Fathers and what they teach us.

I’m a child of divorce. (Technically, since my Dad married 3 times, I’m the child of 2 divorces, but whatever). As anyone with step parents knows, Father’s Day can be tricky.

There have been three people in my life to whom I sent Father’s Day cards. I’ve been thinking a lot about these three people lately, and what I learned from each of them.

The first, somewhat obviously, was my Dad.

Dad was personable, pleasant, and liked to talk to people. More, he liked to listened to people.  From Dad, I learned that everyone has a story, and that each story has value. I learned that wait-staff and bus drivers and people living in the subway were PEOPLE, first and foremost, and should be treated with respect.

I also learned to love trains, and to appreciate the importance of mass transit in our society.  From Dad I learned to love animals, and how to solder wire.  I learned to use a variety of hand tools, and some power tools, and that the Man of the House is only Man of the House so long as the Women in the House allow it.

From Dad, I also learned about hypocrisy and disillusionment, and that sometimes people have whole other sides to them that even the people closest to them don’t know.  From Dad, I learned how to hurt people as quickly as possible, with the most lasting affect, with the fewest number of words.

In the last decade before he died, I learned things about my father that I wish I didn’t know; things about lying and hurting others and taking responsibility for your actions — or not.  And, when he died a few years ago, I learned he talked a good game, but that I mattered considerably less to him than I realized.  See, Dad had done something that I could forgive, but not forget or condone, and I told him that I would not see him until he took responsibility for his actions.  We talked about it at length, and what he needed to do to show me he was taking the responsibility.  If he did that, all he had to do was call me and say “honey, I did it,” and I’d be up to see him as soon as I could arrange it.  Three months after his death, I found out that, 6 months before his death, he actually had done it.

He just never told me, despite a couple of conversations we’d had about the very subject, and why I wouldn’t visit, and when I would feel comfortable visiting him again.  Apparently seeing me was not as important to him as him looking like a wronged, martyred man to the rest of my family.

Still trying to live with that.

I still love him though, the way you can only love your Daddy.

Still trying to live with that one, too.

The second person I sent Father’s Day cards to was my Stepfather, Leo.  I called him Spot (he’d had chest pains, and on examination, they found a spot on his lung.  Turned out to be old scar tissue, but we started to call him Spot then, and I called him that until he died, from a blob on his lung that turned out to be new cancer). I also called him other things, of course:  nit-picky; annoying; controlling; pain in the ass; not-my-father.  That bastard, although I didn’t call him that for very long.

People thought I didn’t want him living my Mom because I wanted my parents to get back to together.  Hell no, my parents getting back together was a recurring nightmare.  I didn’t want him living my Mom because he tried to be a dad to me, and I’d been doing quite well without a dad on the premises for many years, thankyouverymuch.

I learned a lot from Spot, too.  I learned that your ‘real’ parents can lose your respect, but that until they do so, they pretty much have it automatically.  A step parent has to earn that respect, though, and it’s a bitch of boulder- and quicksand-filled row to hoe to do it.

I learned that there’s a group of people who are very organized and methodical, but leave unintelligible and apparently unorganized piles of crap all over the place.  These people are called engineers, and they can actually find anything in an unintelligible and apparently unorganized pile of crap in under 20 seconds.

From Spot, I learned that two different people using the exact same tone of voice to say the same words don’t necessary mean the same thing and that one can be yelling at you, but the other isn’t.

I learned that some people will hold on to perceived logic in the face of scientific fact, but that these same people, who can be totally closed minded about physics and science, can be open-minded and open-hearted with people.

From Spot, i  learned what real love is.  It’s not flowers, and candlelight, or pretty words and promises.  It’s when a woman thinks about moving 100 miles away, and the man who loves her starts looking for jobs in the new city; no discussion, no conversation, just “whither thou goest” and how the hell does he support himself once he goest there?

Love is when a person is zonked out of his mind on pain killers and chemo drugs, to the point where he thinks he’s 40 years younger, and cannot recognize his own brother, but he’ll still know who the woman he loves is, even if he didn’t know her yet in his own mental time zone.  And he’ll ask for her the first thing when he wakes up, even before he realizes he’s in a hospital.

Love is when a person is zonked out of his mind on pain killers and chemo drugs, so he can’t remember your first name, but he still lights up when he sees you and remembers the stupid nickname he gave you when he married your mom.

That’s what my step-Spot taught me, and I miss that nit-picky, controlling, pain in the ass bastard every day, even after 19 years.

But there’s one more person I give Father’s Day cards to, and this person taught me more than Dad and Spot combined:  my Mom.

Dad moved, and we didn’t, when I was 10 and from then on, it was pretty much just me and Mom, since my brother was 16 and my sister was 19 by then.

Mom and I used to say it was us against the world — “and we’re gonna get creamed!”, per our favorite greeting card; but what Mom taught me was that it’s okay to lose some times, but it’s never okay to cheat to win.  It’s okay to give in to others, but it’s not okay to let them take you over.  Failure is actually an option, but not trying your best isn’t.  Competition between people is inevitable and natural, but the only person who can really beat you is yourself, and that’s the only person you should ever try to get the better of.  And just because you know how to hurt people as quickly as possible, with the most lasting affect, with the fewest number of words, doesn’t give you the right to do so.

So Father’s Day is here again, and my Dad and my Spot aren’t.

But my Mom is, and I’ll be sending her a card, like always, because it wasn’t easy to be a mother and a father to me, and she deserves to know that I appreciate it.