Father, Not Dad
I was born out of wedlock so you can call me a bastard if you’d like. I don’t think that word has had any real effect on anyone in decades outside deeply Christian subcultures but knock yourself out.
My parents never got married. They broke up before I was even born and then maintained a cordial relationship during the early years of my life.
My father played a… well… role in my life.
He consistently paid child support and was there for Sunday afternoon trips to the movie theater and holiday pick-ups to his parents’ house.
When I was three years old, my mother met Bill and she and he fell in love immediately. I saw Bill five days a week, my father once a week.
Bill and my mother got married and we moved into a white house in suburban Syracuse, NY when I was six, the same year my father met a woman with whom he fell madly in love. I saw Bill every day, I saw my father once a month.
When I turned eight, my father married that woman and I was the best man, a position I shared with his brother.
Bill and my mother were invited as well and the four of us arrived with my ten month old brother in tow. The two families mixed together for the first time. My mother, Bill and my little brother next to my father’s mother, father, two sisters and brother. It was a strange sight, the two sides of what felt like a double life coming together and being not only cordial, but loving and welcoming.
As I watched them, I had a suddenly clarity. One was my family, one was my father’s family, and this concept hadn’t been apparent until the juxtaposition was in front of me.
The wedding progressed and I seemed more like a trophy than a person. It was my father’s opportunity to show the world that, yeah, he didn’t make the most traditional decisions, but his son is a happy well-behaved kid who is an important part of his life.
A charade, a smoke and lights show.
I stood there in my little tuxedo, chin high, and let the words wash over me. The priest talked of my father, his wife and about being a family that he could see “love each other deeply and care for each other tremendously.”
A charade, all smoke and mirrors.
My father made a speech about how their recently purchased house already had ‘Michael’s bed in his room,’ and I let it all hang there like a comic book think cloud. Every word made it grow and it built up until the speeches were over and I got to walk back to my family. My little brother had to be changed, so it was just Bill and I. I stood there with this black cloud thickening the air around my head, my eyes glazed and distant. Bill could read me like a book.
“Want to get some air?” he asked and I nodded. He put his hand on my shoulder and led me outside. We were about twenty paces across the parking lot before I stopped walking, the cloud too heavy to tolerate.
“What’s the matter, bud?” he asked me and I hugged him.
“I don’t know,” I sniffed. “I just didn’t like that.”
“Why not?” he said to me and rubbed my back as I hugged his waist and pressed my cheek into his belly.
“Am I going to start living there now?” I asked him.
“Do you want to live there?”
“No,” I said to him. “I want to live with you.”
We both burst into tears, he rubbing my back and I wetting his cotton button down.
“Then that’s what you’ll do,” he managed to choke out. I tried to respond, to say something, but I couldn’t. It felt better just to cry into his shirt and escape the circus that now felt faraway.
When we stopped crying, and I could wipe my eyes clean with the sleeve of my sport coat and he could button his blazer over the wet imprint of my face, we sighed deeply at the same time and chuckled despite ourselves.
The dark cloud was gone now, and in its place was a Dad, not a father, of the highest caliber.