Father Figures

florida.08 beach 005Luck landed me an awesome dad. He was a typical blue collar union father of the 1950s. One car in the family and he drove it to work, often stopping at the bar on the way home, maddening my mom. (They had an interesting dynamic.) Dad always had a new car: Cadillac, Thunderbird, Fastback Mustang. He’s alive and healthy now, in his 70s, and has a red Corvette.

Many car-related memories remain for me to savor, especially our trip down Route 66 all the way to Los Angeles, California in 1959. Dad fitted out the back seat of whatever car we had at the time specially for the comfort of his kids. There were three of us, so he took out the bench with the hump in the middle and installed a plywood floor. Mom added a soft mattress and pillows. We each had our own blanket. We could sit, lie, sprawl, sleep. It was excellent.

We didn’t live in California long; our roots are in Michigan and dad had a big family. Seven kids. Our little family of five would drive to grandma’s rambling farmhouse every Sunday in that car for her crunchy-tender southern fried chicken and flaky homemade cherry pie. There were cousins by the dozens and big berry bushes bursting with fruit in summertime. Mom always warned us not to eat too many. We always did anyway.

My father got his sweetness and good nature from his mother. From his father, he learned other lessons. My grandfather was a gifted, troubled man, in and out of places where he could get, and try to stay, sober. They didn’t call it rehab back then. Grandpa managed many sober years, just not all in a row. So there were two of him, one loving and grateful for his big family, the other rambling and, to my young eyes, a little bit pitiful. What I feel most about my grandfather now is his courage. He never stopped trying to be a better man.

My children’s father is the man I chose especially for that quality. I looked at him and knew he’d be a great dad and I fell in love with him based on that fact, which proved true. When my oldest son, Mike, was just two months old, he caught his first cold. His dad slept on the nursery floor all night, just to make sure baby would keep breathing. Like my own father, he didn’t have a lot to do with the day-to-day running of the home and family. That was my department and I sunk into in with glee for five happy years. My second son, Tim, grew alongside an increasing discontent with my marriage, although we hung on for a few more years.

Then I was a single mom and dad became even more important in my boys’ lives. He took them boating, fishing, and to car shows. I didn’t stay a single mom for long. A little over a year into that time, I met Al and we married when the boys were just five and seven. He’s a great step-dad, taking them to sports events, showing them how to repair our ancient snowmobiles, and my favorite memory of all: building an addition onto our house with my dad. The four of them. Mike was 16 and Tim 14. Al paid them $10 an hour and they only worked when they felt like it. Or needed the cash:)

Al still talks cars, sports, and 401Ks with the boys, who are no longer boys. In fact, we have a new father in the family as of next month. My first baby boy, Mike, is going to be a dad. He will be the best dad in the world. He already reminds me of his own father. When Jessica wanted a glider instead of a rocking chair, they looked at all the models available and Mike said he didn’t like how there were so many moving wood parts that a baby’s fingers could get pinched in. He insisted his wife buy the more expensive glider, completely upholstered.

That cinched it for me. Mike is next in a long line of fabulous fathers. Here’s to all the great dads out there:) Your women and girls adore you.

Being Mom

DSC_4883Here I am in 2009 with my two boys, who no matter what they think about it, will always be, in my heart, my “boys.”

Yes, they are men now, best men at each other’s weddings, in fact. This was Mike’s wedding to Jessica in California. He’s in the blue tie. Tim’s my baby. (I can say this because he told me he never reads my blog!)

They are good boys, to their mom and their wives, and so I expect a call from both of them today. Oh, and I of course shall phone my mom, too. Happy Moms Day, mothers.

 

Parents: The Other Side

xmas 09 025Am I a hypocrite? I talk about missing my sons, and how far away they are and how it breaks my heart, but in all that I never really talk about how I am with my own parents. It’s complicated. But I often think of them now, and how I don’t see them much, or keep in better touch.

My parents were an important part of my sons’ lives, but before that, when I was young, they never seemed to care where I was or what I was up to. They didn’t come to my first (group ceremony in Detroit) wedding, although my mom helped me choose a graduation dress that could double as a wedding gown, as I did both in the same month.

Before that, they didn’t know (or care) when I quit school at 17 to hitchhike around the country. My mom & I had a huge fight and I left home on her order when I was 15. My dad was living on his own at the time, but he said I could stay with him. I did. For a few weeks, and then I was off again on my adventures. I was homeless but happy.

They were supportive when I decided to go back to school and get that diploma, but things were still rocky between my mom and me. Dad tried to help and when it became clear I could not live with my mother, he provided a small home on the other side of town for me to live in until I graduated high school. Yes, I lived alone. Until my boyfriend (soon to be first husband) moved in with me.

They did help after the divorce, when I was at rock bottom. And they came to my second wedding, which was a full stop shindig, my betrothed footing all the bills. I didn’t have any special mother-daughter moments. She didn’t shop for a wedding dress with me or give me a wedding shower for husband #2. My parents came to my third wedding, too, and by then my mother was ready to believe I’d never stick to anything. That was 29 years ago this September. Still together.

When Mom did call me, or I called her, she remarked without fail that she didn’t keep up with her own mother until her parents were getting old, and that she thought it was weird when parents and children stayed in constant contact with each other.

I never agreed with that, but I wasn’t going to say so. I was fine not being in close contact with her, but I always wanted something more with my sons. I just wasn’t sure I deserved it. Or that they would be open to a mom who bugged them all the time on social media, texting, phoning, visiting.

Unlike my own mother, I would love nothing more than a daily (or even weekly) text, email, or phone call. But I hold back from initiating contact lots of times because I don’t want to bother my kids. I remember how little real estate my parents took up in my head when I was starting my family. I wonder if maybe it’s the same for all young people, or was I conditioned not to care?

Since my parents are not online (lucky for me as this particular post might hurt their feelings) I can’t email them or text. I try to remember to call, but since they moved full time to Florida, we’ve visited once. And I was sick the entire time. We haven’t been back since.

I think I should give the folks a call today. After all, they are getting older. And so am I.

*photo of (from left) my brother Bill, me, Dad, Mom, brother Bob.

Finding Silver Linings

Cali 011Thanks to a friend, I’ve been thinking about discovering the silver linings in sad or disappointing events. She says every experience has the potential for a silver lining. I didn’t think that was true, but I decided to try to find the silver in one of the saddest things I’ve ever experienced: the gradual realization that my kids (grown men now) would not be returning, perhaps ever, to live in their home state of Michigan. Where I live.

We were not going to have any more family holidays together. We would not be meeting for lunch. We were not going to throw a barbecue for our friends and invite the boys to bring their friends. We were not going to shop for Christmas gifts, groceries, or school books together. Tim was not going to be taking over the garage for yet another car project. That part of being a mom, being in close physical contact, was over for me.

Cali.2014.5photoMothers have to let their kids go, and I did, of course. I had no choice, and while it makes me feel sorry for myself, I am happy for them. Their happiness makes me so very happy, always.  So, besides their happiness, where is my very own personal silver lining? I just didn’t think there was one, but finally, the other day, I realized  Tim is living my California Dream. (When I was four, we lived in California for about a year. Growing up, I constantly wished that we had never left.) There’s something about being close to the ocean that has always fed my soul. I know why he chose it; it’s part of our shared DNA.

Mike is living another kind of wonderful life further up the coast. 2011vac.AcHas a wife he loves. Great job. A dog, for the first time ever, and a house. He has a baby boy of his own on the way. Of course I am overjoyed. But my first grandchild will not know me the up close and personal way my sons knew my mother. Where is the silver lining in that?

It took me a little more time to figure this one out: the fact that there is to be a grandson is a gold star, which everyone knows beats silver linings. And I will consciously create moments with this already so beloved boy still yet-to-be.

Here’s my big selfish silver lining to all of this, and it’s been happening for years. Al and I have visited California six times in the last decade. First when Mike was a grad student at USC, then when Jessica and he moved to Beverly Hills, then at their wedding in the canyons of Malibu. Twice, we’ve visited Tim and his wife in their beachside community an hour north of LA. And once, after Mike and Jessica moved, we took a road trip from LA to Seattle, visiting with the kids on either end of the journey.

A&C.cali.2014

We wound our way through Big Sur, a dream of mine since I first read On The Road a million years ago. We found out-of-the-way beaches and tall mountains and generally did so much traveling to places I’m not sure we’d ever have seen had our children not moved west. And we plan more silver lining places: Vancouver this summer, maybe the Canadian Rockies or Alaska or both, next.

Which makes me think suddenly that there’s another silver lining especially for me in all this. I’m finally getting serious about becoming fit enough to venture afoot to all the places I still want to see in this wide world.

Unexpected Gifts

murphy.fam.1503348_10202170444478147_167755538_nChristmas morning, talking on Facetime with Mike and Jessica. Murphy was on his favorite spot of the sofa behind them. Murphy is their dog. He’s a corgi. Isn’t he cute? I bought him a coat for Christmas. I asked if it fit. It did. He looks so cute in it. Want to see a picture? We were talking on my phone so they sent the picture to Al’s phone. Al looked quite puzzled. Did you get it? I asked. Yeah, he said, but it’s fuzzy. It’s not Murphy. I asked for the phone and saw the picture. An ultrasound. Immediate teary eyes. But I didn’t want to be wrong, even though I wasn’t.

Is this…are you…they laughed with happiness. Yes, Jessica’s going to have a baby. Best Christmas present ever. And now, best birthday present ever as I get to share the news far and wide. I’m gonna be a granny. It’s a boy:) Love boys. I keep throwing out names. My son is a junior (II) so I said “you know if you name him Mike, you can call him Trey.” (Three in French. I think.)

Al and I have already booked tickets for expected arrival. I cannot wait to hold this baby.Jess.32weeks.IMG_7400