Saturday, April 5, 2014

Three Fathers. One Me.

If there is a person born on this earth who doesn't have a biological father, I've never heard of them.  Everyone has a father.  The thing is, I didn't know that I had one until I was four or five years old.  On a typical, sunny afternoon in Phoenix, Arizona, my mother took me into one of the bedrooms of the small, 3-bedroom ranch-style house we shared with my grandparents and cousin, Samantha, and she showed me a picture of herself in a wedding dress with a man whom I didn't know.

It says on the back of this photo that my mother was 23 years old, so she would have been around 28 at the time she first showed it to me.  Charles (Charlie) Skouson was his name.  And, she explained that I was born with the name "Lory Anne Henning Skouson".  They were divorced before I was born, so alone in the hospital, my mother had written "Lory Anne" as my first name, "Henning" my middle, and "Skouson" my last name on my birth certificate, figuring I could make my own decision later about what last name I wanted to use.  In that small act of my mother's, I see now a well of generosity to my father and bravery for herself.  It was April 1st, 1971 - no joke.

My four year old self, I must admit, found this whole thing exhilarating yet slightly confusing.  As far as I was concerned, the men in my life were my Grandpa Dave (with whom, as I said, we lived - so much as he was home), and Daron Dustin.  

Daron was my mother's second husband, and I learned later that he had been a friend of the family for many years.  During their short marriage, we lived at his house in California City, CA.  Although I was only 2 or 3 years old at the time, I remember my room there, and I have some faded memories of Daron's dogs, a tortoise I named "Mama Tortoise", a stuffed orangutan, a flowery orange suitcase-style phonograph, my friends Too Sweet and Sweet Pea (actual girls' actual names), an incident involving me not wanting to eat green beans, and the long, hot drive in the middle of the night from California City to Phoenix when my mother left Daron.

Even though I never called him anything but "Daron", Daron was as close to a father as I had known.  I loved (and continue to love) him dearly.  He is something of a delightful, maniacal genius.  I remember one story in particular about how he blew a huge pothole in the street in front of his house when he lit half a stick of dynamite off to celebrate the 4th of July.  In fact, I can't publicly discuss Daron without posting this excellent illustration of the kind of man he was/is.  Here we are in his motorized bathtub:


However, divorce always comes with a story - usually complicated - and my young self was not burdened by the details of why we suddenly lived with my grandparents.

After learning about Charlie Skouson's existence, I became confused - what was a dad?  And was I supposed to take his name?  Upon entering Kindergarden, I was almost proud to have "a father", but I suspect I was even prouder to be unique among my classmates due to my confusing little father situation.  I remember proudly trying to explain to a teacher that my last name was Henning, but it could have also been Skouson.  I'm sure she was flummoxed.

Time passed, and thoughts of Charlie Skouson and the wedding photograph faded from prevalence in my life.  Daron drove up from Cal City (usually in a fantastic old Jeep) to see me when we visited my great grandmother (Nana) in Salinas on holiday's.  My cousin Samantha (by then my grandparents' legally adopted daughter) was, at the time, as good as a sister to me.  And, after my grandfather decided to divorce my grandmother so he could live full-time in Santa Ana where he had a produce business (and continue his tryst with a nice lady he met in Japan), my mother and grandmother were my only true, daily parents.  We were a foursome: Grandma, Mom, Sam, and me.

Until, that is, Grandma and Samantha moved to Salinas to care for my great grandmother, leaving my mother and me in Phoenix to sort ourselves out.  It was the summer before my 3rd Grade school year, and the breakup of our little family left me (and my mother, I suppose) deeply traumatized.

I'll gloss over the intervening years for now.  They, too, were complicated.  Suffice it to say, without consciously knowing what was happening to me at the time (I now know I was consumed with grief for the loss of the little foursome we were, and for the "normal" family I'd never had), I watched Eight Is Enough to the point of obsession - wanting to have that sort of life so badly, I consumed - practically ate - that TV show.  Now that I mention it, as I've written in an earlier post, it was at that time, watching those TV shows after school, that I learned the problematic habit of emotional eating.  But that's neither here nor there.

Since my mother was single and working, and I was a latch-key kid, I spent my Summers with my great-grandmother, grandmother, and cousin Samantha in Salinas.  When I was 15, in the Summer before my Sophomore year of high school, I decided I wasn't going to go back to Phoenix for the school year any more.  I decided to stay and finish high school in Salinas.  And, still glossing over the fraught details of that transition, my move to Salinas is what lined me up to land at Monterey Peninsula College, where I met my third father:

My Chosen Father.

Dan Beck
Dan is the technical director for Monterey Peninsula College's Theatre Department.  He, Patrick McEvoy, Edmund Row Reed, Craig Dunbar, and Steve Retsky took my love of theatre and my need to belong, and they shepherded me into becoming a confident theatre artisan.  But Dan, in particular, took the time to teach me any skill I wanted to learn.  And it was that gentle, guiding attention and confidence that drew me to him.  

In thinking back about it now, Dan was 39 years old when we met.  And having a 19 year old female student slowly latching on to him and wanting to make him proud of her might have been... awkward.  Good thing I'm tremendously gay.

In the 24 years since I fell in paternal love with Dan, he has patiently, quietly allowed me to maintain my adoption of him.  And he has reciprocated in kind.  I tell my mother nearly everything.  We have an excellent telephone relationship, and in my adult years, we've learned how to have wonderful in-person visits with each other too.  By contrast, Dan and I rarely speak on the phone.  But when we're together (as we were for nearly a week solid back in January), we easily chat a lot.  And we are easily quiet a lot.  I tell him everything I can think of that might interest him, and I gently grill him about his life and how he feels about this and that (as is my habit).  He tells me things he knows - how things work, what he's building and doing, and we see the sights.  And sometimes, I hardly know what to do with myself - feeling overwhelmed with love and at a loss for how to express what a gift Dan has given me by allowing me to choose him.

In case you had any doubt, fathers are important.

Charlie Skouson died in 2000.  I spoke to him a handful of times on the phone, but never met him in person.  Daron continues to write to me every year for my birthday without fail, as he has done my entire life, and we visit each other whenever we are within reasonable driving distance of one another.   I see Dan whenever I can - usually at least once a year.

I continue to learn about fathers and what they mean to this day.  Cindy's love of her father (even though he passed away a few years ago) is palpable.  The Spencer Family is like my second family.  Michael is the father of that clan.  And I find myself paying attention to our friend, Arsenio - watching him parent his son (our godson), Axel.  I sometimes babysit Axel, and Arsenio teaches me a lot about how to do it.  I'm not jealous of Cindy or Axel.  I feel rich!  You see, I have three fathers of my own.  And there are all these other gorgeous ones around to see.

Arsenio and Axel Castro



2 comments:

  1. I might be a tad weepy at the moment, and I never - repeat, NEVER - get weepy when I read other folks' blogs. Lots to think about...families are wonderful, crazy, complicated things, even if you come from one that looks normal on the outside. By the way, that motorized bathtub is wicked cool....

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