I've been catching up on this visually wonderful phenomenon called Game of Thrones. In a recent episode, many were sacrificed due to the thickness of blood. All of it, the ruthlessness, the aggression and the deceit reminded me of my ex-partner and his family.
They could not deign to be as interesting as this fabled soap opera, but they were just as awful. I have no contact with any of them, although only five years ago the matriarch told me that should I split with my abusive ex-partner, I should get custody of our son, for according to her I was better for him that his biological father. Now, nothing.
In the USA, where I'm originally from, today is "Father's Day".
My Facebook newsfeed is littered with epithetical Father's Day greetings and tributes. Whatever.
In Australia, Father's Day is not celebrated until September. So I should get two! Um, no.
During the course of my 8+ year de facto relationship, for which I practically ruined my life, my ex-partner and stepson never once acknowledged that Father's Day happened on a different day than here at the "arse end of the earth.*
I have only a few words for them: See those? They are big karma eggs. Suck 'em.
* A song from Keating! (The Musical) -- I'm not slamming this beautiful country.
My birth mother gave birth to me when she was a kid. After she and my
dad divorced due to her infidelity (funny that, as you'll read later),
she got custody, as mothers usually did during the 1960s. At the age of
three, she carted me up and down the coast of California and engaged in
at least one drug-riddled, abusive relationship. I remember walking into
the kitchen late at night, after I was awakened by loud voices. My
mother had her face buried in her hands, probably to hide fresh bruises.
She and whoever the man was were fighting. They both screamed violently
at me to get out.
In addition, she routinely gave me sleeping
pills at night to keep me asleep, so that she could go out and party.
Either that or she would drop me at a sitters with no change of clothes
and disappear for days.
Following that, my stepmother was a
lovely woman who married my father when I was nearly 5. Her name was
Anita, and she looked like a movie star. But she was soon subjugated by
my father's passive-aggressiveness and unallowed to speak her mind.
After they married, Dad, who had heard what an unfit mother my birth
mother was, sued and gained custody. He brought me back from California
to Wichita and forced us to call my new stepmother "Mother", even though
I adored calling her by the exotic name she had been given. No doubt it
was too "foreign" sounding, and he was convinced she would be our true
mother. My birth mother's name was never to be mentioned in the
household, at the risk of severe punishment with belts or grounding,
both commonplace in our house. Even by my sister, who used to whip me
when I'd try to sing to the radio, telling me I couldn't sing so I
should shut up.
When my stepmother was nearly 50, my dad
divorced her after having had multiple affairs, culminating in one with
the woman for whom he dumped Anita. He left her bereft and moved away to
continue his family with his new wife, while Anita, scared and feeling
obligated to care for her ex-husband's vegetative mother, tried to claw
her way through the ensuing years. She was never allowed to handle her
own life and lived in constant codependency. Nothing much has changed.
My second stepmother, for whom Dad had left Anita and very close to my
own age, bore my father three more sons. I suppose he wanted to start
again with boys he felt he could groom into real men. He died broke,
leaving her penniless, as well. With no money of my own, I borrowed from
friends to return to Arkansas last year to manage my dad's funeral. I
helped my second stepmother with an enormous amount of financial and
other property affairs during the couple of months I was there.
And then there was my former mother in-law, who led me to believe she
was so close to me, that she even told me that if anything happened to
my ex or if we split up, I should get custody of our son, as I was
better for him than anyone she had ever met. I have not heard from this
woman in nearly 2 years, and I am unsurprised, knowing my ex's family
the way I do now.
When my ex beat me to the floor in front our
son last January, I received no calls from anyone. When I lost my father
to cancer a month later, I received no calls, other than from my second
stepmom who needed my help. When Mark kicked me out of my home after
8.5 years, I received no calls. When I lost my job due to a very
bullying boss, I received no phone calls. When I presented myself to the
Dept of Housing in Sydney to present myself as homeless, I received no
calls. From anyone except a couple of friends here in Sydney.
If the recrement of down-home phrases, which my forbearers have left me and of which I'm very proud, that I have posted now and again to Facebook do not serve as testament, I submit the following. Let it serve as evidence to all those who think my Southern lineage, as far back as the 18th century, is false.
[I'm not proud of the following; but here we go.]
I was taught how to skin a slaughtered squirrel at the age of 10. Daddy nailed the half-dead varmint to a tree and, after making a few, strategic slices here and there, flayed the sad creature from limb to limb in less than a half-dozen tugs.
Daddy said, "Son, you're gonna have to get over this."
The flatmate came into my room at midnight to see if I was breathing. He was off his tree, but that didn't matter. I was, too, from the healthy dose of Nyquil I had guzzled. I'm not sick, just needed help going to sleep.
With public assistance that amounts to a living allowance of $10 per day, I can't afford zolpidem. Finding a bottle of night-time cold medicine in the mosaic of suitcases that occupy floorspace and double as furniture in my room was a gift from the gods.
When I finally opened my eyes, red as brake lights, I could see that he was standing a few feet from me, hesitantly reaching forward with two extended fingers that offered sharp, quickly retracting jabs to my knee. To him, I was a beached aquatic lifeform that might suddenly blurge to life and devour him in a fatal, slimy movement.
That's the problem when you admit to a previous self-harm attempt. People care for you like they do an inherited piece of ugly, fragile porcelain. Casually and with distaste, they do things like spit on their thumb to wipe off a smudge, or, horrified that someone important might see you, freak out upon realizing they have allowed you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for all to see. There's a certain amount of poetic honesty in that, which I admire but regard with sadness that makes my heart seep.
My flatmate has made it no secret to me that he is concerned he will arrive home and find me dead. According to the ex, my step-son voiced the same fears to him shortly before I was asked to leave our home of nine years. Fair enough. I can accept that from a 14 year-old, but from someone who is nearly 50?
It hurts to hear it, more than his prodding fingers ever could.
If you are like me (god help you), you may remember how "space-age" the year 2011 seemed to be in, for example, 1978. Following the brain drain of trying to work out how old I would be in that year, I used to think about what I might be doing at that point in my life. More importantly, I imagined what I'd be wearing as I wended my way confidently from one automatic door to the next, the updraft accompanied by a perfect Star Trek whoosh and making my feathered hair self-fluff handsomely.
And here it is, 2011. There are no Star Trek portals. The hair I used to engage with in a desperate battle of wills has long since fallen out. The sights I once set on my own education and career are now focused very differently.
It's 2011, and the son that I doubted I'd ever have is growing up. In inverse proportion to the health of my parents, he is getting bigger, stronger and more independent than a frisky yearling. Yesterday a child of 9, today a youngster of 13, tomorrow a man of 18 with a size-twelve foot and the appetite of a small nation.
Last week, at our five-day tour of private boarding schools in snowy New England, Zane was transformed. He also showed colors we never thought he had. Gone was the dispassionate, practically mute boy we witnessed at a painful admissions interview with the Head of Secondary School at his private school in Sydney three years ago. In his place was an articulate, engaged and interested young man who quizzed his tour guide and admissions interviewer with a enthused spark. Zane rose to the occasion. While there were low moments--for example, walking across the Exeter campus in blizzard conditions, fighting off the flu, and once or twice just simply wishing he could shut down for a day--Zane kept his spirit fueled and did his very best...all we have ever asked of him. After all, this was a goal he set for himself. We're just his cheerleaders.
Applying to boarding school in the US was Zane's idea a couple of years ago. When he approached us with the idea, Mark and I were still reeling (happily) from his exceptional performance in the GATE program in Tucson. We encouraged Zane to think long and hard about his willingness to do what it would take to try and make the cut to get into one of these schools. His grades, although good, would need to get better. His performance on standardized tests would need to improve dramatically. His self-initiative and determination tools would need some hefty sharpening. (And we would need a dumptruck full of money.) Zane was adamant of his goal, so Mark and I threw our weight behind him and provided the necessary encouraging, pushing, prodding and general kickassitude to help him make it up the hill. And make it he did.
Mark and I have no idea what Zane's real chances are. We see the numbers and statistics, and we get a little depressed, but that's the way with impersonal data. We saw Zane as a human. We saw a desire to succeed and a strength of character that startled us. We know that Zane worked hard for this, maybe not as hard as he will next year, should his current applications be unsuccessful, but he certainly proved to us (and himself) that he has what it takes to climb to the top.
I reckon watching your kid take those pivotal steps from childhood to adulthood via that torturous path known as adolescence is one of the best things about parenting. I am proud of Zane. Whatever the outcome, we will always have this victory to remember together.
In a recent Utne article, it was reported that current research suggests fatherhood is good for the brain. Apparently, some kind of chemical mystery occurs that makes dads more "canny and resourceful". Hmm. It caught my attention.
Then I realized that they're talking about the sperm donor. I'm a stepfather, so I guess I'll remain uncanny and at a loss for what to do.
Anyway, here's the statement.
Loving a woman and fathering her children changes a man’s body and
brain in ways that make him more canny and resourceful, while improving his ability to handle stress. At the same
time, living with the woman he loves alters a man’s hormones and
neurochemistry to make him a better mate.
Upon reading this, I cannily and resourcefully walked over to the trashcan and hurled. Sounds like a bunch of right-wing, fundamentalist-fueled (and funded?) work to me, used as grounds for anti-nontraditional-family propaganda. The original research is headed up at the University of Virginia, arguably not a hotbed of diversity and progressive thought.
Anyway, I feel smarter having a kid in my life, but that's probably because I get to share my, ehem, vast knowledge and wisdom with him. I have to admit, however, that I'm not sure about the increased ability to handle stress. I'm still working on that.