This is a really long, painful post. You have been warned.
For those that are new, I've often been told that my family is a walking Oprah show.
My mom is a multiple marry-er. Not in a polygamy kind of way, but in a 1950s I'm-not-whole-without-a-husband type of way. She married her fourth husband (our third dad) when I was 6 and my brother, John, was 9. His name is Paul and he adopted us from our bio-dad. Paul is the one we consider our dad. When he and Mom got married, he had a son (Ronnie - about 20) and three daughters (Janet - 19, Marcy - 18, and Denise - 16). Denise is the only one that ever lived with us.
When the family combined, I was SO excited! A six-year-old girl with a mean older brother not only has one older sister now, but THREE?? I quickly learned that teenage girls don't want to have anything to do with a child. No big deal, kids are used to being ignored by the olders. John and I never really registered on the older kids' radar. With the age difference and the animosity of someone "replacing" their mom - understandable.
Dad and my mom divorced when I was 12 and John, 15.
Too much backstory to post here today (that was all in the late 1970s/early 1980s for Bob's sake). Ugly divorce, people were hurt. Dad and I lost touch for a long time. Then, in my 20s (1990s), we reconnected and were fairly close for a long time. I was stationed in Ft. Huachuca, AZ, then got out and lived in Tucson. Dad would visit Marcy in Flagstaff and invite me up every time. I feel that he never actually asked Marcy, but was probably just like, Hey, we should invite Ruth! And then, what's Marcy gonna say? She's gotta say yes, whether she wants to or not. She was always... civil. Never very warm toward me. And she had this weird habit of saying "my dad". Never "our dad" or, just, you know.... "dad" like a normal person. "My dad".
Inwardly, I'd always think, "Seriously? You realize John and I were children when they got married, right? That we had nothing to do with any of it? Grow the fuck up." Outwardly, I would just roll my eyes and never say anything.
When I got married (2000), I sent invitations to all the girls and Ronnie. I didn't expect them to show up for the wedding and they didn't. They didn't even RSVP (rude), but that was expected as well. Except Ronnie. He couldn't make it to the wedding, but he at least had the courtesy to RSVP.
He and I have been in touch pretty consistently since about 1997.
Flash forward to this year.
I went home to CA in June (future post). The boys and I made the trek to Yosemite (they'd never been) and I wanted them to meet my dad, too. Dad and his current wife (Lou) haven't seen them since D2 was a baby-baby. Dad's not doing well health-wise, and I wanted them to meet him before he's gone.
Shortly after we returned to CO, Ronnie emailed me and said Dad had fallen (again). He'd spent a few days in the hospital, and they believed he had some pin-strokes. Ronnie told me that there was a birthday party planned in October for Dad's 80th birthday, and if he made it that far, did I want to go? I told him that I'd love to go! He said it was going to be a surprise for Dad.
Ronnie was kind enough to buy my ticket, the car rental, and a hotel room. He said it was to be a surprise party but Dad found out, so it would just be a surprise for me to show up. Turns out, he and the girls have issues with Lou (history with her that is suspect and pre-my-mom). I told him that Lou didn't have any issues with me (no history there), but that the girls were going to be pissed at him for bringing me. (We didn't tell any of them I was going to be there.)
Ronnie flew from KY to Denver. We met in the airport, waiting for the flight that would take us to Sacramento. We had SO much great time together to talk and learn stuff about each other. The drive from Sacramento to where Dad lives (outside the North side of Yosemite) is 3 hours. We learned all kinds of backstory about each other and our respective times with Dad.
The closer we got, the more nervous I felt. I asked what the agenda was, and he said that evening (a Friday night) we were to have fish tacos at the house, and the party was Saturday night. There was to be a big breakfast on Sunday morning, then Ron and I were set to fly out Monday afternoon. We got to the house at about 7p. Dad and Lou live in a gated community. They have a rather large house in a cul-de-sac at the top of a 20% graded hill with an AMAZING view of the lake they live near. They had rented the house across the cul-de-sac for the girls and their families to stay in. I ended up staying in the 5th wheel in Dad's carport (lucky that, for reasons to be explored soon) and Ronnie stayed up the road in the room he'd rented.
Lou met us at the house and walked us across the street to the rental where everyone was. Denise was outside making a phone call, and she threw her arms around all three of us, "The wandering traveler has arrived!" We went into the house and Dad was sitting at the dinner table with his sister Elizabeth and 2 of her 3 kids - Dan and Carrie.
I said hi to Dad and he looked surprised to see me - surprise mission accomplished! Marcy walked up and said, "Wow. Hi! I haven't seen you since before you had kids!" I said, "Yea, I got all fat - it's awesome!" Denise knew who I was when Ronnie said my name, but they had to explain who I was to Janet (to be fair, she and Denise hadn't seen me since I was LITERALLY about 9 years old).
The weekend was far worse than I expected it to be. The oldest girl (Janet) said 6 words to me the whole weekend - but to give her credit, she had her two grown boys there - the oldest showing up the next day with his wife and their brand new, 8-wk-old baby boy. Marcy (who goes by Marcia (pronounced "Marseeyu") because she's not pretentious at all) was... civil. Denise was the polar opposite - she kept hugging me really hard and whispering "thank you" and "I'm sorry" but I never got a clear picture of what she was thankful for or sorry about.
Ronnie told me that the kids had bought Dad a digital frame, and they were all pitching in $20 each for it. When dinner was over on Friday night and I was going to head off to the 5th wheel to go to bed, I approached Janet and Denise who were off by themselves. I said, "Ronnie said we were all pitching in for the frame." and held out my $20. They said, "Ronnie?!?" (He actually goes by Ron now, but growing up, I knew him as Ronnie and had specifically asked which he preferred. He said it was fine for me to call him Ronnie.) I said, "Yea, you know... the brother - tall, dark hair, lives in Kentucky?" They looked at me like I killed a cat. They wouldn't take my money - wouldn't let me chip in for the frame. I blew it off and went to bed.
The next day, Marcy and Janet spent most of the day putting pic's on the frame. At the party, Denise showed a slide show that she had made of some very special pic's. For the past 30 years, Denise has been toting around about 300 slides that Dad had made over his career and lifetime. They were some really impressive stuff! She had about 70 turned into a CD, and that was that slide show.
When it was done, I waited a few minutes and told Dad that Dave had made a little movie (slide show, really) of our little family. At the end it, there was a 10 second movie of the kids saying happy birthday to him. I put it in the same computer used to show Denise's CD and about 30 seconds in to the 3 minute show, Denise said, "Let's do the cake!" and it got cut short for cake. Ohhhkay.
After cake, they had him open his gifts. The digital frame was a big hit and with a BUNCH of preloaded pics. The kids as children, the weddings, the grandkids. But not ONE of me, or John, or my wedding, or my kids. Nice.
After that frame show ended, I was done. I headed off to the 5th wheel, thanking STARS I didn't have to wait to drive to a hotel as I cried myself to sleep. It took about 4 hours.
I got up early Sunday morning. I knew Dad's always been an early riser and hoped to catch him alone for a bit. Success. I had some things I wanted to say to him, and I said them. I explained that having 3 dads by the time I was six meant that, conceptually, I really didn't even know what the word meant. I explained that he really taught John and I what the word meant. I said that our time with him was the best part of our childhood, and he was the only person we ever considered our dad. I explained why we decided to go live with Mom (initially, we'd decided to live with him, but his next wife (Sue) was batshit insane and scared us off). Other things were said, too. It was all positive, and the only reason I'd come to this nightmare weekend.
The Sunday breakfast went well. Until after it. Marcy missed breakfast. She had brought her son Nick (he's 17 and the last time I saw him, he was 5) and her neighbors - this really lovely couple, Jake and Sue (I suck at names, but that's what I remember them as). When Marcy showed up, she sat next to me, and Sue asked her where she'd been all morning. She said, "I spent the morning putting more pics on the digital frame. We took some shots of the new great-grandbaby [Janet's grandson] and I wanted to get those on there along with some more of the shots from when we were kids."
I'm sitting RIGHT NEXT to her while she says this. Of course, I start crying again. So I just leave and go sit on the porch across the street since everyone else is still at Dad's.
The longer I sat there, the madder I got. I sit there thinking, "Is it that they realize and don't care or that they don't even care enough to realize? And which would be worse??" I realized, too, that it wasn't just the girls. Dad was just as bad. He and his wife Lou have this HUGE lakehouse with framed pics of everyone all over the house. But, again, not one single pic of John or me or my wedding, or my kids. Nice.
The weekend wasn't a complete horror. I don't know if they were assigned to me, but Aunt Elizabeth and her two grown kids spent a lot of time with me (as well as Ronnie). We had lunch together and sat together at meals. It was really nice to meet them (again, last time I saw any of them, I was a small child), and Carrie and I really hit it off!
Most of the people left late afternoon on Sunday. I don't think I took a full breath until they were all gone, and it was just Ronnie, Dad and Lou, and me.
Monday morning, the four of us went to breakfast at this really nice little cafe. Then we went back to the house. Ronnie and I put our stuff in the car and hung around the house for a bit. Ronnie was trying his hardest to put Dave's CD of our family slide show on the digital frame, but it wasn't working (I suspect it was a different format than what the frame could take). I told him to forget about it, and we prepared to leave. He went to the bathroom and I walked over to say goodbye to Dad.
Do you want to know his parting words to me?
Dad: I need you to promise me something.
I'm expecting, "Let's keep in touch more." Or, "Give the boys a hug for me." Instead I got this:
Dad: You need to take better care of yourself.
Me: Excuse me?
Dad: You need to lose some weight. All that extra weight isn't doing your heart any good.
Me: Wow. That's awesome. Thanks for that.
Lou: [coming out of the kitchen]: What happened?
Me: Dad just told me to lose some weight. So that's nice.
Then I went off - "You need to promise ME something. You need to put up pictures of your WHOLE family. Do you even HAVE a picture of John?? I KNOW you have pictures of us, because I've sent you some pics and emailed others. You need to tell Lou not to introduce me as your STEPdaughter." and various other angry things.
"I get the girls ignoring John and I - acting like we never existed and we aren't a part of this family. I don't understand why or when you started doing it again. ["Again" referring to the time after the divorce.] This party wasn't a surprise party. You KNEW it was coming. When were you going to invite John and I? When were you going to let us know this weekend was even happening so we could make arrangements to be here?"
Lou said, "Marcy was in charge of contacting people. We didn't think you could afford it."
Me: "Which is it? Did Marcy not contact us, or was it that YOU thought John and I couldn't afford it? It can't really be both. If it was Marcy - did you ASK her to contact us? Did you make sure she DID contact us? And as far as knowing if we can afford it - how would you know?"
"When I got married, I KNEW the girls wouldn't come, but as a common courtesy, I invited them because they ARE a part of my family - even if they don't want to acknowledge it."
"You know what? This is stupid."
And then I walked out.
Somewhere in the middle of my rant, Ronnie came out of the bathroom. I told him what Dad said to me as I walked out of the house. He stayed in the house, talking to Lou. Dad came out with me (very slowly as he can't get around that well with his walker). When Dad walked up next to me, he said, "Can you understand where I'm coming from?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "That extra weight is really not doing your heart any good." I was boggled. Then I remembered what a friend told me she tells her FIL when her FIL gets stupid like that - I said, "Something to think about." and walked around the corner where he couldn't see me anymore.
Ronnie was in the house, talking to Lou, for about 15 minutes more before he came out. I don't know what was said, but Ronnie and I both left in tears. Awesome.
We both agreed that the only time we'd ever go back there was for a funeral.
Ronnie called Dad later and told him to apologize. He did. Sort of. He called to apologize, but what he said was, "I'm sorry you took it that way.", not "I'm sorry I said that hurtful thing" (paraphrasing, of course). Then in the same breath, he said it AGAIN, "But that extra weight isn't doing your heart any good". At that point, I just started laughing because it got so stupid it was funny!
I told Ronnie about the call. I also said, "I hate change, so it's good to see some things never do!"
Back with the only family that matters, Ruth!