I've been thinking about my father a lot lately, especially in light of some strange coincidences.
I've always wondered whether I was really my father's son because I didn't look anything like him. I don't look anything like my mother, but that one's a little harder to dispute. However, in pictures recently, since I grew a beard, I notice some resemblances, especially around the upper lip and chin. (My father has a beard, but usually more of the Grizzly Adams variety.) This is the first time I've noticed any sort of genetic connection to my family. I'm already miles away from them all in temperament and talent, so the fact that I saw no genetic resemblance often triggered ponderings in my childhood if I were put here by aliens to observe these strange water-monkeys.
The coincidences start when I think that my father had me when he was 19. He was married to my biological mother and did his best to do the traditional family thing. I was 18 when I had Ethan, and yes, I tried to do the traditional family thing. In this, we both failed, mainly due to the crazy women we were with.
When I was 11, back in quaint 1988, my father was 30 and he moved me and my sister Angela back to Wisconsin. (We had been living in southern Indiana since I was about 3 or 4.) This was a big change, and a positive one, because it got me out of the backwoods of civilization, a.k.a. rural Indiana.
Now, in the less-than-quaint 2006, my son will turn 11, I will turn 29, and I am moving to Madison. This is a big change, and a positive one, because we'll be getting out of the backwoods of civilization, a.k.a. Watertown.
His life and mine, from this perspective seem to parallel each other oddly, especially since I used to swear I would be nothing like him. When I think back and realize that he was the age I am now when he moved us back to Wisconsin and realize what he'd gone through, I became overwhelmed with a sense of empathy.
By 30, he'd been married twice, was raising five children, one of which wasn't even his, but the product of his second wife's liaison with her best friend's husband. My biological mother, his first wife turned out to be crazy. I mean seriously insane. His second wife was just as nuts, but hid it better. His children had no respect for him because they didn't know him. He worked multiple night shifts to keep us in clothes, food, and shelter. His wife wasted money so frivolously that we were always dirt poor no matter how hard he worked. And when he had a few precious moments to relax and spend with his family, he only got to listen to his wife complain about how misbehaved we were, and he was forced to be the constant disciplinarian. No wonder he was already severely balding at my age.
When I was born, his friends abandoned him. Who wants to hang with the guy with a kid? When my mother turned out to be crazy and almost killed Angela and I when she fell asleep in bed with a cigarette and burned down her apartment, he chose to be a single father, raising two kids on his own. I don't know how he did it. I've had the help of amazing friends and of course, my father. When I think of everything he had done by the time he was my age, I am in awe. I try to think how I would be if my last dozen years had been like his. When I was 11 and arrived in Wisconsin, my father already seemed old to me, but now I realize he was just as young as I am, and like me, probably still felt like a stupid teenager half the time.
I called him today and left a voice mail on his cell phone. I told him I'd been thinking about him and I love him and hope he's doing well. I can hear his answer, because he replies the same, every time I ask him how he is.
He says, "Eh, I live."