May 9, 2013. My fourth daughter (by my second wife) turns 43 today. As the old-folks say, “Where did the time go?” I can still hear her mother screaming and cursing from the labor room after a long drive to get her to the hospital. I can still feel her little body in my arms when she’d wake up crying in the night. I can still see her holding on to furniture as she learned to walk. I can still picture her when I found her after her mother absconded with her and her brother from New Jersey to Michigan to avoid a custody order. I can still envision her transition to a California girl. That’s still frightening! I can see her hitting a softball or pegging one in from the outfield. I yet marvel at her versatility as a ball player, her talent as a singer and actor, her strong will as a rebellious teenager. She was and is a source of pride and wonder as she’s gone through the stages of life.
She’s in San Francisco, CA USA and I’m in El Refugio, Ahuachapán El Salvador C.A. I haven’t heard directly from her in years. There’s little on her Facebook page to let me know how she is, what kinds of adventures she’s had lately, if she’s happy. Almost all of her sisters and brothers are no different. No greetings for my birthdays, Father’s Day, or anniversaries although I don’t forget theirs. With all the world electronically connected it shouldn’t be a chore.
I don’t know what she thinks of my, let’s see, fifth marriage and assumption of two more siblings for her. I would be happy for my parent if he or she were happy. And I am. But if life is a partially damaged cake, this estrangement takes most of the icing from the remainder.
I look at family relationships this way: They’re for life. Your father is always your father no matter how many times your mother remarries or he remarries. Your child is your child whether he visits every Sunday or once a decade, whether he becomes President of the United States or a recidivist in his state’s prison system. Like any relationship, you don’t have to like or agree with everything your buddy, your brother, your son, or your dad does, but he’s still your buddy, your brother, your son, or your dad.
I’ve made two major geographic moves in my 77 years. At age 42 I moved with my wife and 3 8/9 kids to California from New Jersey. At age 72 I moved single to El Salvador, where I’d done missionary work and was made to feel part of the community. The first move was to find peace and geographic separation from ex-wives. The second move was to find peace from the destructive chaos which is the substance of California. My older children were adults at the time of my California exodus. They were all adults with children of their own when I sought refuge here in El Refugio. I have never been unavailable to my children at any stage of my life. I did not abandon my children or my grandchildren. I certainly did not demote them with the adoption of Adriana or assuming the father role for Luís when I married Margarita. My happiness should in no way diminish that of my descendants.
I’ve known complex families in which there have been two or more marriages with “his, hers, and ours” offspring. Occasionally there might be conflict when the children are young and one kid’s dad buys more or better toys than the other non-custodial parent, goes on more exciting vacations, or lives near the beach. But for the most part, the kids grow up as siblings without the prefixes “half-” or “step-” and enjoy a close relationship. Civilized divorces (if such exist) allow current spouses and ex-spouses to socialize for the benefit of all.
Here in El Salvador, “informal marriages” are part of the social norm and it is not uncommon for a woman to be raising several kids by several dads. Margarita’s four children have other siblings, some with whom they are close and others unknown to them, but these four are brothers and sisters. There’s no stigma, no jealousies, and certainly no neuroses about these “un-American” relationships. As with breast feeding in public, perhaps we gringos are behind in our social norms with the rest of the world.
I’ve rarely accepted “Just because.” as an answer to “Why?” and I don’t accept similar excuses for ignoring family or cutting them off. My opinion won’t change anything in my life after decades of childish behavior and my expressing it publicly might even lead to a “See how he is?” response among the collaborators.
I believe that God takes care of His own. So I have beautiful memories of when my kids were my kids. I have also been blessed with the opportunity to make new memories with Luís and Adriana, two kids who didn’t have a father until Margarita and I married three years ago May 7th. They’re not replacements for the ones that got away. You don’t replace originals (parents, siblings, kids, best friends) with substitutes. The new ones are also originals, different from each other and their predecessors. Adriana will never be the poised ice queen or the outgoing hail-missy-well-met that might describe a couple of my four older daughters. Luís won’t be the Spartan go-getter or my clone that might describe a couple of my three older sons. Heck, they might never learn to speak English well. But God has provided them for me to love and enjoy in and of themselves and not in lieu of relationships missed. For that I will be grateful until the day I die.
Happy birthday, Jackie. With love from your father.