Being a Father

At the ripe old age of 45, I got married for the first time in my life. I married a woman who was divorced and had 2 teenage daughters. At the wedding reception, I joked, "I’ve never been able to tame a single woman in my life. God only knows what I was thinking when I decided to take on three at the same time."

Joking aside, what exactly did I expect, what exactly was I supposed to do?

From the outset, I realized that my relationship with these 2 teenage girls was not going to be in any way similar to the relationship they had with their mother. Mom was Mom and I was and remain William. Nobody uses the word "dad" and I in no way miss it or think I deserve it or think it is appropriate. My goal was and still is being friends with the 2 girls. They have a dad and although he is no longer in the picture, he is their dad and I will always remain William. My contribution to the family would never be a father in the usual sense, but I could always aspire to be one by example.

When I was a child living at home and even later in life when I left the nest, I did not fully appreciate the role my father played in the family unit. Fortunately, I lived long enough to be able to assess my childhood and tell my father myself how I viewed his performance as a father. Of course, comparing one’s family life to the life of others, actually seeing how other parents behave, certainly gives one food for thought in determining how good or bad one’s own parents are.

Divorce has a huge impact on a family, on the children never mind the spouses. Misbehaviour on the part of the parents: drunkenness, marital infidelity, can greatly reduce the quality of family life. In saying that I saw this, these bad examples of family life, I actually didn’t have to go far to find such behaviour as my own relatives furnished me with lessons to be learned.

In meeting people throughout my life, people who had unbelievable stories of pain and suffering they had to endure while growing up, gave me pause to think about my own parents. In finally taking on the role to a certain degree of a parent in my "instant" family, I turned to my own upbringing to try to understand just what my responsibilities should be.

My parents never divorced. I know they may have been some moments, moments one could label as rocky, but they survived them and never resorted to divorce as a solution. My parents were just quite simply "always there". No drunken binges, no lost weekends. No stories of neglected children while one parent or both parents took off for places unknown in a complete dereliction of parent responsibility. No battles royal at home; no beating of the kids; just love, respect and kindness.

In mulling over all this, I made a remarkable observation which I believe succinctly sums up the important contribution of my father to family life and my growing up. He always came home. Yes, it was just that simple. He went to work; he came home after work. He was just "always there". He loved his family; he was a family man. While I know my father did at times seek affirmation in other activities, sometimes professional, I recognise now that he succeeded admirably as a father. He was there; he was just there.

Yes, there is more than just being there. He played with his children; he participated in family activities. He took us out camping, on hikes. He included us in vacations, in family vacations. He made the commitment even if it was an unspoken commitment, to be there for his family, for his children.

I look back on this now from a different perspective. I am an adult and yet, I remain an individual. Yes, I am married but I still retain my individuality with my own interests, my own personal goals. In being part of a family, in being a parent, I realize there are sacrifices whereby the family, the children, my wife come before my own interests. I have come to realize that the greatest contribution I can make to my own family is what my father did for his own family: be there. Of course, when I say sacrifice, that doesn’t mean my father did not do his own thing, pursue his own interests, chase his own dreams. However, he did this within the context of his family. If, at the age of 45 when I started a "new career" as a husband, as a parental figure in a family I needed a model to follow so as to guide me in how to succeed in this role in my life, I had to look no further than my own father.

I stop to think a bit about the various people I’ve met in my life and the various stories sometimes good, sometimes horrifying of family life and that I was blessed as a child in having two relatively normal parents. That is something I should strive for as I now realize that for whatever reason, not all parents manage to achieve.

I will always be called William but I hope that I can be friends with my wife’s 2 daughters. I sincerely hope that I can emulate my father and with some measure of success, bring to my family what my father brought to his: stability. I think there could be no greater thing I could give my 3 ladies after their divorce.

*****
When I first started dating my wife, I had just bought a 2 door Buick Regal, black with a red interior. I was very proud of the car, subdued but still a little flash. My future wife invited me to go on vacation with her and her 2 daughters, aged 14 and 12. This was to be my trial by fire, our first attempt to be together as a group, as a potential family unit.

During our 12 hour car trip to a time share, we stopped one time at a throughway rest stop. We all used the facilities and a vending machine yielded a few pops for all of us. While we were getting back into the car, the eldest lost her balance while climbing into the back seat and spilled her pop all over her seat… well, my seat of my car. My future wife explained to me later that all three of them stared at me wondering what my reaction was going to be. Apparently the group of them had lived through some very tense moments during the divorce with hubby #1 and now they were just a tad on edge about this faux pas committed in new boyfriend’s prized car.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, I had been slightly turned holding the back of the front seat so eldest daughter could climb and I had witnessed the entire scene as the can of pop flipped out of her hand and dumped its contents over the seat of my barely new car. I looked at this; we all felt this pregnant moment; this eternity of silence as I assessed the damage to my seat. The eldest daughter started to stammer an apology. "Hey, no problem. I’m not the one who has to sit there!" I casually said turning back to start the car.

We all got into place and I drove away never to mention the incident again. My now wife has mentioned this a couple of times over the years as sort of a first test, which I passed, as to how I would react under fire. I chuckle thinking of what I said in that yes, eldest daughter spilled her drink on the seat of my nice, new car but in reality, lucky me, I didn’t have to sit in that seat. At the end of the day, the car seat doesn’t matter. The car has been long gone but that moment still lives on and I am happy that at the time, I paid more attention to my future family than some car which would eventually be replaced. The car is replaceable, the family is irreplaceable.

*****
Out of the mouths of babes. At the end of this first vacation together, this first "family" vacation, I arrived back at their house and pulled into the driveway. Before anybody moved, I turned in the driver’s seat to face all three of them, my future wife and her 2 daughters and said that I wanted to thank all of them for inviting me to share their vacation with them. The youngest daughter without blinking a eye looks right at me and replies, "I didn’t invite you."

At that moment, mom was a little mortified but technically, youngest daughter was right, really mom was the one who invited me while the daughters sort of had to go along with this idea. The group of us have laughed about this over the years, at how the youngest daughter at the age of 12 just opened her mouth and said the truth.

*****
A couple of weeks after the vacation I take my car into the dealership for regular maintenance. They were throwing in a cleaning.

I get a call from the dealership and they explain to me that some gunk is stuck in between the rear window and back part of the seat. Some gunk? When I pick up the car and they show it to me, I realize that the girls had a bag of caramel popcorn in the back seat during the trip. When not eating from it, they put the bag behind the rear seat on the flat area under the rear window. Obviously, the bag was not properly sealed and kernels of caramel popcorn had fallen out and wedged themselves in between the cloth of the seat and the glass of the rear window and melted in the hot summer sun. What a mess. The cleaners had to use a putty knife to try and get this sticky goo out of the car.

I just smiled while shaking my head. I thought of how many times I and my siblings must have done similar things to my parents’ car or even the house and the two of them could only shrug, "Kids will be kids!" Ha! What else can a parent do?

One week after I take proudly possession of my brand new Buick Regal, I give some members of my family a ride. Two days afterward, I am lovingly vacuuming out my car when I discover my 9 year old nephew while riding in my car stuck his giant wad of used bubblegum into an ash tray in the back seat. I had a one dickens of a time trying to get it out!

@#$%^&* [sigh] Kids will be kids. 🙂

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