Cracking open the box

Today I cracked open Pandora’s box. I am afraid to peer into what lies inside.

I spent most of the weekend feeling blah. It rained all weekend with high temps in the lower 60’s. Some of our outdoor plans got cancelled. It has been very frustrating. So far summer break has been cool and rainy. Surprisingly, the best days of the year so far fell on Alex’s graduation day and again for his grad party.

The weather has been making me feel restless and bored. There is nothing I hate more than boredom. I’d rather be way too busy. Not to mention that all my favorite running trails are underwater. Although, thankfully, my ankle is starting to feel better.

Yesterday, on Father’s Day, something exciting happened though. I got a message on Ancestry from a relative on Paul’s dads side. On Father’s Day of all days too. You see, Paul never knew who his dad was. From what I can tell, this man is Paul’s cousin.

I told myself that I wouldn’t go seeking out answers. I was far more curious than Paul. But if someone came to me asking, that was an altogether different story indeed.

Today I reached back to Paul’s cousin and told him what details I knew about Paul’s dad. We’ll see what happens. Paul said he was okay if I did that.

It’s hard, Paul built his whole identity around not having a father. But what if he has a whole new family out there that wants to get to know him?

Why do I feel like I cracked open Pandora’s box? Do I really want to know what’s inside?

I can tell you one thing, life got a little more interesting.

Luke’s visit, part 9

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We didn’t spend the whole time talking when Luke came to visit. Although I must say that I didn’t talk a lot. I spent a lot of time listening, transfixed by Luke’s words. It was the first time he spoke about our childhood with any meaning.

I think that through his struggles, he has gained new insight, wisdom, and purpose to his life.

Maybe our suffering wasn’t in vain after all.

Doesn’t a brilliant rainbow first need rain?

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We invited Luke and his family to our new house and out sailing for the first time. Luke’s youngest daughter wanted to jump off the balcony into the swimming pool. Not a good sign for the upcoming teenage years. She also wanted to buy a sailboat, but said that she didn’t have any money. She is so funny that I think the carefree comedian Luke is still living on.

Paul patiently taught the kids all about sailing. I think someday he would make a wonderful grandpa. My dad spent a lot of time ridiculing us for things we didn’t know and called us stupid when we came to him with questions. But as I watched Paul and Luke with the children, I was happy to know that they are both wonderful fathers without ever having had wonderful fathers.

Sometimes our struggles can become a blessing.

 

Father’s Day

Father’s Day…it’s always been a difficult day for me.

I see the posts online of you with your dad smiling and happy. I wonder why my dad never cared about me. I don’t think I have any pictures of us like that, dad.

I just remember you laughing at the TV in some distant room while my autistic brother hit me yet again. You could have held me while I cried. Why didn’t you?

I remember the time that I was afraid of weeds up at the lake. You took my tiny little body and planted my feet in the slimy weeds. You laughed at me when I ran back to shore crying. You threw weeds at me and called me names.

I am not afraid anymore, dad. I push myself so hard. I run myself ragged.

This one day of the year, I wish for just one picture…one memory…of us together smiling and happy. It is so painful to see the things I didn’t have.

What is wrong with me? Why didn’t you love me dad?

 

ACT 2

My mother always said if you have an easy baby, you will have a difficult teenager and vice versa.

My firstborn, Angel, was a happy baby. She was easily excited, bubbly, and laughed often. When she was happy, things were great. When she was crabby, something was wrong…like an ear infection. She has a positive, bubbly, happy personality except when she is really stressed out. Then watch out. As a teenager, she was rather mouthy at times. But she got good grades and made good decisions. She stayed fairly consistent throughout the years.

My youngest, Arabella, was a difficult baby. She cried constantly day and night. But so far she seems to be the easiest teenager to raise. She gets good grades, stays out of trouble, and is easy going.

If I only had Angel and Arabella, I could probably write a bestselling parenting book that would wow you with my tips on how I’ve got everything together.

Then comes Alex. At this point, you are probably sick of hearing about my vaping, flunking, cliff diving, race car driving, hell raiser of a son. I’ll tell you this, he was my easiest baby. If I could describe his infancy in one word, it would be content. He rarely fussed and kept a routine that I could set a clock to. He was a big time mama’s boy.

In middle school everything changed. He started hanging with a bad crowd. His grades started to slip. We gave him consequences for his behavior such as grounding him from his friends or his Xbox. That did not give us the change of behavior that we were hoping for. He seemed more rebellious and at times despondent.

In the evenings, Paul would sit down with Alex to help him with assignments. It reminded me of when my mom helped Mark with his homework. It usually ended in an argument. One day Alex was complaining to a girl via text about how mean his dad was. The next day my son showed up to school with bruises. The girl told the counselor about Alex’s mean dad who called child protective services.

It was all a misunderstanding really. At the time, my son was in wrestling. Over the weekend he had a brutal tournament that left him bruised on his body and face. The girl incorrectly thought that because Alex said his dad was mean (for making him do his homework) that my husband beat him. CPS came to the school and took pictures of my son. They came to our house to talk to us. They interviewed our other children. Then we showed them the before, during, and after pictures from the wrestling tournament. It all ended there.

It was a horrible experience. Strangers were coming into our home judging us. I felt embarrassed because we are acquaintances with the school counselor, other CPS workers, and the girl attended our church with her parents. I was angry for awhile with the girl. But Paul said he didn’t feel angry because she did the right thing if she thought Alex was being abused.

I felt angry because Paul was wrongfully accused. He is one of the best dads I’ve ever seen. All this from a man that never had a father. He has a lot of self doubt at times. Was I too hard on the kids?? Was I too lenient?? Maybe I should’ve tried something else…Maybe if I knew that kid was bad news earlier…Maybe, maybe, maybe..

It is easy to blame yourself as a parent if your kids don’t turn out the way that you want them to. It is hard to escape the criticism if you’re the one that has the baby that always cries…If it is your kid that is doing drugs, while your friend’s kids are getting straight A’s. Maybe your son is suicidal or your daughter has an eating disorder. Or maybe you have a violent autistic son…like my mother, who was ostracized and blamed by her peers.

When you’ve done everything that you could, even when everyone around you condemns you for something you have little control over…it’s really not your fault.

Paul and I feel like we did the best job that we could. We tried to give our kids the childhood that we wanted but never had. Then we commiserate that our kids don’t have the grit that we earned from struggling. The messed up situations in our lives that gave us strength we kept away from them. It seems like a paradox really…everything should’ve been perfect. It was good in many ways, but never perfect.

As we near the end of this active parenting gig, we feel we did the best that we could. We talk to our kids about what is happening in their lives, the good and the bad. At the end of the day, we tell our kids we love them and they tell us they love us back. That should count for something…

We may not be the perfect parents, but if you are…please do enlighten us with your bestselling parenting book…somehow in the shuffle of raising 3 teenagers we seemed to have misplaced our instruction manual!

 

Paul’s journey, part 2

He spent his earliest formative years in the projects in the inner city of Chicago.

You might think that the story would’ve ended differently if Martha’s dad survived to see his grandchild arrive. Maybe he would have been a great father figure for this infant fatherless child.

Where we left off yesterday, Martha gave birth alone to a baby boy. I can imagine how frightened she must have been. Childbirth is a terrifying thought during pregnancy…rich or poor…young or old…married or alone. But possibly more so if you are poor, young, and alone.

During childbirth, Martha was in a delirious state and saw her father there watching over her. Martha cherished her father. But from what I heard, he wasn’t a very good man. He was said to be an abusive drunk.

I once heard a story of how Martha’s older brothers teamed up as teenagers and fought their father. I couldn’t tell you why. But I could tell you that it was probably justified.

I heard that he was a crooked cop. Maybe involved somehow with the mob. I also heard that he had a girlfriend and maybe even another family on the side.

I really didn’t hear anything about his character that would make me think that he would be a suitable father or father figure for anyone. If he hadn’t dropped dead of a heart attack when Martha was 12, I might not be telling the same story or this story at all.

For a short period of time, Paul had a ‘dad’.

Martha got married just long enough to change her name when Paul was 3. Martha said she left her new husband after a year because he was abusive to her son. The only thing that Paul remembers about his step-dad was that he had 2 large black dogs.

It has always been a debate in our house which is worse…not having a dad or having a terrible father. If his step-dad was truly a mean man, then perhaps he was better off without a dad. Thankfully his grandpa never was a part of his life either. He didn’t have a dad or grandpa, but some of his uncles were nice.

 

 

 

 

I wanted a dad…

I wanted a dad that would hold my hand and walk with me when I was afraid.

I wanted a dad that would tell me a bedtime story, tuck me in with a hug, and kiss me good night.

I wanted a dad that told me he loved me.

I wanted a dad that wouldn’t let anyone hurt his little girl.

I wanted a dad that would teach me everything he knew without laughing at me for being so stupid.

I wanted a dad that would take me to the park and push me high as the sky on the swings.

I wanted a dad that would tell me I am beautiful, even if it was just on my wedding day.

I wanted a dad that was more interested in the things I was doing than whatever show was on TV.

I wanted a dad that showed up for special occasions.

I wanted a dad that would take me on father daughter adventures.

I wanted a dad that would tell me how proud he was of me, even if it was just for the big accomplishments like graduating from college.

I wanted a dad to ask me how my day was.

I wanted a dad that didn’t think my dreams, goals, and beliefs were a joke.

I wanted a dad that laughed when I laughed and cried when I cried, not one that laughed when I cried.

I wanted a dad that showed love to my mother, siblings, and children.

I wanted a dad that would give me advice on how to be a better person.

I wanted a dad that would buy me flowers or little gifts, even if it was just for my birthday.

I wanted a dad that I couldn’t bear to live without.

I wanted a dad to tell me that I was smart when I got good grades.

I wanted a dad that I wanted to be just like.

I wanted a dad to lift me up when I was down.

I wanted a dad that would call me names like princess or honey.

I wanted a dad to be there when he was around.

I wanted a dad that I couldn’t wait to share good news with.

I wanted a dad that I could trust with my feelings.

I wanted a dad that would say he was sorry after losing his temper.

I wanted a dad that I could see the goodness of God in.

I wanted a dad that would encourage me when I felt like a failure.

I wanted a dad that thought I was good enough just the way I am.

I wanted a dad that I would love to visit.

I wanted a dad that was fun.

I wanted a dad that cared.

I wanted a dad that I could write wonderful stories about.

But you, my love, only wanted a dad.

Thanksgiving leftovers

The day before Thanksgiving, I spoke to my mom on the phone. She told me that my dad was going to drive 8 hours round trip to drop something off at my brother Mark’s house, but he wasn’t going to come over to my house for Thanksgiving.

I said, “Let me get this straight, dad is going to drive 4 hours to see Mark but he won’t drive 20 minutes to come over and eat a meal that he doesn’t have to prepare?”

My dad showed up for Thanksgiving. Then after the meal, he left without saying good-bye.

Later in the day, we were playing Loaded Questions and everyone had to guess my response to the question asking who I always wondered if they liked me or not. Some people said Aunt Grace or my sister-in-laws. No one guessed that I put my dad down as my answer. It’s sad that I feel unsure if my dad likes me.

It seems ironic that Paul never had a dad and I always wondered if my dad likes me while we were surrounded this Thanksgiving with men that had estranged relationships with their children.

Paul’s step-dad Darryl and my Uncle Rick were guests in our house this Thanksgiving. They weren’t invited anywhere else. Their stories are similar.

Darryl was previously married to a woman that he had two children with. When his children were little, his wife left and took the boys with her several states away. Ever since I’ve known Darryl, he has wanted a relationship with his sons that was not reciprocated. The only time that they called him regularly was when they were incarcerated. Darryl was the man that stood patiently by his wife’s side as she was dying of cancer. Darryl loves to spend time with his step-grandchildren, my kids. Darryl married my mother-in-law when Paul was in his upper 20’s, so he never thought of Darryl as a dad.

My Uncle Rick has a similar story. He is recently divorced not of his choosing. His adult children all decided to side with their mother instead of him. They also cut themselves off from all of his family. My Uncle Rick is one of those nice guys that women seem to walk over. He wears his heart on his sleeve but would give the shirt off of his back. He brought a ‘F off’ letter that his daughter wrote to him for us to read at our house.

 

Paul and I would’ve given anything to have a dad like Darryl or Rick, yet their kids want nothing to do with them. They are wonderful men. I’ve known them long enough to know that. I just don’t get it.

I find it heartbreaking when kids feel like they have to pick sides when their parents divorce. Why can’t they have both parents in their lives??

Maybe someday their kids will come around.

Until then, we are thankful for your broken, discarded, leftover dads.

 

Wings without roots

Last weekend Paul went ice fishing with Darryl. (Yes, it was still cold enough here despite the calendar saying something about spring).

Paul and Darryl talked about fatherhood. Usually when the guys go out on the ice, they talk about nothing even if they are gone for the whole weekend. There is never any interesting gossip to share. Unlike getting together with a group of women which usually includes emotions, crying, and gossip galore.

Darryl told Paul that he was working on his will. Darryl wants Paul to be the executor of his will. Paul told him that he didn’t have to worry about giving us anything. After all, he isn’t Darryl’s real son and his mother is gone now.

Darryl has two sons. He kept his landline for years just in case they called. After Martha passed, Darryl was in rough shape. He really wanted to contact his estranged sons but didn’t have a way. I was able to find one of the sons on Facebook and told him to give his dad a call. Both sons called, but didn’t attend the funeral or even send a card. That was really upsetting to Darryl.

I always thought that Darryl would’ve been a great father. His ex-wife left him and moved out of state with their two boys when they were little. She was bitter and poisoned their minds against their father. He had the boys every summer for a few weeks. They were always trouble. They would steal money that wasn’t hidden away. They got in trouble for shoplifting. Both boys spent half of their adult lives in prison.

Martha always had that over Darryl. Look at your sons in prison while my son got an MBA and started a business.

So it went on for many years…Darryl wanting his sons…a father without his sons…Paul wanting a father…a boy without a father..

Regret…

Too bad Darryl came along after Paul grew up.

Darryl told Paul that he was a wonderful father for never having a father

Then the conversation turned to the identity of his real father. Darryl thought that Paul’s brief step-dad in early childhood was his father..

How can you be married to someone over 20 years and not know the identity of their child’s father??

I found that shocking. Wouldn’t you??  I guess that secret has been buried with Martha.

I asked Paul if he ever wanted to find his bio dad. Now would be the day and age to do it..We only have snippets of info to go on..his name was legally omitted from the birth certificate…but we have an approximate age…69…last name Wilson…no first name, just initials…in a Chicago motorcycle gang…from somewhere else…Kentucky or Tennessee…red hair…green eyes…

He may have died in Vietnam…he may have tried to steal Paul…he wasn’t interested at all in being a dad…the same conflicting stories told over and over that never made any sense.

Is any of it real??

I admit to being a little curious over the years, but Paul never wanted to know.

Sometimes, I google variations of the name on Facebook or online. Is that your father?? Is that your dad?? Sometimes the temptation to open Pandora’s box is rather great for me…But I can see that the problem with opening that box is the risk of knowing what is inside..We can’t unknow things after they are known..but sometimes, just sometimes, I want to peak inside..

Maybe I am looking for the wrong things…

Am I blind to what is right in front of me??

I should focus on the here and now without looking back…appreciate the man with strong wings to fly alone…and not look for hidden roots…

Maybe some things are better left buried…hidden in the past…forgotten forever..