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Verses from my Kitchen: My Meaning of Family

June 19, 2011

My Meaning of Family

I'm a people watcher. I watch people. I think I inherited this sore habit when I was younger and afraid of being alone. I would watch others instead, feeling connected by space and time. It's a habit I gained from the few years living with my father as a kid. Sometimes, usually late at night, I lay awake and hear the echoes of a young boy in my past who needed someone so he wouldn't be scared. That young boy was me. I want to help him.

This is not your typical father's day story.

My parent's went through a messy divorce when I was around eight. The divorce itself wasn't messy, the marriage was. The last years were bitter and loud and angry. Mostly my dad. Almost always my dad. Screams like gunshots ricocheted through my head late at night. I used to clutch my blankets as tight as possible and fall asleep with dried-up tears etched on my cheeks. 

When the day came that my mom moved out and my single family unit was broken and dead, I celebrated a little inside. No happiness or outward smile, just thankfulness. Appreciation that my mom didn't have to endure it any longer. Happy that the noise inside would stop. Hopeful of things to come.

I lived with my dad for a few years after the divorce. He was great to me. Mostly. He took care of me and looked after me and watched over me. That was until the night fell and blanketed the sky with darkness and fear. The moment silence crept over the house and area around us, he would tuck me in. And then he would leave.

I hated those nights. I would slip out of bed and run down the hall to his bedroom, the one overlooking the main street outside where he parked his car. I'd stand up on my toes and watch him get inside and drive away. I would head back to bed, but not to sleep. I would hear a noise that frightened me and my mind took me places I didn't want to go. Scenarios popped in and I couldn't shove them out fast enough.

That's when I first became afraid of the dark. Afraid of being alone. I couldn't fall asleep, instead choosing to wait it out for his return. Every noise or shut door outside would have me running back down the hall to see if my dad had returned. And most of the time, he hadn't. And the fear, momentarily gone, had slipped back again. Restless moments locked in my house crying myself to sleep.

He was a good father, except when I needed him most. The real hallmarks of a great father disappeared when his father died much too young. Way too young. He didn't have that role model or person or path to follow. He didn't know any better. That's what I told myself all through my teenage years when my mom and step-dad went away for a weekend. The fear always seemed to know when they were heading away; his timing was impeccable. I often wondered aloud how long it would take until I could go to bed alone at night and be comfortable by myself.

During the years after I moved in with my mom and her new husband,  I lost track of my dad. Actually, I think he lost track of me. Phone calls and time spent together grew longer and deeper between them. Eventually, a call from him was met with curiosity and disbelief. His freedom must have kept him busy. 

We had grown apart, even if only for a few years until I moved back in with him. Those were his sick years. He was still my father so I still had feelings but eventually those too would come to pass. He found a new family, with a wife and three newer kids to worry about. That's when calls disappeared altogether.

I'm not bitter. I'm thankful for many things now. My step-dad is great. Although he has never shown that emotion that comes with being a father, he has filled that role amicably. No, wonderfully. Unlike moments in my now distant past, he was there when I needed him most. He has taught me many things, mostly by being a good man and role model. He supported me. He guided me and contributed to my growth as a person. He even stood up for me at my wedding. 

This is not a sad day. I can't be sad about a man I don't know anymore. It's been decades since I last heard the phone ring and his voice on the other side. I have heard that he's alone again, left absent by his last wife. I never wonder what he's doing because I know he doesn't wonder about me. He has his life's actions to keep him company now. 

I've long since overcome the fear that kept me awake at night. I can sleep alone now, although I'd rather have my wife beside me. I don't worry about the noises outside anymore and I don't worry about when he's coming back. He's not. 

All of this helps explain why I love the morning so much and my deep affection for spring and her longer hours of light. Every new spring I rejoice with her bounty and smile and celebrate a little inside. I share recipes like this with the people that matter most, like my step-dad. My new dad.

To my step-dad John

Thank you. Thank you for being the man my dad wasn't capable of being. Thank you for stepping into a ready-made family and taking on the responsibility of fatherhood. Thank you for all your wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Thanks for taking on a second job so I could continue the activities a kid likes to do.
Your guidance and support has helped mold the man I have become.

Thank you for letting me be me. But, most of all, thank you for being you. On this day I'm thankful for you.

**p.S. There is no recipe today. It wasn't about that. If you want it I'd be happy to share it.


At June 19, 2011 at 12:29 PM , Blogger A Thought For Food said...

Thank you for telling such an honest story, Mike. It sounds like this time of your life had a profound effect on you... but look where you are now! Happily married... I have no doubt that your parents' marriage has taught you a lot.

At June 19, 2011 at 1:40 PM , Blogger BecHef said...

Mike, It must have taken great courage for you to be so open and honest with us. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the reminder that although I only had him for 15 short years until his early death at the age of 48, my dad was the perfect father to fit my needs <3
I pray that your life from this day forward is filled with more happiness than your heart can hold!

At June 19, 2011 at 8:09 PM , Blogger A Kitchen Muse said...

Wow. Powerful, raw and emotional. I know it took alot for you to put this all out there. It's part of the healing process. I too remember the 'darkness' of night. God bless.

At June 20, 2011 at 8:39 AM , Anonymous Wendy said...

I told you on our wedding day that you will never be alone again and I meant it. This post brings me to tears. So many parts of me wish that we had met in earlier years as I had this similar discomfort when I would stay with my dad and his many new wives. I love you Michael and can only hope that when or if we are blessed with a child, they will feel the love of our family unit. You are nothing like your father. You are a kind and wonderful and generous man and I love you with all my heart.


At June 20, 2011 at 10:38 AM , Blogger darardh said...

You are a Strong Brave Boy & Man Today! Thank you for sharing your inner childhood memories. We all have a childhood past, some good & some bad. As you get older, you understand more clearly and only become wise and passing on those needs to your own children. A child deserves the 'Best' of you and maybe one day, you will have that opportunity to be the 'Best Dad'. You couldn't have met a better Wife to walk and share that path with. As already I know how much you Lift & Bring out the Best in each other.

Your Friend Dara

At June 21, 2011 at 10:00 AM , Anonymous RavieNomNoms said...

What a fantastic post, Michael. So incredibly full of emotion and honest. You are so strong to be able to look at that situation like that and move on. As I read this, I found myself being proud of you. I mean, yes we have never met, but I am proud of you for being so strong and brave and an absolute inspiration to those who can't move on with the strength you have.

PS- your pictures are stunning!

At June 21, 2011 at 10:47 AM , Blogger Cookin' Canuck said...

What a lovely, heartfelt post, Mike. I am always amazed that people coming out of the most difficult family situations are often the ones with the most strength and perspective on life. You have clearly taken every piece of good that came to you and chosen to use it wisely. Thank you for sharing your story.

At June 21, 2011 at 12:28 PM , Anonymous Lana said...

Thank you for allowing us to get a glimpse of the boy that hides within you. Sometimes it's harder to chase the ghosts and wish for what could have happened and didn't. You are a brave man for accepting the reality and recognizing people in your life that really cared about you and loved you. Your step-father is a lucky man on this Father's Day.

At October 4, 2011 at 4:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am new to your website. I read your post about your father and stepfather. I was moved to tears. Sometimes people in your life don't measure and sometimes other people step in and take you to a level you never thought possible. I'm glad you were one of the lucky ones....


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