requires commitment…and I am feeling very unhappy that my daughter and her love, the parents of my granddaughters, will not accept my commitment to my husband nor do they welcome the chance for a new commitment to someone who would be another person to love them–and their children. I feel very unhappy that my son apparently has some of the same hesitations, although our interactions with him have not been as strained or requiring as much conversation as I have had with my daughter.
I cannot tell if this is just a part of their concern for me. The rapidity with which my Beloved and I went from meeting to married was…well, whirlwind. (See “The Case of the Disappearing Queen“) I can’t tell if the timing of my decline in health and our being together has seemed too coincidental and therefore, it’s *his* fault. Which it’s not–and apparently, no one has considered where I would be health-wise if I did not have him with me. I shudder to think what state I’d be in, physically and mentally, if I did not have him to help me, to care for me when I need it and to have been a financial resource when I couldn’t work. OMG, I’d probably have a dreadful life of work and sleep with no ability to do anything else–and I would not be diagnosed, so I’d be getting sicker and sicker, taking more and more OTC drugs to try and handle the pain…don’t want to think about it.
What began as a routine Sunday has been changed into a long rant about fathers, family and what constitutes both–and what doesn’t. I think I feel a bit better, although sadly resigned to the way things are in my life, both in the direction of my father as well as in the direction of my children. I am going to be posting another blog pretty quickly behind this one, as things have been happening and I haven’t been telling you about them, but they are separate from this one. Thank you for listening, maybe this has started some introspection of your own about your father and your family. As I told Beloved, the best definition for enlightenment is probably this: Learning something you really didn’t want to know, but knowing that it’s true. Sigh.
Namaste, and Happy Father’s Day! (We all have one, no matter what!)
So. Things have happened, conversations have occurred and I need to make an update to this blog.
I owe some apologies to people who were mentioned earlier. First, for “airing dirty laundry” in public, “all over Facebook”. Even though I don’t use names, if you know me, you know who I mean when I talk about my family. So it’s not as discrete as perhaps it should be. On the other hand, this is MY blog and while the link gets posted in FB, I find it really hard to believe that EVERYONE reads it. If they do, then I have a larger audience than I ever imagined.
Second, I apologize to everyone that I “pushed” my husband on. In my love and enthusiasm, I wanted everyone who knew me to love him as much and accept him as someone with a greater claim to association than perhaps they felt comfortable with at first meeting. He was also enthusiastic about having instant relationships, again, simply by association to being with me. He is a generous man, who believes that if he has it, does not need but you do, will then give said item(s) to you for your benefit. It may be something as simple as sharing the names of his favorite sci fi authors, or the information he has gained about organic foods. It can also include physical things, from a shared meal that you don’t have to pay for, to a book that he thinks you will enjoy, even up to expensive electronics that are on “permanent loan” until it can be paid back over time–and the cost is always at a loss to him.
Unfortunately, his bipolar disorder causes some behaviors that may not be understood by others. He loves to talk about his gaming, or military history…and when he knows about a topic, he KNOWS about a topic. And the more enthused he gets, the louder he gets. (Doesn’t help that he’s got moderately severe hearing loss in both ears.) He is also particularly susceptible to emotional swings (he’s bipolar, remember?) and a casual remark that seems slighting to him can push him into depression faster than Superman changes his clothes. If he were diabetic, I’d warn people not to give him sugary things. There’s no nice or easy way to warn them about the various manifestations of his disease–which is mostly controlled by his meds, but the stress anxiety disorder rears its head up and makes some visits with people really interesting. Let’s just say that he needs ALL that he can take for stress before going to see his mother…a major source of anxiety every time we go.
So he’s not “normal”, does not react to things the same way as you or I. He was thrilled to think of my family as suddenly being “his” family too. Neither of us considered that relationships don’t spring into being…and we should have. We’re not around children very often…and even though he would love to have a child, it’s obvious that we’re not going to. So he lacks some of the social skills for interacting with the little ones. Watching him hold a newborn was amusing because it was very apparent that he felt like he was holding a piece of dainty china! I also suspect that his size can be a bit intimidating to the little people, and as a person they’ve just met, or met before but not seen very often, they may not initiate interaction with him–and he has no idea how to start up playing with them. He has really very little experience with anyone younger than about 15-16 years old. But he does enjoy contact when it occurs; he tries to be welcoming to them and having a good time with them. And children are much more accepting than adults.
Having said that, it is important to tell you that it was never meant for him to supplant an already present family member. NEVER. But he is not considered to be a part of the family at all. He’s just “my husband”. It’s apparently irrelevant that by being “my husband”, he is MY family. He and I are related, by love and by law.
I think that my biggest problem with this, even as I understand the reluctance to give him not even the same, but similar name, to other family members is that I never hesitated to consider various other people who came into our lives over the years as family members…I have a “son by another mother” and a couple of daughters that I did not give birth to. I’ve had sisters by another mister…and even some older friends who felt like aunts, uncles or even grandparents. An insistence that only people related by blood and DNA can be given familial titles is something that I find extremely limiting. And in limiting them by title, you do the relationship an injustice–and can end up not realizing just how much like a “true” family member they are.
You are related to some people by blood and DNA. And they may not be good for you; they may be abusive, or neglectful (its own sort of abuse) or they may simply just not want the very best for you and are nothing but a negative influence in your life. They may be leeches, in subtle ways as they wear you out emotionally, or in more obvious ways as they live off of your efforts, including your money. They may have all sorts of bad, unpleasant or obnoxious behaviors–and if they weren’t related to you by blood and DNA, you would have NOTHING to do with them. So why do you accept behavior you find deplorable from someone, just because they are “related” to you? You don’t have to.
And other the hand, there are people that you meet–in the grocery store, at the library, in a bar; you might meet them by being introduced to them by a friend or your blood relative. And the Universe has put them into your path because they can help you, they can be a resource for wisdom–or money; they can be a sounding board for your new ideas because you know that they will give fair assessments and plausible suggestions to make those dreams come true. Sometimes, they do end up replacing a “real” relative who has died because they have taken on the role that relative was for you.
“Home is the place that when you go there, they have to take you in.” And home is not a specific building, just to be clear. There are plenty of folk who have been kicked out the home they thought they had, told never to come back. Or when they need to return because their life hasn’t gone well, they are grudgingly allowed back, and served up a litany of how rotten they are, what a loser they are… So sometimes being blood related ain’t worth shit.
Which is why I have said, over and over again, that you have family that you are related to, but don’t HAVE to endure…and you have the family that you choose. These are the people that you KNOW have your back, that will welcome you into their home no matter what time of day, to let you stay as long as you need to. They will give you money, food, clothes and their car without question. They will comfort you when things get bad, and cheer you when good stuff happens. And in this family that you’ve made, there might actually be several “moms”, a “dad” or two…some uncles, some sisters, some whatevers…it’s just about having a group of people that love you, just as you are. They are a resource and a refuge whenever you need them. And it’s always a joy (and generally lots of fun) to be with them.
Frankly, I do not understand why anyone would want to limit this chosen family, to keep the familial titles for those who share DNA–even when those DNA sharers aren’t worth the time of day. I don’t, and won’t. So I guess I tend to forget that not everyone wants to just add people in, willy nilly. So I apologize for that as well.
I never meant to make anyone feel unhappy or uncomfortable at any point since meeting my Beloved. I can only point to my enthusiasm for finding the love of my life as the reason for wanting to include him at every level with my family, related and chosen. I failed with both and now there’s just him and me. Which may be sad, but perhaps as it was supposed to be, so that the move to CA would not be as heartbreaking, having to leave everyone behind. Even the ones I thought might be going with us will not be going at the same time…and things can change, so we shall have to wait and see.
I hope that we can continue to communicate with those we leave behind–yay for the Interwebs, Skype and FB. And maybe, just maybe…people will at least come to visit?
Namaste once again, my friends–and my family.