My mom and dad were hippies who weren't married when they had me. They broke up, amicably, a year or two after I was born. My mom met my stepdad, Eddie, when I was three and they were married when I was five. Dad met Leslie, my stepmom, when I was eight. They dated for a decade before marrying when I was in my second year of college. I was in both of their weddings - a flower girl in the former and I read a poem in the latter. Neither set of parents had other children. We vacation, celebrate birthdays, and spend holidays together.
The typical family structure, though, is learned from an early age. The image of a Nuclear Family is ingrained in our psyches and deviations from this model somehow don't feel right to the tender mind of a five year old. I was about to watch my mother walk down the aisle with someone other than my Dad, and I had some difficulty in accepting this transition. My childish, naive desire was to have my birth parents together living the "true" image of family. What perhaps none of us knew at the time was that our family would become one of the truest parts of our lives.
It was while I was in the seventh grade - Middle School - that they went to the Open House together, as parents often do. Yet it was my Dad and Stepdad who were in attendance. It's one of many stories that is well-versed in my family: Mr. Losert, Principal at the time, was speechless with shock, eyes wide as saucers, when he saw Dutchie and Eddie walk through the front doors together. He was familiar with both my Dads and who they were in our small community, either athletically or collegiately. The obligatory questions were asked and both of my Dads explained that my mother had become sick that night and they would both be filling in for her. I had taken for granted this event at the time, as most teenagers take for granted many things that do not directly affect their lives. But more so because that was the behavior I had always known - family acting together for the benefit of each other and their one daughter. It was the status quo and it worked for us.
I was brought up by both of my fathers, having lived with Mom and Eddie five days a week and spent the weekends with my Dad. My childhood is a fond collection of comingled memories where both of my fathers exist. Still in the early stages of our father-daughter relationship, Eddie attached training wheels to my bike and patiently taught me how to ride it on the old, Livesey Park outdoor skating rink. Dad and I, during our weekends together, would watch professional wrestling on Sunday mornings and play out our own match right there on the living room floor. Eddie had always been an excellent golfer and he and I would often play mini-golf together or go to the driving range. A protege, I was not, but I always loved spending that time with him. I love New England summers as much as Dad does and we would pack up his big, blue van with a cooler of sandwiches and cans of soda and take off to the beach for the entire day. The only thing I loved more than a day at the beach was the gloriously inevitable pit-stop at the ice cream shop on the way home. Lucky for me, Dad loves ice cream as much as I do.
During my high school years, Dad always came to my track meets, sometimes Eddie joined him and I remember how proud I felt to see them standing together. One particular memory I have was the state track meet, my very last in high school, and it was my 18th birthday. All four of my parents had shown up to watch. I had done particularly well that day and after my events, they all piled back into one car to leave - Moms in the back, Dads in the front - but not before I heard my father's voice bellow from the open car window as they drove off, Happy Birthday, Alyyyyyyyyy!!!! It always felt so right that they were together.
On holidays and other occasions when I visit Eddie and my Mom, Ed always tells me ten or so times (I usually lose count) how good it is to have me home. Whenever I talk to my father on the phone, he often tells me how proud he is of me before we hang up, even though I may not have done anything to specifically warrant it. They always showed me unconditional love. I'll never understand what it is like to be the father of a daughter, but Fatherhood, and the love they each showered me with, always seemed to be effortless and expressed with grace. Fatherhood came so naturally to them and they made being their daughter easy.
In early 2009, Dutchie and Eddie both became seriously ill within months of each other. It was an unthinkable, implausible experience to be faced with the mortality of the two closest men in my life at the exact same time. Eddie was diagnosed with Myelofibrosis - the scarring of bone marrow tissue - and Dad developed advanced prostate cancer. There was an incredible outpouring of support from family, friends, and the community for each of them and their respective diseases. Dad underwent surgery to remove the cancer in its entirety and Eddie had a stem cell transplant and sustained a near-eighteen month recovery. The endurance of their spirit as well as the support around them is a true testament to the great character of these two men. They are both healthy now and, for that, we are all incredibly lucky and grateful.
At Christmas, my mother's dining table is always crowded with our little family, Grandparents included. It's always the best meal of the year, likely due to her excellent cooking, but also because we are together. These past two years have been particularly poignant with a toast made to health, life, family, and happiness. Following dinner, and after several bottles of wine, the five of us play digital bowling or some other game on my parents' Wii. We have the time of our lives, laughing and acting silly.
Today, as I share this story about my Dads, what is self-reflection for me and my Father's Day gift to them, I acknowledge that I wouldn't be who I am if it weren't for their presence in my life. Along with my Mom and Stepmom, it is because of Dutchie and Eddie that I am a human who is loving and respectful, friendly and kind, patient and accepting - all the things I have collectively learned from them.
Happy Father's Day to my two Dads.
|Dutchie, Aly, & Eddie, 2005|