Sunday, June 24, 2007

Secret, Secret

If you see me,
acting strangely,
don't be surprised.

I'm just a man
who's circumstances
went beyond his control.

-- Mr. Roboto, Styx.

Today's Sunday Scribblings prompt is secret. We all have secrets. Things we keep from our children, because they're not old enough or because we're not ready to admit they're mature enough. Things we keep from each other because they're embarrassing or simply too private. Things we keep from ourselves because, well, because we're afraid to accept them.

Some secrets are good secrets. Birthday presents, for example are good secrets. I like to quietly buy holiday presents throughout the year. It gets tricky from time to time, especially when JP asks "What's in the bag?" and I have to say, "I can't tell you." She's very understanding in general, but doesn't like the idea of Christmas presents being purchased in March. I haven't done as much of this sort of thing over the past couple of years, but if she seems to bond with something while we're out and about, you can bet I'll try to figure out a way of swinging back when she's not looking.

Some secrets, of course, are bad secrets. I imagine we can all think of cases where our actions weren't as transparent as we might have hoped. For myself, I try to learn from those mistakes. I try to understand what led me to make those choices in that way.

And, as I mentioned earlier, some secrets are very private and personal. I do have one secret that I've keep inside. On the one hand, it seems trivial, but from a different perspective, it's complex.

My childhood was not the most pleasant nor was it the hardest around. My parents didn't like each other very much and they had a lot of frustration in their lives. Frustration with themselves. Frustration with each other. Frustration with their situation. (They married because they "had to." Their marriage ended their college careers and that limited their opportunities.)

As you might expect, there were many shouting matches. They cursed at each other, they fought with each other (yes, physically). Things were thrown. My father waved his pistol about. My mother pulled knives. As far as I know, neither ever actually attacked the other.

Some of this would spill over in my direction. Today, we would call these episodes physical and emotional abuse.

Even though things were bad from time to time, there were good times, too. I loved my parents deeply and was devastated when my dad told me they'd decided to divorce. (I was 14.)

As I grew up, I recognized that my experiences were what we would call "adverse." Somewhere, I had heard that children frequently continue the patterns of their parents. That scared me because I didn't want to be responsible for putting another through experiences similar to my own. I made a conscious decision to handle things differently than my parents did.

As I got older, I realized I couldn't wait to become a father, to create a family with a different experience. One filled with love, security, and stability. I wanted a family and I looked forward to nurturing and guiding young spirits in a way that I had not been.

In college, a friend asked me to impregnate her so she could go onto Welfare. She promised that I wouldn't have to support her or the child in any way. She said I could walk away. I declined, knowing that I would never be able to walk away from a child of my own. While I liked her as a friend, I wasn't willing to have a parenting relationship with her.

Later, a girlfriend chose to abort a pregnancy. She didn't tell me until a few years later. We had drifted apart and she felt it was important that I knew why.

I didn't marry until I was 32, in part because I knew I wasn't ready. We tried to have children, but it never worked out. We went to fertility clinic and spent thousands. Nothing seemed to work. No test was able to explain why it wasn't happening. We scraped the cash together for an IVF procedure. It failed. I was devastated and began to realize that I probably would never have a child of my own. I would never know the emotional fear and thrill that some speak of feeling when they hold their newly born child for the first time.

We decided to adopt and Kara came into my life. She was nineteen months. We bonded quickly. The first Sunday she was with us, she and I were blowing bubbles in the back yard. I was kneeling in the grass and she snuggled into the crook of my arm and put her head on my shoulder. In that moment, my heart blossomed out toward her. I think I felt, in that moment, that fear-thrill moment. This little girl was choosing to trust me to love and protect her. It was an awesome moment and a scary one was well.

That marriage disintegrated shortly after the adoption was final.

I eventually met (and married) JP who had three children from previous relationships. DD is the youngest.

So here I am today. DD and Kara think of me as Dad, which I love. And I do what I can to nurture them, protect them, and help them grow up knowing love and security. It's nice.

It's hard sometimes, but it's good. I'm thankful. I'm grateful. For while it's not happened the way I thought it would, I am a parent and I like to think I am the kind of parent I always wanted to have.

The secret? There are times I wonder what it would have been like to have a child of my own, one of my flesh, a sprout from my own seed. Oh, I know. That's irresponsible or unnecessary or somehow less than noble. I do not allow that wonder to affect the way I treat my kids in any way whatsoever. It's something I keep inside and try to understand when no one else is around (or awake). Perhaps it's a biological imperative. Perhaps it's a left-over from reading too many "Arthurian" tales of heirs and lineage. Perhaps it's a desire for an unbreakable bond. Perhaps it comes from something I haven't yet identified.

In some ways, it's ironic. Most of my life, I've wanted to have children. And I like to think that I am a good parent. I'm not perfect, of course, but I do pretty well, all things considered. (It helps that JP keeps me honest and real.) And, unlike some divorced Dads, I am trying to remain involved and active in Kara's life, in spite of the roadblocks her mother throws up.

But, this is the way my life has worked out. While it's not exactly what I thought it would be, I am a parent and my kids love me. My wife loves me. I am creating a family life better than the one I grew up with. That's pretty heady, when you think about it.

I'm happy. And even though neither of my girls has a single strand of my DNA, they have (I think) something more useful: my love, my attention, and my time.

I can live with that.

Photo credit: Me. It's my other set of girls when they were three months old.


Blogger Whitesnake said...

I would make a comment but it is a secert!

9:09 PM  
Blogger Becca said...

This is such a heartfelt and thoughtful post. It's interesting to read about this from a man's perspective, this feeling of wanting to have biological children, and then having the experience of loving and caring for children who are not. I think men often keep these kinds of feelings "a secret" for whatever crazy, macho reason, so I'm glad you decided to share this.

Excellent post!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Jane Poe (aka Deborah) said...

Darling ... having been privileged to share in these thoughts and feelings with you it nonetheless amazes me how beautifully and articulately you’ve shared them with others. You are an amazing father and partner. xx, JP

11:01 PM  
Blogger giggles said...

Very forthright, honest and understandable! My father, who was an excellent dad and a good man, said it takes an extra special man to adopt and raise a child. He was a tender soul, but it seems you are the man he spoke about! The most wonderful kind of dad who loves implicitly the children he’s raising! Dad said it was natural for a man to want his own blood line to continue on! That conversation took place well over thirty five years ago. Funny the affect it had! I’ve always held adoptive parents in higher esteem because of it! Thanks for sharing such intimate thoughts!

2:39 AM  
Blogger Shaz said...

My dad, I am sure felt the same as you he adored me like nothing else on earth and I lost him young but I wonder if yearned as you for the genetic connection.
Ben will never know the joy of being called Daddy and that breaks my heart, when the girls were young and we were quite new he didnt feel it was right for them to call him dad at that stage but they do call him their dad and I say ask your father LOL but he would of been an incredible dad and is but missed the baby stuff and I am at the other end, he can have kids, just not with me due to the hysterectomy and I often feel guilty and very sad for him for that reason.
I love this post and I am glad I read it after our talk tonight it makews so much sense and you really are a wonderful Daddy and an amazing person.
I am proud to call you my friend.

So glad your writing XX

5:44 AM  
Anonymous gautami tripathy said...

I needed to read this. Very thoughful, reflective post. I can relate to it.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Awareness said...

i would have wondered the same thing....and i bet most would as well even if they don't admit it. by you sharing your secret, i have been given an opportunity to acquire a new perspective.....

ps. you write so well......your tricycle story broke my heart. it sounds like you were once married to a try crazymaker....and perhaps she had her own mental health issues.........who knows....but wow, I can't believe how far you went to accomodate her and to try to please your daughter.

6:58 PM  
Blogger Footpad said...

@'Snake: I can only wonder then. :-)

@Becca: Thank you; it was a hard post to write, but I'm glad I did.

@JP: And you're only a little biased. ;-)

@Giggles: Your dad sounds like a wise man. I've always felt that innocence is a gift, one that should be protected as long as possible.

@Shaz: This post has been in the back of my head since I read similar thoughts on your blog. I didn't know the form it would take (and that's where the Sunday Scribble helped), but your post gave me freedom to consider posting them. (Mix in a conversation that JP andI had earlier in the weekend and, well, there you go.)

Anyway, I'm glad to be your friend, too...even if you do have to teach me the right way to express certain idioms from time to time. ;-)

6:14 PM  

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