The Beard's first Xmas Father’s day brings the same emotional response from The Beard as Mother’s Day does me. Meh. Funny thing these days created to honor. I suppose, when kids become grown and enlightened, the day brings feelings that hang in the background to the fore. From my perspective, it’s a day like any other day, and I’d rather the kids made an effort to be more gracious and conscientious throughout the year. I’m putting words into The Beard’s mouth, but I think he feels the same way.

We’re in deep in the teenage years. One daughter, 21 years old and moved out. Two boys, 18 and 16, still home. Sigh. Neither The Beard nor I can claim much in the way of our adolescence. My father, as I’ve learned as a grown up, spent his time nurturing and enabling my mother’s crazy. The Beard, who is 16 years younger than his two brothers, grew up on a farm mostly parented by his wonderful mother, Lucille. At that time, his father spent much of his days working or hanging out with his buddies at the VFW or the Moose Knuckle or the Wagon Wheel, or whatever name the local bar.

I didn’t know Lucille well, but my impression is one of indomitable will. She also raised a wonderful man. A couple of them, because I may not share politics with The Beard’s older brother, he is one of my favorite people. After much late night/early morning ragged ‘Holy shit, parenting is hard’ discussions, The Beard and I have figured out that we didn’t have typical upbringings. I’m not knocking my childhood; it’s a deep wellspring of crazy that fuels my sense of humor, my creativity and one heck of a story that I’m constructing in pieces. I remember some rip roaring fights with my mother and my father kept a lightening quick, violent temper under control most days.

My goal as a parent became to raise my children differently and of course, not to become my mother. Thousands of hours of therapy later, I feel confident that I’ve altered that destiny, but I work on it every day. My folks did provide me with a thing of value; my determination and warrior spirit (though that is possibly the Mescalero Apache I inherited from my great grandfather). Of course, I didn’t learn all of this until I turned thirty. In the meantime, I’d married someone more manipulative and abusive than my mother. Three kids and a career later, the situation became clear to me in the way running into a glass door becomes clear. I even had the bruises and broken bones to send the lesson home.

Short version: I discovered embezzlement, unemployment, and homelessness all in the scope of a year. Oh with three small children in tow. I figured it out. I’m a force to be reckoned with and take heed, because now I know how to use it.  I spent three years unpacking my baggage and trying to unpack the kids baggage, or at least give them the skills to unpack it at their leisure. I didn’t date for almost three years and when I dipped my toes in the water, I never brought dates home. Wow, that became a string of too young men (I’d returned to university, so they were all young) and terrible blind dates. That’s okay, I learned a lot about myself and a lot about people. One guy hung around the requisite year and met the kids. Talk of a cohabitational future started and just as quickly ended. He ran off to be a rockstar.

Dating with three small children is interesting, even without the pressure of meeting the kids. I met all kinds. Men who wanted to save me. I didn’t need saving. Men who wanted to help me raise my children, interestingly these were all of the young men. I wasn’t looking for help raising the kids. Or they ran full speed the other way. The process entertained, but nothing serious arose. One blind date, third in a row for the weekend, I met The Beard. The Beard is a handsome guy, but quiet and he has a nervous chuckle. He’s an engineer. All of you married to engineers out there know what that means. Linear thinking, logical problem solving, debugging and more of the same.

Cornered by a Munchkin

Cornered by a Munchkin

It wasn’t love at first sight, he knows that. It was more of a ‘Yeah; I’d go out with you again’ moment. I did and each time I’d think the same. We kept at it for a year and he met the kids. The Beard is unassuming. He’s a rock, but he’s a steady, reserved rock. The tribe, as I refer to the kids and me, well….we’re not so quiet. In fact, we’re a cacophony. He’d experienced a nasty divorce that he refers to as The Fire. Both burned, we agreed on the non-marriage thing. Not only did he last the year, but he survived another year with kids added. The discussion began to head towards cohabitation and the future. The Beard didn’t have children….he had two cats. I love telling people he was the single guy who lived on the corner with cats. He’s a ‘Get off of my lawn’ type, so parachuting into a three kid zone should tell you a lot about him.

In addition to the three kids, I had two dogs and a difficult ex. His ex is in a coma. I kid you not, while I could easily make that up, I didn’t. The kids had it rough. Their bio dad raged on a campaign against The Beard from the beginning despite having an ex girlfriend, a new (soon to be ex) wife and now a fourth partner. Divorce is complicated under the best of circumstances. We’re far and away from so so circumstances. So there we were….talking cohabitational non-marriage. One of my best friends sat me down to have a serious conversation. Colette’s point became clear. The Beard and I couldn’t think of marriage as our issue; we needed to understand marriage would be for the kids. Having an unpredictable bio dad, the kids needed to know that The Beard committed not just to me, but to the whole damn circus. After mulling it over, I had to agree.

Parenting is about making decisions outside of your own desires and sometimes your own needs. Every action must be considered with the children’s well being. That’s why frequently parenting sucks, especially when they’re teenagers. Being the better person is exhausting. I approached The Beard with my newly changed philosophy. He denies this, but I didn’t see him for over a week. Paradigm shifts take time. I figured he’d either come around or leave skid marks. In either case, I’d come to terms with the situation. I don’t have to tell you, he came around. We’ve been together ten years, married eight.

He Chose Down

If being a parent is hard, try being a step-parent. ‘You’re not my REAL dad’ popped up occasionally. A smear campaign from the other party didn’t help. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it….the crux of parenting isn’t about the plays, the concerts, the birthdays or any of the other events. Real parenting is in the nitty gritty: Illnesses, poor grades, mood swings, broken bones, middle of the night trips to the police station, hospitalizations, student loans and nervous breakdowns.

The Beard and I observed that we didn’t do the teenage rebellion meltdown. I only had myself to count on. He isn’t the rebellious type. We learned tough lessons and have the scars, figurative and literal, to remind us. Our kids don’t have it entirely easy. Their relationship with their bio dad is complex and constantly in flux. I’ve tried to avoid interfering with that part of their lives and when I do offer advice, they love to shut me down. They do know everything.

I believe they inherently understand how significant The Beard has been and continues to be in our lives. I know they don’t entirely appreciate either of us. That’s a fundamental teenage thing. Also, they alternate between hating us and needing us. That’s so much fun….what I hope they come to later in their life is that The Beard is an amazing person. True, he’s struggled with all of the kids in one way or another. He’s as frustrated and irritated by the teenagers as I am. Right now, in their altered state, they don’t see his huge sacrifices, the hits he takes and the devotion he has for each of them. He volunteered for this troupe without knowing how complicated it could get. Hell, I gave birth to these kids, and I didn’t know how complicated it could get.

Here’s the other thing they don’t see, in the same way he supports my writing career, he supports them and whatever nut job idea they might have. The Beard is steady, loyal and most days unflappable. We all depend on that every day. Happy Father’s day to the man who never imagined being a father, who volunteered to be a father and who excels at being a father in all of the ways that invisibly, but substantially count in the raising of human beings.