I began a serious relationship with Sue in February 1978 and moved in with her towards the end of the year. Lock, stock, and Matthew who lived with us for half of every week. It was a rich time of my life and I remember a whole lot about it, but no matter how much I wrack my brain (and Sue wracks hers), neither of us can remember how my father and I reconnected. I’m not sure if it was even before or after Sue and I got involved, but, in fact, we had.
I do remember visiting him in Livingston, New Jersey, and meeting Lenore the woman he moved in with as well as her two high-school-aged kids. She seemed nice though needy. It was good to see him happy, but watching my father living with her kids raised feelings of jealousy about what they were receiving from him and what I hadn’t. Still, the time was well spent and all in all the visits satisfying.
Then I got hit with another one, two punch–a real schizoid bomb. My father asked me to be his best man at his wedding. The notion of being my dad’s best man, given our intermittent and difficult history, felt like the best gift I ever received. But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. He continued by fumblingly asking me not to bring Matthew. Lenore didn’t want any of the invitees to know he had a 7-year-old grandson. It embarrassed her to be marrying a man that “old.”
On one hand I felt great about the best man do, but I also felt a growing rage about his willingness to disinvite my son on account of Lenore’s self-serving mishagas. Once again my father managed to raise all our history and it wasn’t pretty. He hadn’t stood up for me when I was a kid, and here he was refusing to stand up for my son. And worse, given my childhood experiences, my being the best father possible was huge. It was something I had fought for the right to do in my own divorce. Yet here was my father easily disowning his own grandchild rather than claim what was his. Déjà vu all over again.
My need trumped my rage. But, at the same time, I made late afternoon train reservations back home to be with Sue as soon as I possibly could for her return from a long planned trip to Europe. I have no doubt my decision to leave his celebration early was, in no small measure,
acting out about Matthew and god knows what else. It sure had nothing to do with my self-deceiving rationalization about needing to meet Sue the moment she arrived.
Once home, my relationship with Sue and Mathew was front and center. New love, fun times, making a new family, creating our own holiday–Mammal Day, replete with customized tee-shirts. And, like any new couple that just moved in together, there were issues to be worked through. Plus, Sue had the added responsibility of becoming a stepmom at twenty-five–which as any stepparent can tell you is pretty damn difficult.
So once again, the relationship with my father stabilized. The three of us made a number of trips to his and Lenore’s new house in Jersey–made easier because her kids were no longer living with them. There were some nice memories there too. A spiral staircase Matthew was enchanted by with a landing on top where he would perch over the action and read. Some really large, fake stuffed lions we would wrestle on; my father going out of his way in restaurants to do tricks with the cloth napkins which Matt loved. A general sense of comfort among all of us.
Problem was, with my father’s and my relationship, nothing lasted all that long (at least until later in life). Lenore was diagnosed with acute multiple sclerosis, the kind that advances pretty rapidly.
Which is when I became a shit. Instead of sympathy, I felt anger. It made me sick to watch him become a fulltime caretaker, catering to her every need (a trait I later realized was a significant aspect of his core personality). He even retired early to be home every possible moment.
Despite Sue’s exhortations and accurate analysis about my long-term resentments emerging in the most heinous ways, in my twisted mind I didn’t even acknowledge she had MS. Or at least that bad. She was just using her weakness as another way to take my old man’s attention away from everybody but herself. All the slights and abandonments from my childhood through Matthew’s dis-invitation, filled my head and there was no way to break through the cement.
My passive aggressive attitude and dickwadedness peaked when he brought Lenore for experimental treatments in Boston for two or three weeks. I went to the hospital once or so and only invited him over twice. And, as I recall, those times were tense, though by then I had actually accepted that she did have M.S. I just didn’t give a damn.
We drifted as emotionally far apart as we’d ever been, this time because the anger and hostility were shared by both of us. I knew he was enraged and, frankly, was pleased about it. He knew I felt this way and it probably enraged him more, though all this was unspoken.
My father and Lenore eventually moved to Florida a few years before her death and we visited them down there a couple of times. I told myself it was a way to get out of Boston’s winter. But despite Florida’s heat, my father and my relationship remained arctic until years after Lenore died.
Like I said, the connection was ugly. And I have no one to blame other than myself and my inability to see past my prior let-downs and earlier hurts. No excuse. When I think about it I have trouble looking at myself in a mirror.
Because the truth is, in thinking back, he really didn’t know what a father was supposed to do–which didn’t make the betrayals any the less painful for me as a child, but much more understandable as I grew into a mature adult. He loved me, but that wasn’t the same as being a good father. I understand now that when he and Lenore were in Boston, he was asking me for something for the first time and I refused. Which hurt him. And made me, once I began to
understand him, ashamed of myself. But of course I was always one, or in this case, several steps behind in life.
Luckily my dad and I had time for one last chapter.
Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong? Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’
Charles M. Schulz