My father came home for the holidays and my mother instantly turned into a giddy teenager – only worse. It started about a week before he was due to arrive. She cleaned. Not a simple vacuum job – she washed windowsills! Curtains came down, were washed, ironed, and returned to their rods. I was afraid she might start washing the ornaments on the Christmas tree. I didn’t even joke about it for fear she might do it.
Why all the craziness? My dad isn’t home very much. The last time I remember my dad being home for any extended period of time I was ten. My mom has gone years without seeing him. Then maybe she would see him several times in six months only to have him vanish again.
At one point, I thought my parents were divorced, and I wondered if I was an illegitimate birth. As I got older, I wondered if my mother had been conned and he had another family someplace. No. My parents are happily married. How do I know that? I can see it in them and the way they act.
Maybe it seems as though I had a weird life as a child and maybe I did, but it was my life and I was loved. In spite of it being different, I don’t feel deprived or as though I missed out on anything. I am simply the product of an atypical family.
My parents met in college and had the big fairytale wedding in June after they graduated. My dad had an advanced degree and my mom had her BA. They had the honeymoon to die for, came home three months later, bought a house, and my father left for his new job. The spring after my dad left, my mom had a stillbirth. That summer she applied for a teaching job at a local high school and got it. A few months into working and my dad came home. She quit her job.
Growing up, other children had a mother and a father. Even if they were divorced, children seemed to know who their father was and what he did. If I asked my mom, it was always the same answer. “You have a father. He loves you. Don’t ask questions.”
He came home when I was seven and we moved. I remember feeling like I finally had a father, except he was a stranger. Slowly I accepted him and became his shadow. He showered me with attention. At ten, he didn’t come home. No warning that I wouldn’t see him again, he just vanished from my life and my mom’s.
In my junior year of high school, I saw him. I came home from school and this man was sitting in our kitchen. He asked where my mom was. I almost called the police on him. Fortunately my mom came through the door and flew into his arms. I never saw him again until after I graduated from college.
Other than that time when I was little, I’ve seen him more in the last few years than I ever did growing up. And in the last few years I’ve had internet contact with him – not all the time but occasionally. It might sound strange but I’ve gotten to know him, maybe not as a father, but as a man with adult eyes.
Whatever my dad does for a living, my mom was in agreement before they married. She knew or thought she knew what life would be like without having a husband around all the time. It made my mom independent and strong. Her attitude has rubbed off on me. I realize there’s a difference between needing a man and wanting a man. I’d like to have one but I don’t need one.
My dad came over to my place after Christmas and I thought I’d die. My little apartment was far from clean which really isn’t like me but… The previous night’s bowl of pop corn was still on the kitchen counter. I had dishes in the sink. The area around my computer was cluttered with papers and notes, both private and work related. Goldie’s tank had some streaks of green, yet he never said a word about any of it.
He informed me that he’d read my book. I swallowed. He wanted to know if I wrote it because I was looking for an older man to bridge the gap he’d left in my life. I honestly told him the biggest gap in age I’ve ever dated was about twelve years and it was too much. I asked him if he was shocked at the sex and he said no. He’d be more shocked if I didn’t know such things.
I asked him a few things and got the standard reply. “Don’t ask questions.” He did say he doesn’t expect to be going away for extended periods but he’s not retiring – not yet. So the stranger is back in my life, maybe this time for good.
My mom is acting like a newlywed, swearing that he’s the most romantic man she’s ever known. He’s buying her flowers, little and not so little gifts, taking her to dinner at fancy restaurants, and acting as though he’s making up for thirty some years of not being there for her.
I’m sitting back and wondering if I could handle being married to a man like him with a don’t-ask-questions job. I could, but that’s not what I want. I’d prefer to have someone who was my teammate. Someone to share the responsibilities, the joys, the heartaches, and everything that goes along with living.
I want to wake up in the mornings and smell coffee brewing. I want to see him standing there in the kitchen with his pajama bottoms hanging low on his hips as he takes his first sips of coffee with that morning beard and his hair tousled, and know that he belongs to me and that I belong to him. I want my man to be there. And I want flowers for absolutely no reason because, like my mom, I think it’s very romantic.