I Am A Bastard
In 2000, I sat in an obstetrician’s office describing my family history as a predictor of my health and, by extension, my daughter before she came out of the womb. When my father, Roy, was in his 30s, he had heart attacks. As a kid I thought he was an old man when his heart attacked him. He was 37. I said this when I was 32. At that moment, I realized that I had a genetic egg timer ready to go off. If health histories predict one’s health, I was going to keel over while hanging out with my 4 year old kid. I was going to leave my kid and her mother before I got to see my kid grow up. That was going to be icing on the cake of genetic predisposition from Roy. His genes were going to rob me of a happy life with my little girl.
Roy was a piece of work. As a teenager, he stole cars-- so many so that he was put into a maximum security prison in Nova Scotia. The criminal record dogged him and forced him to work crappy jobs that would accept a criminal low life. For some reason, my Mom married him. They had me. They had my sister in 1970. My father started to run away from us, go home to his own mommy in Nova Scotia, then come back. And repeat. He did this seven times. I kept track by taking my age and subtracting one. That’s how a 4-year old and 5-year old and 6-year old and 7-year old me kept track. Every time he left, our family was financially ruined. Get financially decimated several times over and it leaves one anxious. Every time, we were left nearly ruined, my Mom’s friends and family leapt to our aid. It diminished my trust of men, especially father figures. When he was here, life was an awkward nuclear normal. I didn’t have a connection to this man. While he was here, he took the opportunity to sleep around on my Mom: with some of her friends and with other people he picked up along the way.
When the urge to run came, Roy didn’t take a lot of care in planning his getaways. He “loaned” money from my Mom’s friends and relatives under false pretenses. I was able to look at his criminal record in 1980. It was something for a 12-year old to get to read his Dad’s rap sheet. He had aliases like “Tony” that were known to police. Play connect-the-dots on that. For an alias to be known to police, it has to be used in connection with crimes. He had a list of break-and-enter and auto theft charges. When he took flight, it would be a klutzy cross country run for it. If he didn’t have a place to sleep, any man who would have him could have him as long as they gave him a warm bed when they were done. He used anyone he could get to.
By 1977, my Mom successfully procured a divorce. Because Roy was so hard to find, it was impossible for him to mount any sort of defense or make custody demands. He was also able to duck out of any child support. At least he was quarantined from our lives. He did pop back in special episodes. In 1980, he showed up to visit family. In 1984, he thought his daughter wanted him back in her life, so came back again. When he arrived, he discovered that she was lying. It sucks to be lied to.
Having that man contribute half of my genes felt like I had leukemia. I was going to steal. I was going to cheat. I was going to lie. I was going to keel over from heart attacks before my 40th birthday. I was destined to be a bad man. Because he was opportunistically bisexual, I mapped homosexuality over top of deceit. I took Roy’s example of how to be gay as the baseline for how to be gay. If you were gay, maybe you were prone to cheating, lying and stealing. Prejudice comes from simple sources. It wasn’t right, but sexuality, safety and honesty were bundled together. I have done three decades or more of conscious work to decouple queer from shifty and I kick myself when I find my mindset lapsing back to that safe zone of intolerance.
Every time I shook someone’s hand in a business deal, I thought, “will I screw this guy like my dear old Dad would?” Every time I was desperate for money and I needed a loan, I rebuffed charity. After all: Dad used people. When I would have preferred to live in open relationships or practice some respectful version of relationship anarchy, I pulled myself back because my old Dad screwed anyone he could and made for a lot of hardship. In caging myself up, I caged up the nearest monster.
I carried a lot of shame. Criminals shouldn’t have children. If there was a genetic component to behaviour, crooks beget crooks. When people went around the table to talk about their Dads, I could either say, “my Dad was a low-life” or I could lie-- either way my response would pay tribute to my Dad. People who go places build on a foundation of good breeding and good rearing. My Mom did so much to give me a good foundation, but there was a rot in my core. I think I would self-sabotage to keep the spawn of a low-life caged up. I could not stop all of the low-lifes, but I could stop myself. Fast forward to the 1990s. I took a first aid course with a long time family friend. He was a good guy. He had personally saved dozens of lives. His students, numbering in the hundreds, each saved lives. He was friendly and patient. I cannot think of anyone who bore him ill will. I wished he were my Dad. We even looked alike. My girlfriend used to pick me up from my course and we’d joke. She would ask, “so: how’s Dad today?” It was a nice fantasy that his blood could be running through my veins and not the poison.
Fast forward again. After my Mom’s death, the topic came up of things I didn’t know. I pressed. I pressed really hard to learn what my secret was. The secret: Roy married my Mom while she was pregnant with me. He was not my father. In 1967, my Mom was engaged and discovered she was pregnant. Instead of getting her fiance into a shotgun wedding, she broke off the engagement and married Roy instead. My Mom had been the victim of a full spectrum of abuse at the hands of her father. Abuse can mess up one’s compass. Having come off of almost 20 years of emotional and sexual abuse, I know that all too well. She was afraid, so she ran for it. She ran away from a good man who was my father and ran towards a scivey little weasel. My Mom should have braved the birth control faux pas and what the math would have borne out; and she should have married the good and kind man who proposed to her. They could have raised their son and given him the constancy that is so important to a kid. She kept that secret throughout my life and was afraid that it would drive a wedge between us. She could not have been more wrong. Since getting this news, I feel cleansed. The time bombs are gone. Instead of being 10 years overdue for a heart attack, I know now why pudgy is my default state. When I don’t have a compulsion to steal, I know that I am following my nature, not rebelling against it. When I try to help people, I know that it’s in my blood to do so-- not a ploy to trick someone.
Where from here? I have had a tenuous connection to my real Dad throughout my life. I roughly know where he is. When my Mom died, I tried to find him to give him the news, but I didn’t try all that hard. I am in the process of trying harder. I will arrange a trip to see him and give him first the news of my Mom’s demise and second the news of his first born. I would like him to meet my daughter and his granddaughter. I don’t want much from him. I want him to know that I am really proud to be his son. If I could have handpicked a man to be my Dad, we would have been the only name on my list and he needs to know that. I would like to send him Father’s Day cards. I would like to invite him to my wedding. I would like him to know that after connecting “shame” to “Father” for 47 years, that I have a new association: “Father” and “proud.” I am his bastard son and that’s good by me.
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