Stepfathers, Daddies and Fathers

     As a child I wanted so many things above and beyond a trip to Disneyland.   I wanted a childhood friend, a best friend whose birthday I would always, always remember.  I wanted a dog to protect me from neighborhood bullies, one that I could nap on the carpet with and wipe my tears away with his floppy brown ears.   I wanted Santa Claus to be real and the Easter bunny to just once leave little turds just once to let me know magic was indeed possible. I also, like many children, wanted a father like the one next store.  I wanted one that wore ties, and smelled of manly cologne, whose fingernails were trim and tidy as shiny as his big metal watch.   He would be the type who loved to fish in the great outdoors and threw a baseball in the yard with me.   What I got was not quite the same but the man who cared for me did in fact love me with a kind, often stern, but genuine fatherly love.  I feel grateful that someone stuck around to love me so I could learn to be loveable….despite the little nagging whole in my heart.  Thankfully the whole has practically faded to nothing, cause the other day I met my real father, the one I never knew, and this is what I learned.

     I learned that those special trips to the Junkyard with my STEPFATHER, the one I knew since I was three, had meant much more to me than I ever realized.  He never taught me to golf, but we did go adventuring to the most ghastly off-the-beaten paths to Junkyards. There were stacks of rusted auto’s crinkled and crushed with gaping metal wounds that looked like mouths agape frozen in the terror of their last ride.  We would tiptoe in the muddy paths of cars, broken glass caved and folded like fortune cookies devoid of fortunes.  We would traipse for hours on a cold Saturday to look for a special muffler or a used shiny round VW emblem for the front of our bus, since ours was repeatedly stolen.  After this we’d hit the hardware store where Daddy would buy some silly wrench and I would spin the metal trees of screws and nails gleefully mesmerized by their abundance alone, like metal treasures.   He would next take me to the doorbell section for the implicit sake of ringing doorbells with me!……oh the freedom and joy this brought me.    Next we’d go to Sears and we were always in the tire department for some reason.  Sears will forever remind me of the smell of industrial rubber, car grease and popcorn.  He would hold my hand and I would smile as If we were hanging out at the pet store all day ruffling the heads of puppies. 

     On a Friday, if Boeing didn’t give him layoff papers, we would get to go out for Chinese food, the old school kind, dim-lit,  red shadowy probably stiff drinks, red vinyl booths lit like a fairy tale with paper lanterns and indoor fishponds. I thought  I was so grown up trying the hot mustard dipped in sesame seeds on my Barbecued Pork and when the quick speaking Oriental gal (I KNOW-we found no disrespect in that word back then) with a dark bun atop her head would push the cart over to our table!  I would salivate as the steaming waft of almond chicken met my nostrils, chunks of pineapple swimming in neon orange sauce soaking in golden prawns with noble emperor names worthy of saving for later in a perfect white box.  The red lettering may as well have said “it’s pay day, and my dad really loves us!” In Chinese or “life is as abundant in childhood as a restaurant named Dynasty.”  These were the only frills but life was good.

 Now that he is Eighty something I cannot look at him and find the good years anywhere.  He sits watching endless T.V. from his chair with no regard for what show comes on when; not knowing how to even work the remote, graying hair and curling toenails, unshaven and empty-eyed, no words just incessant viewing of T.V   I wish I could tell him and it would matter to him.  “Hey dad-I know these things the ordinary things of my childhood were all I needed.  This suit-less, mechanic dad who maybe smelled of old spice on holidays managed somehow to make me feel I was lucky…….lucky he decided any child of my mom’s was worthy of his love too.  Lucky that he was older and had a record collection as diverse as the cities he’d traveled to in his years of combat.  Lucky to know he imparted a much needed humor in a house of broken hearts………broken hearts to him were the lonely hearts of Sergent Peppers band as far as my father’s teachings were told.    His ample record collection and the way I loved that there was always music playing from Chicago to Janis Joplin to Japanese imports of Elvis well frankly-they shaped who I am.  

I wish I could tell him that I am glad he kissed my mom right in front of me, cause I still remember that he used to love her once.  I hope he knows I looked forward to when he arrived home late after his nightshift and the smell of steak cooking awakened me at 11 like clockwork- I secretly loved this.  And after I’d rub my eyes, I’d open my mouth so he could give me a bite and with smug content, I’d go back to sleep with a salty smile on my lips.  Well dad, Thank you.  I did get to Disneyland in that red 69 VW bus, no ac, and not quickly, but singing songs with every chug.  Hey Dad, when I met that man the other night, my real father and his children, my siblings, I had a sad sort of joy in my heart and felt lucky that you chose to be my Dad, I hope you feel lucky too.




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