Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Stay Together for the Kids (A Sob Story)

I guess I had it pretty easy. Not quite as easy as my baby sister, but easier than my older brother at least. He was old enough to know what was going on. I was only three years old when my parents divorced and four when my mom got remarried. I wasn't too conscience of what was going on; the only thing I can recall about it is a fleeting memory of standing in the bed of what I assume was my step-dad's truck "helping" to move our stuff out of my father's condo.

In our new house I remember playing in the dirt with my dog Boober and getting up early in the morning to watch "Gilligan's Island" reruns with my brother, completely unaffected by the radical change that was just made in my family. I knew that we didn't live with our father anymore, and that a new guy with a funny mustache had moved in, but I never really gave it a second thought. For the most part, this new guy didn't bother me, so I didn't bother him (or so I thought). For all I knew, this was how all families worked. All kids spent the week with their moms and the weekends with their dads, didn't they? I continued on, naive, not knowing that anything was amiss. I never really had any complaints, until she came along.

I can recall one weekend visit, riding in the back seat with my brother and sister. My father said that we were going to pick someone up. I'm sure my eight-year-old mind wished that we were going to pick up Donatello the Ninja Turtle, or maybe Teddy Ruxpin. We didn't.

"Guys," my father said, "this is Deborah," talking about the woman who had just gotten in the car. She turned to look at the three of us. At that instant I saw beyond her large glasses and saccharine smile, and I knew that for some reason I was not going to like her. I couldn't put my finger on it then, but soon she would give me several very tangible reasons not to like her. Where I was used to being trusted and smiled upon, she was used to skepticism and a raised eyebrow. And where I was used to patience and positive reinforcement, she was used to reproach and invective. My father married her a year or two later. I cried at the wedding, because I was pissed. How could my father marry someone like her?

She had three daughters who I tried to like, but ultimately grew to loathe. They were simply extensions of Deborah, slimy tentacles reaching places that they didn't belong. Their omnipresence and periodic reports to their mother about the actions and whereabouts of my brother, sister, and I made us all feel uncomfortable visiting my father. It was like living in the novel 1984, constantly being watched and fearing the wrath of Big Brother. Our only safe haven was our father. No one dare fuck with us when he was in the room, not even his wife. Unfortunately, he was rarely home, and when he was, he was usually resting in his bedroom or holed up in his den organizing his card collection. He was seldom there to save us, and I slowly began to resent him.

About the time my father remarried, my mom and step-dad moved us hours away. Weekend visits to my father's became holidays and summer stays with his new family. This is when the strain of divorce began to affect me. As time passed I watched my father change from a goofy, smiling superhero into a bitter, petty man. I watched my step-mother turn as fat and ugly as she was on the inside. I watched my mother hate those two, and I was confused as I tried to emulate her while staying loyal to both parents. I watched my step-dad's seemingly infinite patience with me, and I was annoyed at him for being a better dad than my biological one.

My step-sisters and -mother I tolerated, but my faith in my father was waning. When we did visit, we saw less and less of my father, and visiting step-relatives that you don't care for, isn't a very pleasant way to spend a summer. Over the years the summer stays got shorter, and we visited my father fewer holidays. I'm not sure why. And the child support checks arrived later and later, and sometimes not at all. Again, I'm not sure why.

His wife openly complained about how expensive we were, but I didn't realize how much they viewed us as a financial burden, a monetary nuisance, until my freshman year of high school. My brother, a senior, was looking to go to college, and my mom asked my father if he would help pay. He didn't want to. She hired a lawyer to make him pay the state-set "minimum" of child support. He hired a better lawyer that said he didn't have to. At his lawyer's request, his interest in us kids was suddenly renewed. He wanted to see us for every available holiday and all through the summer -- I'm assuming so it wouldn't look so bad that he had thusfar financed very little of our lives. I don't think my brother and sister were, but for a while I was fooled into actually believing that he cared. Then I went to visit him for one last summer, and nothing had changed. None of us went back to him again after that.

Well, that's not entirely true. I think my sister saw him once when she went to visit our grandparents. My brother visited him once or twice, maybe because he felt sorry for our father. But I think for the most part, none of us really cared for him too much anymore. I haven't been back at all. The realization that this / we / family was all just a matter of dollar signs to him hit me pretty hard. Someone putting a pricetag on their love for you makes you feel pretty worthless.

I haven't seen my father in a long time, about seven years, almost a third of my life. And except for a few hastily written emails that I received on my 19th birthday, I haven't heard from him either. Sometimes I feel bad that I miss that asshole. But then again, maybe I shouldn't feel bad. After all, he wasn't a bad man, just bad at loving me.

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