Monday, December 7, 2009

10 In My Father's House

So our freshmen year ended and I stayed at VGA for a couple of weeks while waiting for summer camp to start. I had gotten a job as a lifeguard/disc golf teacher. The last semester of my freshmen year I had gone from now knowing how to do any stroke to being trained to be a lifeguard. No one ended up signing up for the disc golf class so I taught canoeing instead. I had never done disc golf or canoeing so clearly they were using my expertise.
The weekend before camp started I stayed at Jennifer’s house. It was certain she wasn’t returning to VGA but in our young imaginative minds we were going to pursue a long distance relationship and make it succeed until college. We had even worked out this tongue in cheek approach that she would wear big wireframe glasses and wear bad hair. Plus, we’d obviously figure out tons of ways to visit. The night before I left she was taking a shower. Her parents lived in two bedroom apartment where her bathroom was also the guest bathroom. I was waiting to brush my teeth before going to bed and she was taking a shower. The place had two doors one to her room and one to the common area. I went into the bathroom after the lights had gone off and from nowhere, she jumps out of the shower wearing only a bathrobe. What any person reading this assumes happens did not happen but enough did to where I realized I was continuing to fail God. As a parting gift, I gave her my absolutely favorite shirt, this blue green concoction that really made my eyes pop according to people. The next morning I headed to summer camp. That was the last time I saw her for several years when she showed up to return the shirt.
Camp was a lot of fun. I did find it ironic that a kid who had never come remotely close to going to camp started working at one when he was 14. Each camp got older but during teen camp, more than a few of the campers were older than me. It was full of adventures, camp fires and I actually rescued someone from drowning that summer. I got to work for Van Hurst, the camp director. He was one of those bigger than life preachers who blew your socks away every time you talked to him. The chaplain from VGA and his wife, Corrie and Marvin Whitney were also there. Pastor Whitney was more of the quiet shepherd type, a man who clearly cared about people but was not dynamic. He was a quiet force. I tried to learn as much as I could from both pastors. Pastor Hurst was more my style but pastor Whitney’s style seemed more genuine. I actually talked to both pastors about my father situation, how I felt that my father loved my older brother but had barely directed a word to me in my entire life. They both essentially said that this showed a weakness on my father’s part but I should thank God that He was my Heavenly Father.
We had a week of training before the campers arrived and the Sunday before they started arriving, we were going to practice the flag raising and meeting that all the campers would do daily. Pastor Hurst had made it clear that we all needed to be there on time. I was preparing to do so, jumped in the shower and accidentally pulled the door handle too far. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that this made it impossible to push the door back out. Deciding to deal with it after taking a shower was an incredibly dumb idea. Afterwards I tried with all my might to push it back open; shy of a herculean effort which would likely have resulted in shattered glass everywhere this was not going to happen. I then tried to climb over the door but the soap and water made it to where I just kept falling. The next attempt was to grab onto the shower head and then put my feet on the water knobs in order to scale up the shower wall. Well, that almost worked except whichever foot was on the hot water turned it on and sensitive equipment was scalded. This all took an inordinate amount of time and I now knew that I was awfully close to being late to the flag raising. I yelled for help but no one responded; this may well have been a good thing as it would have been incredibly uncomfortable for someone to rescue me out of that scenario. I finally pulled the door even further back into the shower and squeezed out incredibly painfully. If anyone ever wonders why I don’t have more kids, it may have to do completely with that episode. I got dressed and sprinted to the flag raising where the entire staff was waiting and Pastor Hurst had them all do and about face and face me as I finished the last hundred yards. Someone yelled out of the group, “Did you forget?” and if I was any smarter I would have said yes. But in a voice that was broken up by me breathing so hard I responded with “No, no I was stuck in the shower.” Another coworker asked me to repeat what I said and I did. Yeah, I heard about that all summer long. Sticking my foot in my mouth is a skill I’ve sharpened over the years.
Either way, I was able to stay in contact with Jennifer because she would call every so often at camp. It was all relatively okay and camp was another place where I got to see Jesus in action in people’s lives. My problem was that I was young and my faith was at least shallow if not superficial. I thought the serious sins were things like cussing or going to the theater or dancing or drinking caffeine. This may not have been that big of a deal at fourteen but it stayed with me till I was at least in my early twenties or so.
After summer camp, I was in Kermit for a couple of weeks before I was going to head back to VGA. I called Jennifer practically every day for quite a long time. This was in 1995 when long distance rates were serious. I ran up my mother’s phone bill to around $60 which was a huge shock. When she got it first she reprimanded me very seriously. I tried to deflect and stated that I still had a little money from summer camp (most of it went to VGA) and that I would give it to her and then out of nowhere she broke down and started to cry, not just cry but rather weep. I couldn’t quite understand why this was such a big deal. I would go find the money somehow. And then it came…piecemeal…very confusingly…but still one of the most shocking moments of my entire life.
She began to tell me about how after she got a divorce from my brother’s father, she felt really lost. She made choices that were not great and did not treat her relationship with God as she should have. She started hanging out with a friend that she had met near work. She was having a hard time dealing with the psychological effects of divorce and they bonded because he was also recently divorced. And then one time, only one time of course, they had crossed a line and I was conceived. Shortly after this slip up, she found out from a mutual friend that he was in fact not divorced. My mother then decided that she would never talk to my father again and a few weeks later realized she was pregnant. She still kept her word and did not tell him. And then, if that bombshell wasn’t enough, she adds at the end of the story “that’s why I’m so worried about you now that you’re trying to be serious with this girl, I don’t want you to go out there and get some poor girl pregnant and all the complications and difficulties that comes with that.” Always good on the self-esteem when your mom tells you 1) you’re an illegitimate child 2) it made my life infinitely harder. This coupled with the memories in Jennifer’s bathroom made that night one where I stayed up thinking.
(On a side note, turned out part of this story was apocryphal. My parents had carried on a romantic relationship for quite a while. They both still hold that my father never told my mother that he was married but that part about me being a one shot try at conception well…what are the odds. My father did eventually divorce his wife but not too soon because he has a daughter with her that is about 18 months younger than I am. He actually had four daughters with her so I am his only son. Just in case, you’re curious I don’t have any sisters. I never told her and unless she’s reading this she never realized that all that time I thought Alonso’s father was my father and that I thought he was ignoring me. She had not ever come out to say hello to him for inherently obvious reasons. ).
A few weeks later, after not having talked about this again once, we headed down to Chihuahua. It turned out that my dad had actually worked within a stone’s throw of the job my mother had right before we left Mexico. I had been within a city block of my father dozens of time. Shortly after she told me about it, my mother had apparently called my father and told him about me. It’s bad enough to find out that who you thought was your father isn’t at almost 15. It has to be worse when you find out your only son is almost 15.
One Saturday morning in Chihuahua, my mother wakes me up and asks if I want to meet my father. I stated that I did and she had arranged a meeting. We went and met him there. He hugged me and then my mother left me to spend the weekend with this guy that I’d never met. He took me shopping and bought me a suit for my preacherly ways and some authentic Mexican Indian stuff to make me be more Mexican. He took me to go meet aunts and uncles and two of his daughters. I’ve never been a guy who is at a lack of words but I was silent almost the entire time. He even said that my mother said that I was quite talkative so he was wondering why I was so quiet. I didn’t’ respond.
Over the next few years, he would really try. He had never even left the city he was born in but he came to Valley Grande Academy the next school year to visit me. He would call regularly. Now I could offer the excuse that teenagers as a rule don’t have much to say but that’s not true. I had plenty to say to my mother. It got so bad that I started carrying around this little notebook to write down things to talk to him about. When he would call, I would go through the list elaborating and expounding as much as I could but as soon as the list was done, that was the end of the phone call. I never developed rapport with him, including to this day. Ironic that I worked so hard at having a father figure in Allen Webber and later on in Steve Moran and put no effort into actually knowing the father who legitimately wanted to get to know me. He made himself familiar with the Bible and asked me questions about it. He talked to me about running and anything at all that he knew from my mother that I was interested in. By the time I got older I think he was still trying but less invested. He was sick a couple of years ago and in the hospital and I went to visit him. Even in his hospital bed, he was nagging me about why I didn’t talk to him more. I haven’t talked to him but a few times since then. When my mother dies, I’ll be a mess for weeks if not months. When my father dies, unless something dramatically changes, I’ll go to the funeral. This reality was what made me not really want to have kids and why I handled my wife’s pregnancy so poorly but that’s another story for another day.
Perhaps the worst part of the story is that almost immediately after meeting my Father, I stopped calling my stepfather “Dad.” He had come into my life at age seven and had never discriminated between his own son David and me. He had taught me how to ride a bicycle and helped me in every way he could. He was a good father and is a great man. It took me till I was nearly thirty to apologize for having stopped calling him dad and to thank him for being one.
But I digress, shortly after this, Jennifer’s father cheated on her mother and they divorced. Shortly after than Jennifer met some other guy she liked, cheated on me and called to break up with me. What a break between school years when I found out that I was the result of an affair, Jennifer’s parents were breaking over one and she was dumping me over another. We’ll call it the summer of love.

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