Footsie – Or How My Dad Became My Dad

Rated PG
Some names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Let me start by saying my biological father and mother and my stepfather all treated me very well. I had a good childhood, lacking in little. We were not rich except in care. We were not poor in anything. There was never any abuse. The abuses that make up the twisted person that is me came from outside the home, friends, school kids, the general public, if you consider name calling an abuse.

That said, of the parental trio that I grew under my biological father is the poorer of the lot. Not financially but in a human sense. Still, at his poorest he is better than many people I have met in my life. But he definitely lacks a certain grounding. I have not seen him for nearly two decades. My last ex referred to him as my “Father-man” when he would make his once a year Christmas phone call. Even those yearly calls have dropped off in the last five years. My sister, who is much closer to him than I ever was, tells me he is becoming senile, probably Alzheimer’s, and is living as a rather shabby recluse. Gosh, maybe hermitage is hereditary or familial. Gulp.

My Father-man was an architect working either for himself or for large firms. It depends on which years you look at, and that depends on which years he had driven away his clients and had to get a regular job, or when he felt he could try again to be the master of his own time. That was a task he could not do because the master of his time was always his love of fishing. Self run businesses and all consuming hobbies are not a good mix.

My Dad, that is my stepfather, is a great dad. There are no two ways about that. Ex-Marine, stationed in NJ during the Korean War, so he never saw combat. But a lot of soldiers wouldn’t have gotten what they needed if it hadn’t been for that particular Staff Sargent. After that he used his GI bill to finish college and become an electrical engineer, eventually moving on to ergonomic engineering. Both Dad and Father-man grew up in the northeast. Father-man in NJ, Dad in IL, but eventually in NJ.

Mom grew up in the hills of Virginia. The last of eight children born to a coal miner. Yes, Mom was a Depression-era coal miner’s daughter. She swore she would get out of there like so many songs tell, and she did. She worked odd jobs to raise a little money and worked hard at school to get scholarships until she was able to get herself into Furman University. Suddenly SC enters the picture but it will leave the stage only to reappear decades later.

Through various studies and college transfers Mom met Father-man. They fell in love, married, and moved to NJ to make a home. Father-man was finishing up college, which Mom supported him through, so there was an intentional delay before baby-making became a consideration.

I remember two homes with Father-man. The home I arrived in directly from the hospital, where I lived until I was about three, and a house that Father-man designed and had built in a nearby hamlet, where I lived until I was barely six.

Despite being zero-three, I do actually remember the first home. That is where I had Sneezy, my first cat. Mom had a springer-spaniel. I remember putting caterpillars on a turntable in the basement room to see if they could get dizzy, and seeing The Man in The Moon for the first time out of my bedroom window. I remember being potty trained, and if you took me to that house now I could walk directly to both the restroom and my bedroom without looking. I remember Father-man yelling at me the first time I tried a big-boy glass and accidently spilled my milk. I remember playing in a snow-bank at the rock-wall that supported the yard next to the cut in driveway. Suffice to say, my memories start at a very early age and are very clear.

Very near to that first house, just blocks away, lived some family friends, Warren and Mrs. Warren. They had two children. Mrs. Warren had not been a good girl by the standards held in the 1950’s and had born a child out of wedlock. Warren, being the really cool guy that he is and having fallen for Mrs. Warren, married her anyway and adopted the child that was not his. Warren and Mrs. Warren later had a child of their own.

Mom and Father-man and the Warren’s attended the same church and played Bridge together and were generally good friends, their young-ones hanging out together as well. I am the oldest of the lot. My sister followed me by fourteen months. She and Warren’s adopted son are about the same age while Warren’s biological son is about eighteen months younger still.

Even at those tender ages between consciousness and six, I did not like Mrs. Warren. Not one tiny bit. For one thing I had seen her on several occasions take a wooden spoon to her two children. I’m not opposed to a smack when it is called for, but even during those young years I was able to tell the difference between a needed lesson and a thoughtless pop. Even today I can recall an instance where that wooden spoon was dropped like a hammer at what was only a nagging child. Answer the youngster’s concerns and you wouldn’t need the spoon. Needless to say, I did not like her and over time she only fueled that dislike.

As I said, Mom and Father-man and the Warren’s often played Bridge together. I cannot testify to this, for while my memories are very clear for a baby to a toddler, I had no idea what Bridge was of course. But I do remember many nights when we would go to the Warren’s house or they would come to our home and the parents would do something around a table while us kids played.

The card games and visitations continued even when we moved into the second house, it being only twenty minutes or so from the first home. After moving into the second house, so I am told, Mom began to get upset with Father-man. Seems all he wanted to do was fish, leaving Mom with the house work and cooking and cleaning and children and something most of us understand – too much time alone.

This I can relate only as hearsay but I trust my source is reliable, as it was Mom. It seems that one night during a regular Bridge game, Mom and Warren caught Father-man and Mrs. Warren playing Footsie under the table. Seems during some of Father-man’s fishing time he was using a different pole and dropping it into a different hole.

Well, the two couples went to their respective homes and tried healing their respective wounds. Eventually Mom asked Father-man for a divorce. She had fought her way out of the hills of Depression-era Virginia, and had supported Father-man through part of college. She was not going to sit around while he fished, and poled.

Unbeknownst to Mom similar things were happening twenty minutes away. Warren had taken in the promiscuous Mrs. Warren at a time when few men did such things, and adopted her child and loved him as his own. But Mrs. Warren seemed to be spooning someone other that Warren. So they too, elected to divorce.

During the various proceedings and hearings Mom ran into Warren, where they both learned they had come to similar decisions. Both being stressed and knowing exactly what the other was going through, they began to support each other. They felt if the other two wanted each other, let them have at it.

When all things were legally finalized on Mom’s side, with Warren’s finalizations not far away, they both decided they wanted nothing to do with the other set, or the houses or the small towns for that matter. They would both move, together, helping each other out until they each could figure out what they wanted to do, where they would live and how they would rebuild their lives.

I remember being just barely six and being sat down, along with my four-year-old sister, and given a choice. Did we want to live with Mom or Father-man? Children will almost always pick Moms, and I’m glad I did. My sister was closer to Father-man than I, but I think she followed big brother because it was all more cloudy for her. How this decision was made over at the Warren’s I do not know, though I suspect that Mrs. Warren threatened legal troubles if things didn’t go any way but her way. In fact, I have stories to verify that is how she operated.

For example, there was a brief period where Father-man did not live in the house with Mom and me, the divorce having been finalized but she was not yet prepared to move. There was also a brief period where Warren did not live with Mrs. Warren, a separation period being lived out.

Warren was required to make weekly alimony and child support payments, which he did. They were to be paid to Mrs. Warren and she was to report them to the Clerk of Court. Mrs. Warren learned that the Clerk’s offices had a lag time with reports starting in the late afternoon on Friday’s. So one Friday she waited until just before closing time, reported the payment, but then promptly called the sheriff to report that Warren was delinquent. Due to the lag no record was available to the sheriff, so Warren appeared delinquent. He ended up spending the weekend in county jail until Monday when the Clerk told the Sheriff the payment had indeed been made, and on time. I said before and will say again, I dislike Mrs. Warren to this day.

Eventually Mom and Warren and I and my sister were packed in a car heading away from my childhood homes. Along the way I remember querying Mom about what was going on and at some point asked, “Well, what should we call Mr. Warren?” It was decided we would call him Uncle Warren. We went to Virginia where we spent a few weeks living with an aunt, one of my Mom’s five sisters, while Mom and Uncle Warren made preparations elsewhere.

After a few weeks at my aunt’s, Mom and my sister and Uncle Warren and I got back in the car and headed to Florida. We lived in a very small two room apartment. I remember some sunny days out by a pool and the feeling of the coastal air. But I also remember those were troubled times. The grown ups did not seem very happy about something. Age has allowed me to piece it together. Finding work in another city. Scraping together the money for alimony and child support. Mrs. Warren playing devious, cruel divorce games. I heard a lot of men’s tears coming from that bedroom.

After about nine months we were packed into the car again. We were headed out west where the cowboys live, Las Vegas to be exact. Uncle Warren seemed a little happier. I later learned the divorce was finally resolved, signed, sealed, and filed away. A new chapter was turning for him.

Along the way my sister and I were informed that Mom and Uncle Warren had decided to get married and that supposedly Father-man and Mrs. Warren were going to get married too, though that didn’t happen as expected and is a whole other tale I will tell someday. So there is something you don’t hear about often. Legalized swapping. Maybe I’m all twisted up for a reason. But honestly I do not think this had a damn thing to do with my development as it was all handled openly and sanely, at least from our side of the swap.

As we headed out west I asked, “Then what should I call Uncle Warren? I mean, he isn’t really my uncle anyway.” Mom said, “Call him whatever you feel comfortable with. Uncle Warren, Warren, Dad. It’s up to you.” My sister said, “He’ll never be my dad.” She called him Warren for years, if she called him anything at all. Generally she would try to get his attention visually and then just start talking.

My sister and Warren both now live fairly close to each other in the upstate, and work together quite often. She directs plays at the big city theater and Warren designs and builds many of the sets for her. If he isn’t building sets, he road trips around the country building houses for Habitat for Humanity – at 82 years old.

I thought about it. I remember looking at the back of his head as he drove. He made Mom smile. Something she hadn’t been doing lately. He had been nothing but kind. I boldly declared, “I’m going to call him Dad.”

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