About a year ago, I got a bit crazy and decided I would mount my TV on the family room wall, mount my surround sound speakers, and hide the wires in the walls. Without an attic over the family room, this was an ambitious project for me. I had as much experience with patching drywall and doing anything like this as I had of overhauling a V6 engine. That is to say, none. But, it came out okay. I can see where I made the patches, and I bet you could too, if you looked at it for a few seconds. But, after painting, it looks passable. Last summer I went into the kids’ rooms and we painted. I put some PVC wire conduits on the walls for the boys to hide the cables for their little surround system. I mounted the TV on the wall, installed shelves, and generally was pleased with how that came out. Over Thanksgiving break we decided to redecorate the master bedroom. We moved the TV, mounted speakers, hid wires under the baseboards (which I removed and put back into place), and we painted the opposing walls in different colors. I installed blinds, too. It came out good, too.
So, now I think I’m this handyman DIYer. Right? I got a crazy idea to build a workbench in my garage. About ten years ago, when I got my first real garage of my own, I bought some Gorilla racks that have been serving as my workbench. They kind suck for that. I want something sturdy, with good space, and that you can bolt vice onto. I found a plan in this Family Handyman magazine. It looks easy enough. Some 2x4s and plywood. Make good cuts and it should be okay. I have a circular saw. I can do this.
To practice, I decided I would build some sawhorses that I could use when I built the bench. In addition, my amazing wife threw a project my way to build a Christmas card holder that looks like a Christmas tree. It was super simple, so I agreed.
I decided to have the step-son help out. He and I have a, uh, sometimes interesting relationship. The story is that we are awfully alike, personality-wise, and this makes it hard for us to get along. Probably. There’s a few other things, as well. In my experience, relationships between step-parents and step-children are almost always tricky. No matter what you do, how hard you try, you never really see them the way you see your biological children. You love them, you care about them, you want the best for them, but there’s still a gap. And, I know there’s a gap inside them as well. They love you, they care for you, and they look up to you, but at the end of the day, you aren’t their biological parent and they know it.
Another interesting thing for me here is that the garage was always my Dad’s world. It was his domain. It was a mysterious place to me. There were tools and wires, powered machines and all sorts of implements of which I could never quite puzzle out the purpose. I knew screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches, of course, but I was never very much mechanically inclined. I hated working on my car. Loathed it. To this day, any sort of work on a car always involves actual sweat, blood, and tears, on my part. I’m serious. I never finish any job on a car without crying and bleeding from some part of my body. But, owning a house has forced me and goaded me into picking up tools and finding something to work on. I simply decided at some point that it was time to know how to fix a sink or a toilet.
Since, I have replaced three faucets, a garbage disposal (twice), installed a ceiling fan, and all the aforementioned redecoration work. In the past I would have felt it necessary to get my Dad’s help with this. But, I haven’t needed it. I did it on my own.
Another thing that was always, in my mind, something only my Dad could do, was buy cars. I had this idea that he would walk into a dealership as a marauding Viking takes a beach, and the salespeople would cower and shrink before him. He would only leave once they had allowed him to take the car of his choice and they would tell tales of how they barely survived his ferocious negotiations. Allegedly, during an intense session of wheeling and dealing, the salesperson said to my Dad, anguished, “Listen, man, I have a family to feed!” Such was the ruthlessness of my Dad’s negotiating skills. So, I didn’t like to go buy cars on my own. It’s scary!
They use numbers, you know.
Numbers, my old enemies. People think I exaggerate but it’s completely true. Numbers are my Kryptonite. They mock me and I have no power to stop them. But, this weekend, it was time. We had looked for a while, my wife and I. Luckily, though she’s no mathematician, herself, she is okay with numbers. And, we both know how to read and research stuff. We settled on a Honda Pilot. We went to Rock and, with the Internet at our back, we successfully negotiated the purchase of a Certified Used Honda Pilot. I even managed to convince them to sell it to me on my credit alone! Since the divorce wrecked my credit score, I have tried hard to be a good boy and pay on time. It seems to have worked, though it has taken many years to dig out of the whole my ex-wife dug for me.
But, I did it. I bought a car all by myself. I might have left a little money on the table, but I think I did alright. Not perfect but nothing so bad that it will be noticeable. This is kind of like the way I repair drywall.
I’m going to be honest here and say I hated working in the garage with my Dad. I always felt stupid and like I was disappointing him constantly. So, I was determined this time not to make the step-son feel that way. He’s a Cub Scout so he has a woodworking badge to complete, as well. For that reason, I made a point to explain things as I did them. I tried to let him use the circular saw (he declined) and the drill (he accepted). I had him hold things whenever I needed it. And, for some reason, he loved it.
I haven’t spoken with my Dad since March 2012. Why? Actually, I think it’s pretty lame. First, I had noticed that he and my step-mother had my ex-wife as a Friend on their Facebook. Bear with me a second here. This ex-wife is the one who didn’t tell me she was borrowing money from them, who also borrowed (this time with my knowledge) $10,000 from them with which we were supposed to pay our property taxes, but she spent on other things, forced me to take her to court and hire a lawyer during the divorce which cost us thousands of dollars (in California, if you use a lawyer to divorce, you are probably stupid because the law is so cut and dry about the division of property), and who refused to pay on any joint credit cards after we separated. She also overdrew bank accounts and declined to pay that money back. Oh, and she ran up a $700 celluar bill and didn’t pay it. Guess who’s name had once been on that account and who now has a that on his credit report? Yup. I asked her three times to contact AT&T to clear it up. She ignored me. This is also the same woman who told anyone who would listen, including people in my family, and her daughters, my step-daughters at the time, that I was having an affair (I wasn’t).
Can you see why I might not feel any warmth for this woman? She purposely went out of her way to hurt me because I had the audacity to leave her after she told me she hated being married to me and was only staying with me because we had kids. Can you see why maybe I might not want to have any more to do with her than I needed to? Does it make sense why I might not like thinking my parents were on friendly terms with her? When I met her, she was using food stamps and welfare checks to get by. I gave her the first computer she ever owned, bought her a mini-van, and helped her get both of her college degrees, including a Master of Social Work degree from U.S.C.! No kidding, I spent $30,000 of savings on her college degrees. In return, she gave me 7-10 years of black marks on my credit ratings. I dragged her out of poverty and she tried to drag me into it.
So, I told my Dad I didn’t like them being Friends with her. On top of that, I told him that I didn’t like some of the things he had recently said or done. He had asked my wife if she was an anchor baby (a very offensive term for Hispanics which implies your parents used your birth to stay here). She was polite, but offended, and she was not an anchor baby. Both of her parents were legal immigrants. He had also forwarded to me, and others, a very racist email about President Obama that suggested, completely falsely, that Obama’s books contained numerous passages revealing that he hated Christians and whites. I think it’s quite clear why this is offensive. It tries to use race to get non-African Americans to distrust, or even hate, President Obama and it accuses him of being a racist. In my opinion, this is, itself, racist. So, I told him that I was offended. I didn’t mind that my Dad didn’t like Obama’s policies, or that he wouldn’t vote for him. I minded that he was using lies to convince others not to vote for him.
Turns out that’s just a Republican thang. You wouldn’t understand. They have to lie. It’s in the party platform.
Anyway, I told him I didn’t appreciate this kind of behavior and that if he wanted to spend time with me, or my family, he would need to amend his behavior. I decided it was time. I was tired of biting my tongue for fear of upsetting him. I was tired of feeling embarrassed at what he had said, or afraid of what he might say. My wife is of Hispanic decent, my step-children are both of Hispanic and African-American decent. I don’t want them to be hurt because he can’t control his mouth. Nor, for that matter, do I want my bio-kids learning that kind of behavior as they are living, half the time, in a multi-cultural household.
I told him that just as he had demanded his own father treat him and his family with respect, I was also taking such a stand. I wrote this all in an email to him because I hoped I would express myself best that way. I got no reply. I tried a couple more times to either call or email. I received a response finally that told me, essentially, that until I was perfect, to leave him alone. In other words, I was not allowed to find fault in him because I had not achieved perfection.
Silence, then. I heard nothing else. Months passed. He and my step-mother continued to see my kids, though. They contacted my ex-wife and visited that way.
The funniest thing? He dropped me from his Friends on Facebook. So did my step-mother and her daughters. So, apparently, costing their son thousands of dollars was forgivable, but I had crossed a line so firmly no one could speak to me any more at all. This is high irony, folks.
I called to tell them, in October, that I didn’t wish them to spend time with my children, that if they couldn’t speak to me then they had no business spending time with my kids. But, being that I only have fifty percent custody, I have no control over what happens when they are with my ex. I see it as highly disrespectful, all of it. You would think I had done something truly awful to them, instead of writing an email that appears to have hurt their feelings. After that phone call, my Dad sent me an email saying he was busy with the preparations for their annual Halloween party but he would contact me after in order to discuss things.
I have yet to hear from him since then. I am told he isn’t working right now so they must have had quite a party if it has kept him busy all this time. Either that or I’m just not that important to him. I suspect the latter.
It’s hurtful. But, I’m not surprised. Honestly, I’m not overly likable, in my opinion. So, I’m not surprised when people have had enough of me. It’s a bit more extreme when it’s your own father. But, then again, lots of people don’t get along with their parents. The movies and TV shows are full of examples alone. Cat in the Cradle was a big hit decades ago. This isn’t new. And, why do you have to “love” your family members, anyway? You didn’t choose them. They didn’t choose you. So, it’s not insane to not want to talk to them, I suppose.
It’s been a time of revelations, really. I’m seeing that I’m capable of doing things I once thought impossible. I’m seeing that I can do things well. I’m building things. And, sometimes when you build something, you have to tear something else down. Maybe that’s all this is. I can buy my own tools, I don’t need to borrow his. I can do it on my own. I can buy my own car, build my own workbench, and be a parent to a step-son (I just realized his own father rejects him as well. I guess we do have a lot in common.)
Most of all, I know that I want my bio-kids to know, to feel that I love them and that I will never reject them, that I will never leave them hanging, that I will always, to the best of my abilities, protect them and help them. I want to build good relationships with all of my children, step and bio. And, I have learned that patience and the right tools make a big difference. When I take my time and measure carefully, cut straight, I can make something decent. If I have the right tool, the job is much simpler. And, maybe that’s my Dad’s real problem. He neither has the patience or the right tools.
If I have learned one thing in 41 years, it’s that everyone I know needs therapy. If you haven’t been in therapy/counseling then you are dumb as the guy that refuses to ever go to the doctor. He’ll insist that those doctors don’t know anything, that they do as much harm as good. And, then, usually sooner than later, they get an infection that they swear is getting better, that they ignore, and take pain killers for, and then end up septic and dead. Everyone needs to figure out their issues, and we all have issues. Some of us just go to a professional to talk it over and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. And, others deny they have any problems and get surprised when they are miserable.
I’m not miserable, today. I’m pretty happy. Miserable people like making others miserable. Happy people want to make others happy. I don’t always succeed, but at least I try to spread happiness most days. To me, that is the clearest way to see if you are mentally healthy. Did you make more people happy than sad today? Yes? You’re good, then. But, if the answer is no, then you might want to get some help. You’re miserable and you’re making your own company.
I’m not perfect, but I am, at least, trying to do better today than I did yesterday. I’m not always achieving it, but that’s still the goal. I guess I just wrote all of this because it has been on my mind. The holidays do that. Christmas always makes me think of my mom, for example. And, lately a lot of things have reminded me of my Dad. And, buying a car got me looking at my credit report which reminded me of the damage my ex-wife has done to me. So, that’s that, I guess. Nothing to do but to move forward, to look at the day and see what I can bring to it. I’ve got a few weeks off now and some projects to keep me busy… building some stuff.