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!