My 15 year old son and I were talking the other day and he asked me a hypothetical question. “Who will walk you down the aisle when you get married?” He was wondering which father I would give the honor. I paused to gather my thoughts. A little discomfort seeped in as I acknowledged the truth.
I instantly recalled the memory of my sister’s wedding day. Colleen had both of her father’s standing on each side of her as she walked to the alter. I’m still able to vividly see that day in my mind. And although that day had extraordinary beautiful moments and I could not have been more excited and happy for my sister, seeing her walk with both of her father’s had evoked some envy within me. I knew that if or when I got married one day, I would not have both of my father’s by my side. I would have to choose one dad over the other.
In my memoir, One Woman’s Choice, I wrote that my step-father didn’t like or respect my biological father, Mario. Conveniently for my parents, Mario was in a Florida prison for most of my adolescent years. Mario went to prison when I was four years old and wasn’t released until I was a junior in high school. I saw him one time during all those years. My mom and step-dad sent me on a plane by myself at twelve years of age to fly from Philadelphia to Florida. When Mario became a free man and returned to the Philadelphia area, he was not welcome in our home, unlike my mother’s first husband. On at least one occasion, my mother met Mario at a McDonald’s so I could spend a couple days with him. After that, my parents gave me money to take the bus from New Jersey to Philadelphia.
Diane, my sister from Mario’s first marriage, whom I visited during my adolescent years when our father was still in prison, also wasn’t welcome in our home. Most times, Diane and my mother met half way for the convenience because we lived in south Jersey and she lived in Philadelphia. But I do remember a couple times my sister mentioning about coming to visit us in south Jersey and having a cup of coffee but my mother knew her new husband would not allow it. My step-father never met Diane. It’s sad because she never did or said anything to my step-father or for that matter about our family that would cause such animosity. It was solely based on the fact that she was Mario’s daughter. Period!
Just mentioning my biological father’s name in my household would cause stir and sometimes there was hell to pay.
My senior year, I invited Mario to my graduation ceremony. I recall feeling very nervous about my parents bumping into one another. This was the first time in my life that they would all be in close proximity to each other. I was so stressed out by the whole ordeal that when a friend offered me some LSD/acid, without hesitation I popped it in my mouth just before the ceremony. I wanted to escape the reality and not confront my qualms. Just for the record, Mario didn’t have an issue with meeting my step-father. My step-father refused to meet Mario. Although this was a fight between them, it hurt me immensely back then and still does today. I know Mario is no saint by any means. But he is still my father.
Mario and I met in one of the parking lots where I was hanging out with some friends. We took some pictures and talked for a few minutes. My parents were having a graduation party afterwards, but I knew Mario couldn’t come. I can’t remember if I told my father about the party or not. It’s not like he didn’t know how my family felt about him. I was just happy we got to see each other. His warm embrace and congratulatory wishes felt good. This was the first, last and only time my biological father was present for one of my school events.
That’s what life for me was like.
To be honest, both fathers have let me down. Mario was absent for twelve years of my life because of a choice he made. My step-father disowned me for twelve years because of a choice I made.
Maybe that’s why I have never gotten married. Do I choose my step-dad, who has given me a home, food, clothing, vacations, and gifts or do I choose my father who gave me life and love? I wish I could have both. Doesn’t every little girl deserve both? Doesn’t every bride deserve both? What can I offer a man if I only bring half of myself to the alter?