Hunting, Forgiveness, and Grace

My father (step father), James, turns seventy-nine this month.

I wrote about my father in my memoir and also on this blog. We had a troubled relationship no doubt. From the time I was a five year old girl to my middle aged years, our relationship has weaved in and out continuously with both positive and negative memories.

I won’t hash over all the things that I discussed before.  

Looking back, I would attribute most of the negative moments were caused by alcohol, minus the racial discord.

Our father had no previous parenting experience. He was a thirty year old bachelor when he married our mother of three children, ages five, seven, and nine.

While my two older siblings have given him a pass for the “no previous parenting experience”, I won’t.

As parents, we all have to do the hard work sometimes. We have to be the adults, the mature ones in the family. We have to try and teach our kids without demanding unrealistic expectations.

Disciplining our kids is part of being a parent. I have no issues with giving a free pass to my father on his strict parenting rules and for not being a perfect parent one hundred percent of the time. Lord knows, I was not a perfect parent. I sometimes acted out of emotional stress versus parental maturity to handle a situation. We learn, mature, and keep learning and growing.

Just when I thought my father could not learn or grow any more as a human, he did.

One thing that has become more apparent to me in my later years, is how much our father truly loves our mother. While there were times, as a child, that I had wished my mother would leave my step father, I am truly glad they were able to commit and make their marriage work and last, which is going on fifty years. I am glad that my younger brothers didn’t have to endure what the elder three children did.

In fact, it was because of my father’s love for my mother that helped us mend our broken relationship.

My younger brother and I wanted to have a seventieth birthday party for our mother with all her friends and family. My brother talked with Dad (his biological father), before we started planning it. We needed to be sure our father was on board. This was going to be the first time that my son and I would be present for a social family/friend event with my father. He had only met Jaren once very briefly the previous summer in passing. It was a five minute encounter.

That evening, as my mother’s birthday celebration was winding down, she invited me and Jaren to come back to the house and spend the night with her and dad.  

I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure we were that far into our relationship yet. I asked my mother, “Did you check with Dad first?”

My mother figured it was now or never and she wanted to take advantage of the moment. So we did. After twelve long years, I felt like family again.

The real moment came the next day.  

Growing up, we had hunting rifles standing in the corner of our living room. There was a deer head mounted on the living room wall. Our father went hunting every year and often went on weekend long hunting trips with his father, brother, and friends.

Hunting and fishing are a bonding experience for my father. He taught all his sons how to shoot. He even taught his daughters and grandchildren. This was one of his favorite hobbies and he enjoyed sharing this with his loved ones.

The next day, I had gone out for a couple hours to visit some old high school friends. I left Jaren with my parents. My nephew came over to visit. My father took my nephew (who already knew how to shoot) and my son out back to teach Jaren how to shoot a rifle.

Jaren has grown up in the city and the suburbs. While I know how to shoot a rifle and I am pretty good with standing targets, I had never taught my son how to shoot.

When I got home, my mother couldn’t wait to tell me about Jaren’s shooting lesson. I was shocked at first. I was like; you actually let Jaren hold a loaded rifle in his hand? My mother proudly said, “Jaren shot the target (a can) on his third try.”

She saved the can and showed me. The first one missed, the second one nicked the side of the can, and the third one shot through the center.  

My father has always had this presence about him. He can make any child behave without raising his voice or hand. His posture, his look, and his tone will make any child scared straight! I wish I had that skill but I don’t. He also has a cool, calmness about him. He was the perfect person to teach my son how to respect a gun and how to shoot one.

Dad’s rules: Never point a gun at another person, whether you think it is loaded or not. Be sure you know where you are aiming. And, if you are hunting, be sure you can see your target.

When I saw the pictures and how happy Jaren was to share that bonding moment with his grandfather, Poppy, and his cousin, it was a proud moment for me as well. I’m glad I wasn’t there. Hunting has mostly been a bonding experience for the males in our family. I’m glad they were free to experience this moment together, to bond, and to find their way into their new familial relationship.

That moment told me all I needed to know about my father. I no longer needed an apology or remorse from my father for all the missed years. I doubt I would have gotten one anyway. In my father’s own way, this was his apology.

Last year, I drove home with both of my sons, Jaren and Noah, for my nieces wedding. This was Noah’s first time to meet his grandfather. As we walked into my parents home, my father stood up, looked directly into my sons eyes, and shook their hands. The last night before we drove back to Texas, my parents invited us over for dinner. My father cooked his special shrimp dinner with moms homemade French fries for us, which has become a tradition as our last meal with my parents before going back home to Texas.

My sons have also shown such grace.

When I was a child, I couldn’t always see the love in my father’s eyes when he looked at me. Now as a fifty-seven year old woman, I see it when he looks at me, when he looks at my two sons, and when he looks at everyone in his family. I see how proud he is of his big blended family.

My dad has always followed a strong moral compass, even when that compass was faulty at times. But his morals to do right have always been stronger than his morals to do wrong.

Relationships are not always perfect because humans are not perfect. While my relationship with my step father has not always been easy, it also was not toxic. I know. Because my relationship with my biological father is and was toxic. And he has made no effort to grow.

In a weird way, I respect that my step father held onto his beliefs. One thing about my dad, he is not a fake or phony person. I knew where I stood with him and why he acted the way he did. He has strong beliefs. He will hold onto them as long as he feels justified. He is not one to put on a show for others. But once he has decided on something, he commits to it. His word is solid. And as he has said many times to us kids when we were growing up, “And you can take that to the bank.”

Happy Birthday, Dad and Poppy! We love you!

My Wedding Day

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?  Image

Unexpected Mother

We shared our love so gingerly
As many times before
With smooth strokes and soft kisses
A heart beats for more.
My eggs were patiently waiting
They had a hungry need
You generously left your legacy
You deposited your seed.
I waited and I waited
For that special time to come
Until I finally realized
The deed had been done.
I called you and told you
We conceived our first child
The words that came out your mouth
Were now words of denial.
You loved me so generously
So many times before
How could you not love me
When God has provided us more?
I now have a choice to make
God, what should I do
This man that you created
I’ve learned is untrue.
He denies me his love
He denies his own child
What kind of life can I create
God looked at me and smiled.
Dear child, do not worry
About the one who refuses
For my love is greater
Then any man who bruises.
This child you have conceived
This child is My creation
This child you have given life
This child is a new generation.

1998 Jaren's birth

__ Written by, Karen Whitaker