I was the only child of my mother’s first marriage… a marriage that lasted a mere 6 months. Isolated in Maine with a husband that had cheated on her, amongst several other “red flags”, she reached out to her mother to come “rescue” her. My 23 year old mother and 6 month old me moved in with my grandparents in New Jersey. This set the stage for a very strong bond between my grandparents and me. My grandfather was a WWII veteran and later, a successful business owner. My grandmother was the typical “house-wife” of people of that era. But she was truly the patriarch of the family… the stoic and calm voice that knew when to say the right thing at the right moment, or hold back her opinion to maybe teach you a greater lesson.
Between the age of 2-3 my mother met a man, Al, who would later become my step-father. When I was 6 we moved out of my grandparents and into a rental with Al. It was in a small Italian community where in some houses with older occupants they didn’t even speak English. I went to school, did life with my mom and Al, and saw my grandparents often. Life was simple.
During that time we had moved out, my biological father had reconnected with me. He would take me fishing, and hiking and trying to do the typical “dad” stuff. But it was always sporadic. I enjoyed it, but there was always something “funny” about him I could never put a finger on. At the time he was an x-teacher/minister. But what struck me odd was his failed marriages. My mother was #2. And by the time I was hitting my early teen years he was on failed marriage #4. He was a devout “Christian”, but heavily flawed in every way. I just remember thinking at the time, “If you’re a Christian how can you get divorced?” It really made a lasting impression on me.
While my biological father’s #4 was on the outs, my mother and step-father had found Christ (along with me) and they finally got married. We moved to a more rural area of New Jersey closer to the church we were attending. At that time my father disappeared. Life was about as “normal” as it could be. I went to school, had a lot of friends and social activities… things were good. But during my mid-teens my biological father had a tendency to drop in unannounced. I wouldn’t see him for 6-12 months and then BAM… “let’s go do something for the day.” And what made it really “creepy” was this so-called father had pretty much become a stranger and would want to know the most intimate details of my personal life. Then he would disappear again. Too add to it.. he was on such an evangelical bent that in the middle of our time together he would start preaching to random strangers. I’ll never forget driving through the Burger King drive-thru and him asking the kid behind the window about eternity with cars behind us honking and me slinking down in my seat. I was mortified!
By the time I was about to graduate high school I was making plans to move out to California on my own. I got a call from my father 3-months before I was going to move. By this time I was so uncomfortable and creeped-out by his persona I cringed as I spoke to him. Again, he pried and prodded information out of me and I reluctantly gave it up. Eventually I let it slip that I was going to be moving to California.. and then he said, “I live only 30 miles from where you’re planning on moving to.” I didn’t know what to do. I was keeping him at arm’s length for the sake of my sanity. I was just trying to protect myself. In the end when I got to California I just had to tell him I didn’t want him in my life. He didn’t understand… thought I was on drugs. I explained it thoroughly, but he just wouldn’t own up to what he did wrong. And because he couldn’t own up I cut him off.
From then it was another 10 years before I finally met my wife. I had fallen away from the church not understanding what “God” is all about. I put Him in a box… someone that I maybe needed when times were tough. I had one long-term girlfriend and several others. During this time I had several jobs, a couple businesses, and nothing solid. Ultimately I went to college in Tallahassee for an Elementary Education degree. The summer before I was to graduate in 1998 I received my first email from Maggie. It would be another 8 years before we finally wed, but I knew early on Maggie was “it”! I was done.