No Forwarding Address.

Your memories of a person are not who they are. It sounds obvious phrased that way but it’s worth saying. Any description I have of a person, even a close person in my life, is just a summary of my personal experience with them. My relationship and interactions, the actual experiences we shared, my knowledge of them from the other people that were there, some memories of my own, and then often, a lot of stories of other people’s memories.

So not exactly cold hard irrefutable facts. But still, this isn’t a prelude to a disagreement about who a person was, or what did or did not happen. It’s simply to state that all of this is the truth as I know it to be, and I write it all down because I’ve thought of it often. My memories will fade and shift. It’s important to me to capture these things before they’re so blurry that they lose any cohesive story, or more importantly the impact the have to other people in this person’s life. I’m writing this for me, but also for “E” and more for “J”, who has the fewest clear good memories, but as the only Dad in our group, deserves to know more and hopefully finds some solace in understanding a person who is no longer here, but whose influence still shows up in all of our lives, because we’re the people he left behind.

This is a story, my story, about my step-dad. Pep. That wasn’t his name, but it is what we called him. And given his proclivity for giving all of his children weird nicknames, it only seems fair.

Pep met my Mom because he volunteered at the college daycare. Mom and I lived with her parents – Grandma and Pap (who for all intents and purposes served the role of the “other” parent), since my actual Dad wasn’t really great at being consistent.

Pep loved kids. Which, in light of his childhood and his parents, is something of note. I can’t say if we ever talked about it specifically but understand that none of us in the years that passed ever really understood why his own parents had children.

They clearly didn’t like them. And I don’t just mean their own children, I mean children in general. Theirs, or so I was told, was a household where kids were supposed to be seen but not heard. I cannot imagine what sort of fearful tyranny you’d have to unleash to keep three boys, who were no more than a few years apart in age, quiet. I do remember my Mom telling me later, how they objected to my Mom and Pep dating, Pep’s mother saying “she’s only looking for a father for her kid.”. Which, ugh, summarizes my relationship with them for most of my life. When I became an obnoxious teenager, all birthday cards and holiday acknowledgements of my existence ceased. I think they’d been waiting for an opportunity to forget I existed for years.

Regardless, I’d always summarize the situation by saying that I think, in those days, in those circumstances, in a smaller town in the 50s and 60s a lot of people did the shit they were “supposed” to do, without much thought about what they wanted. Women in particular. If you weren’t a hippie or a strong rebellious person, you fell in line. You got married, you had kids. You worked and raised your family and put on the window dressing of a normal nuclear family life. What else were you going to do?

I realize this is a dramatic oversimplification, but still, it’s not wrong. They did those things (got married, had kids), it made them (Pep’s parents) into miserable people, or maybe they were already miserable people and it just compounded that into something worse (alcoholism, repressed rage, massively dysfunctional personal relationships, etc.).

So Pep had parents that didn’t really want to be parents. So, no surprise, they kind of sucked. And so his childhood probably kind of sucked, and one of the key ingredients in who he became as a person was someone with no decent example of “good” parenting, not a whole hell of a lot of compassion or support as a person, and ultimately he got slingshotted out in to the world with a pretty fucked up nuclear family and not a lot of tools for being a self-aware, emotionally stable person. He had parents who didn’t give a shit but he loved kids anyway.

Is it entirely their fault he became the person he was? No, certainly not. Did they offer much in the way of a decent start into what kind of a person he would become, no, they offered him nothing.

One of the main stories I always come back to, one that he told me, one that he repeated, laughing. I’m not sure if it still hurt his feelings. I don’t think he knew how to untangle this one story from the mess of his entire shit relationship with his parents. But he’d been off in the Navy, maybe it was bootcamp, or his first deployment. Either way. He came home, and his house was empty. Because he parents had moved, and they hadn’t bothered to tell him.


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