My father was a good man, for the most part. I want to say that right up front. Because some of what I am going to say may make it seem otherwise. Like so many of us, he was among the walking wounded. That, in turn, caused him to occasionally wound others.
He grew up in a large, poor family. His father was a barber who suffered from tuberculosis, so his father was often away in a sanitarium for treatment. When he was home he was not always the nicest man. Dad raised himself up out of this to go on to college to get a Master's Degree and become a teacher. He had really wanted to become an engineer but after going though the Depression and World War II he thought he would go into something more secure. So he became a teacher. He taught shop for many years and added some math classes later in his career.
This was the baggage he brought with him into his first marriage and the life of his child. He was often mentally abusive and occasionally physically abusive. I won't go into detail, but by the time my mother divorced him I was probably one of the only children in history to not want their parents to get back together. Life had been truly horrible at times.
Our relationship that had once been so solid began to degrade as he slowly transformed from being a dad to being a father. I became an object of constant criticism which created feelings that I was a total failure. I was mystified by the disappearance of my daddy. It was like part of him had died.
After a few years he met another woman and he remarried. My stepmother made me miserable, but made him happy. He also finally had the larger family that he had always wanted.
My mother was the first to admit that she was not the right woman for Dad, but that my stepmother was, and she was happy for him. Much the same way, I was not the right child for him, but his step-children were.
It was like he had two different personalities. One for me and Mum, and another for his new family. We were vilified and they were beatified. From the first I was clearly ostracized from my step-family. The other kids were included in the honeymoon. I was not. They had Christmas together and I was tacked on to the end. I was told not to get them anything for Christmas (I did anyway). I never called him Pop. That was the monicker that my step-siblings gave him to differentiate between him and their real father.
My stepmother was very much like my father and bullied me as much as he did. She was not above bullying her own children as well, but most of that was saved for me, and for one of her kids who wasn't as mainstream as the others.
There were people over the years who asked me why I didn't just abandon my father (and stepmother) altogether. One was that I did love my dad. Before he changed into the stiff father, he had been a wonderful daddy at least often enough for us to have really created a relationship. The other part is that neither of them are actually bad person and somewhere underneath the bullying they meant well. They both just really sucked at showing that they wanted something better for me. They tended to believe in the stick, not the carrot. When they weren't seeing the results they wanted they would just lean harder on the stick.
Dad did not want me to become a writer and spent years trying to shove me onto a more "secure" path. In other words, he wanted me to make the same mistake he had made in not becoming an engineer. For some reason he seemed to think that I was totally focused on becoming famous rather than doing what I loved. For years I said that the minute my writing came with a check attached then he would be fine with it. When I began work for a local newspaper, my prediction became true. However, his pride in this came to me by word of mouth. Heaven forbid that he ever give me a compliment or show pride in me to my face.
When my father passed away in 1999 I cried buckets and I have felt a little derailed ever since. I miss the old man. Let's face it, there a few families that aren't screwed up on some level. It's part of being a family and living in such close emotional proximity. When you throw a step family into that you are just adding fuel to the fire.
I still have issues with being bullied by my stepmother, but I love my step siblings dearly. They are a wonderful bunch and so are their families. I sometimes think of her as the price I pay to get to have the rest of them. That and some serious character-building challenges.
I'm just glad that Dad found the right woman for him and that they were happy with each other. And that I didn't have to live with the two of them all that much. After all, I'm enough of a character as it is.
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