I lucked out big time on the parent front, both right out of the womb and then again a few years later.
My mom is high up there in the “best moms of all time” category, and my dad, well, I am exactly like him, so clearly he is the shit. My biological father, on the other hand, has few, if any, redeeming qualities, hence the above “few years later” line. For clarity, I refer to the person who impregnated my mom as my biological father, and the man who actually raised me as every other variation of the word “dad”; pops, daddy, etc. My mom married my dad when I was 3 or 4 years old, and trust me, this was a huge step up from the original. Even though he was only 23 when he started dating my mom (my mom is an old-school cougar, 8 years older. Go mom!), who had both me and my then 13-year-old brother, he took on the task of raising us, loving us, and caring for us incredibly seriously. Can you imagine being 23 and suddenly having a freaking teenager to raise? Good guy, that man, good guy.
There have been a number of events that have occurred in my life over the past few weeks that have made me even more grateful for my parents than I was before. I have a friend who is a teacher at a super richy-richardson school, and one of her students enjoys photography and is an exceptionally beautiful young lady. The student put together a photo collage of pictures of herself, and when she proudly showed it to her mother (in front of my friend, mind you), the woman immediately started telling the girl what horrible pictures they were, how unflattering and bad she looked in them. Asshole mom: 1, child’s self-esteem: 0.
Another asshole mother in my life recently told her 5-year-old son that if he didn’t obey her instructions, she would never love him again. Twice. She did this in a fit of anger, and when she apologized, she only said she was sorry for yelling, not for what she said. This instance in particular dredged up way too many childhood memories, memories of my biological father making it perfectly clear, in no uncertain terms, that his love was utterly conditional. I was to behave as he saw fit, or love would be withheld. The demands were not always basic childhood behavioral expectations, like “clean your plate” or “don’t touch the hot stove.” It was also bigger things, stupid things, like naming my son after him or him walking me down the aisle, by himself, when I got married. He started telling me these things when I was no more than 6 or 7, when babies and marriage were the furthest thing from my mind, for goodness sake. He demanded control; if it was not given, he would take it. He demanded unearned respect. He demanded unconditional love without offering it in return. It took me many years, but finally, I started making my own demands. They ended with me demanding him the fuck out of my life, where he has remained for the past seven years.
I am lucky, though. I got dealt a shit biological father, but was given a wonderful mother, a mom who never, never, put conditions on her love. A mom who supported every decision I made, no matter how stupid. A mom who always listens when I need to talk, is always the shoulder on which I cry, and who has been my closest confidant, the person I can tell anything to, even though some of those secrets she really, really wishes she didn’t know. I had the mom who, when she made the promise, “If you are ever too drunk to drive home, please just call me. You won’t be in trouble,” actually did come to pick me up when I called in the middle of the night and kept to her promise, no matter how badly she wanted to ground my underage ass, because she knew that trusting each other was more important than no TV for a month. My mom was always ready to give advice when asked, but never pushed her agenda into my decisions. She showed me, time and again, that she trusted my judgment and my ability to reach the right conclusions, even when I didn’t trust myself. That, and so many other things, are unconditional love.
And then I hit the jackpot again, being given my dad early on, early enough to stand in contrast to the jerk who contributed half his genetic material to me. A dad who showed me that blood is not thicker than water, that biological ties are not the only things that bind us to one another. A dad who put up with years of pain and abuse from me as my biological father manipulated my childish mind with his chin held high. A dad who, even as I treated him poorly, always treated me as his own. A dad who went on school field trips and had humiliating-at-the-time but hilarious-in-hindsight farting contests with my classmates. A dad who, when I was a raging bag of teenage hormones threatening to run away due to some perceived injustice from him, sat outside my work until I got off and hashed it out with me, tears and yelling and all, instead of brushing it off as youthful irrationality. A dad who cracks me up all the time, who makes me feel like I can do anything, who holds my hand and also supports all of my decisions, whether he likes them or not.
No childhood is perfect, nor is any parent. Mistakes will be made, misunderstandings will be had, and there will always be things we wish we would have done differently. However, if a family, in whatever way you define family, can cultivate open communication, trust, and unconditional love, all those other mishaps along the way are much less significant. Lies and power plays have a way of poisoning everything they touch. I will take a harsh truth over a pretty lie any day.
In closing, this is the song my dad and I danced to at my wedding, and I love it, and him, and my momma, with all of my heart.