The Man I Once Called "Dad"

I’ve been pondering something for a bit. A story? An essay? Another “Dr. McDreamy Unappreciation Thread?” Sorry, friends. Nothing that humorous or concrete. Fact is, I’m not really feeling like myself at the moment, and haven’t felt like myself for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been distracted… confused… I’ve been trying to decide how to handle something and have had little too no luck. That said, it’s time to throw it out to the group (whatever group is reading this, right now), and gauge their… YOUR reactions. Maybe you can help me figure out this little conundrum that has descended over my life and psyche these last few, waning weeks of winter (ah, alliteration: one of the many annoying literary tools of the once-English Major).

DISCLAIMER: There is little room for humor in my current state of mind, so if you DON’T want to read something serious, cease and desist before reading further. Re-navigate your web browsers to Funny or Die, College Humor, Texts from Last Night, Fox News or some other comedy website and enjoy. END DISCLAIMER.

A few weeks back, I received a letter from my father. There you go: blunt and to the point. Those of you that are unaware of my familial situation, a brief history before I continue: My father and my mother were separated when I was nine, divorced when I was in my teens. My father remarried and moved to Arizona sometime around my 18th Birthday, leaving behind him two children, one ex-wife, and the sum total of a Third World Nation’s debt in child support arrears owed to said ex-wife. The last time I saw my father was his wedding. The last time I spoke with my father was 1997. We’ve corresponded via snail mail and electronic mail on a few occasions. I’ll get in to them in a bit.

Flash-forward to a few weeks ago. In the space of a few hours, not only did I receive a letter via snail mail from him, but so did my sister, and even more shockingly, my mother. The correspondence ranged from excessive—a five page letter to my sister—to borderline laughable—a “Thank You” card to my mother. It was the first my sister and mother have heard from him in almost as long as he’s lived in Arizona. We shared our respective letters, as well as our respective thoughts on them (again, ranging from indifference to anger). Admittedly, the whole incident left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth for multiple reasons that I wish to explicate herein, not the least of which is the overwhelming need that I feel to protect my mother and my not-so-little sister every time my father rears his head.

All my life, I’ve prided myself on regretting nothing. Not my choice of career throughout my 20’s, not my current choice of career in my 30’s. I’ve never regretted a failed relationship. I’ve never regretted my choice to take Badminton and Walking For Fitness in college rather than Algebra and Biology. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for a reason. Even my greatest failures-choosing a woman over a friend; choosing to leave CVStress in 1999 for a job as a glorified telemarketer, only to return less than two years later at a lower pay grade and have to work myself BACK up the corporate ladder-have had their benefits, and have helped evolve me in to the man I am this unseasonably warm March 19th in the Year Of Our Lord, 2010.

But…

My wonderful wife Nicole, AKA the mother of my equally wonderful and cherubic daughter Cara, made an interesting point the other night. It was shortly after I read her the letter. I’m not sure how it came up in conversation, but she asked me, “Honey, if you got a call tomorrow telling you that your father had passed away, how would you feel?” This question invariably led to another, “would you regret not letting him have the opportunity to see his granddaughter?”

There are many things I can say about my wife of almost five years, the former Nicole Michelle Gentile-turned Nicole Michelle Gentile-Marsh (or just “Marsh” depending on the mood you catch her in). I can talk about how kind and gentle she is; I can talk about her fun-loving attitude and her rarely-viewed but definitely existent sick sense of humor. I can talk about how she keeps me young despite the five year difference in age between us. I can talk about her love of baseball and the way she’s made me remember mine, but the ONE THING I can say about her above all else?

She knows my soul. Better than anyone that has ever existed in my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Somewhere between Jenkintown, State College and Hatboro-Horsham, PA… somewhere between Indianpolis, IN and a little plot of prison ground in Abington, PA endearingly referred to by my brethren and I as “Oz”… Somewhere between Morrisville, North East Philadelphia, Drexel Hill, Broomall, Royersford and York, PA (with a side jaunt to LOVELY Lavonia, GA for good measure), there was her. There was ALWAYS her. The one person who knows me almost as well as I know myself. Homage, baby. Respect and love. And with that one statement, she quite literally called my “punk” card and sent my mind spiraling to the point where it currently resides.

How WOULD I feel? WOULD I regret not letting him have the opportunity to meet his granddaughter?

I’m of multiple minds on the subject. You could call me schizophrenic, or just confused. I leave that up to you, and I will bear you no ill will if you choose to believe me one crazy motherf*cker (but don’t be surprised if you wake up with something undesirable at the foot of your bed. “A man in my position can not afford to be made to look ridiculous!”). There’s the jaded part of me… the part that has been repeatedly Rochambeau’d by the man that spawned my existence. Said part of me embodies anywhere from 80-90% of my mindset about the man I once called “dad” on a daily basis. So much of my history with him falls in to this category.

Case in point: my last “conversation” with him in 1997. By “conversation,” I am of course referring to the traditional meaning of “conversation,” i.e. talking to a person and not texting, emailing, IM’ing, Facebooking or Tweeting them. I was living someplace between Jenkintown and State College, PA, and though I’d graduated from Penn State in the spring and was working full-time as a Shift Supervisor for CVStress in Horsham, PA, I was still the equivalent of a homeless vagabond, traveling between “State Pen” and my apartment in Jenkintown on a bi-weekly basis (whenever I had a weekend off).

One autumn night in 1997, I received a phone call from my father. He was completely unapologetic. He claimed to have done the things he’d done for good reasons. “I needed a fresh start”; “I needed to seek my fortunes elsewhere.” Anyone who’s had or has deadbeat parent has heard the litany of excuses, and I see no reason to include them all herein. But the kicker was highly UN-common: “I regret nothing I’ve done.” Said conversation ended rather abruptly with me hanging up in tears and my roommates comforting me. Less than an hour later, I was sitting at the bar at the now-defunct Houlihan’s in Jenkintown, PA drinking myself in to oblivion. Somewhere between drink five and six, I vowed to never let the man back in again. I woke up the next morning and went to work as normal, albeit with quite a nasty hangover and the unpleasant aftertaste one acquires after multiple shots of tequila.

But…

Flash-forward a few years to the Year Of Our Lord, 2000. Life in my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence was MAJORLY in flux. I was on my second tour of duty at CVStress, not as a Shift Supervisor, but as an Assistant Manager. I’d been overlooked for promotion multiple times despite an exemplary service record (sounds like the f*cking military, I know, but any of you that have ever worked in Retail know how regimented it is). I was working as the Interim Manager at the now-defunct CVStress in Plymouth Meeting, PA (“Interim Manager,” simply put, meant that I had all the responsibility of a Store Manager but none of the money). I’d recently been forcibly evicted from my pseudo-girlfriend’s apartment in favor of her ex-boyfriend, AKA her baby’s daddy, and was living on the floor of the apartment my friend Tom shared with his mother and his brother. In short, I was quite literally at rock-bottom.

It was from within the depths of my despair-the worst I’ve ever known-that I hatched a plan: I would be the better man. I would contact my father and attempt to resolve the feud between us because it was the only way I’d get my life back on track. At the time, I was, and STILL AM a firm believer in the concept of “karma,” and I believed my bad karma to be the direct result of my aborted relationship with what I liked to call my “Biological,” a relationship that I believed I had caused the dissolution of.

I told you this was going to be a mind-trip. This is your last chance to turn back. DISCLAIMER (IBID). END DISCLAIMER.

So I wrote him a letter. I believe it was about seven or eight pages, written in long-hand on sheets of yellowing, college-ruled loose leaf I had left over from college. In it, I apologized to him for virtually everything that had transpired between us over the course of a decade plus. Despite my aversion to doing so at that time, I bore my soul, explaining my current life-situation and my concerns. I asked for advice on everything from relationships to work. In short, I turned to the man that I’d once called “dad” for guidance. His response arrived a few weeks later. He offered me insight in to the things that I’d inquired about. He updated me on his own life-situation, which at the time was significantly better than mine. He told me about the beauty of the low-desert in Arizona and he “waxed poetic” on the lonely sound of a coyote crying at night. But in response to my heart-felt apology? “I do not feel the need to apologize for anything that I’ve done, as everything I did, I did for a reason. I have no regrets, son. I hope you understand.”

That quote is verbatim: the only portion of his letter emblazoned in my memory forever despite said letter’s subsequent disappearance. That night in 2000 ended in virtually the same fashion as the one from three years earlier save for one difference: instead of getting drunk at Houlihan’s in Jenkintown, PA, I got stoned in the parking lot of a park in Huntington Valley, PA. Somewhere between the first drag and the moment I passed out in the driver’s seat of my 1998 Dodge Neon to the sound of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” I vowed never to let the man back in again. I woke up a short time later, thanks largely in part to the opening movement of “Egmont, Opus 84,” and drove home. Within a few weeks time, I had an apartment in North East Philadelphia, had been promoted to Store Manager of the same store I had been Interim Manager at, and was in a healthy and nondestructive relationship for the first time in almost four years. I’d stopped smoking weed, never to turn back.

Karma.

All correspondence between us ended after that. In the subsequent time between 2000 and last year, I scrubbed the 1998 Neon in favor of a 2004 Chevy Cavalier, met and married my soul mate, left CVStress for a job as an Office Manager/Inside Sales Rep, bought a house, started pursuing my Master’s and found out I was going to be a father. In February or March of 2009, my “Biological’s” wife and his father passed away within a few weeks of each other. For the first time in almost a decade, there was correspondence between us, albeit limited to me expressing my sympathies in an email, and him replying in kind simply with, “thank you.” It was the right thing to do. The courteous thing.

Flash-forward to a few weeks ago with the letters received by my mother, my sister and I and you’re current. As mentioned previously, much of my history with my “Biological” has been negative. The previous paragraphs are merely a sampling of that history. Yet I also spoke of “multiple minds” a few paragraphs ago. Along with that 80-90% of me that has been jaded by my experiences with the man I once called “dad,” there’s also the compassionate, human part of me that feels everyone deserves a chance at redemption.

How WOULD I feel? WOULD I regret not letting him have the opportunity to meet his granddaughter?

It’s a tough decision, and not one that I, obviously (if this blog post is any indication) take lightly. Despite a mindset that is 80-90% jaded toward the man I once called “dad,” I’m 50/50 on whether or not I should allow the man to meet his granddaughter. Do I feel he has earned to right to do so? No. One heartfelt apology does not make up for the decades he spent not apologizing; not accepting responsibility for his actions; ADAMANTLY not regretting his actions. One heartfelt apology does not make up for the times I was reduced to tears at being abandoned by the man I once called “dad.” Those drunken, substance-influenced nights in which I tried desperately to forget, only to return home, look in the mirror, and see the man I once called “dad’s” face staring back at me, a flush across his Irish-English-Scottish cheeks and a twinkle in his deep, blue eyes. Those times I wrote a story, a poem, a journal entry or a blog, stopped to review what I’d written and shivered at the similarities between how the man I once called “dad” writes and how I do. My laugh? The same as his… the man I once called “dad.” My sense of humor? The same as his… the man I once called “dad.”

In fairness, not all of what and who I am is inherited from the man I once called “dad.” My work ethic comes from my mother; my capacity to enjoy life comes from my sister. My personality is derived from years, piled upon years, piled upon DECADES of personal refinement. And the soul my wife knows better than anyone else on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence is mine. But often, I am reminded in some way, shape of form of who my “Biological” is. Be it in an expression on my daughter Cara’s face or in something I say or do, he is there often, despite the fact that I rarely pay him more than a passing thought. Would you believe that previous to this blog entry, the last thing that I wrote with him as the overarching topic was a poem that I wrote over 10 years ago? Probably not. Trust me: I’m not f*cking with you. It’s the truth.

But…

So much of who I am IS reflective of his lineage. I can not deny that. Were the shoe on the other foot… were it me in his position, seeking forgiveness from the people I’ve wronged and the things I’ve done while reluctantly facing the twilight of my life, how would I feel if I were denied the chance at redemption? An opportunity which per the religious catechism I so staunchly believe in, all God’s creatures have?

ANSWER: I don’t know. And writing this little exposition has in no way brought me closer to the resolution of the psychological debate raging within my “tied up and twisted” mind. I remain of multiple minds on the subject. 50/50, friends. The ole’ flip of the coin. Heads or tails… which will it be? But I needed to write this; needed to get it all on paper, regardless of how unintelligible it may seem. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I welcome any insight that you can offer. I can be reached in any number of ways for “conversation.” Whether you prefer the traditional means of “conversing” or “conversing” via text, email, IM, Facebook or Twitter. I’d throw Google Buzz in there, as well, but it kind of blows. And no “sexting” please. I find the prospect of sending naked pictures via text to random people a bit disturbing.

Frank Marsh. 3/19-3/20/10.

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