An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Step-parents’

You Didn’t Protect Me

Ria, a young woman in my writing workshop, struggled to
write a memoir of her childhood, but overt hostility to her father kept taking
over the piece. As we workshopped the piece with Ria, the horrific story of
sexual abuse by a relative when she was a toddler emerged. Ria directed anger
to parents who refused to believe evidence—who put family peace before the
well-being of their daughter. They did not protect her.

My brother Dooby was treated unfairly by our stepmother who,
for unknown reasons, took a dislike to 14-year-old Dooby and made his life a
living hell until he left to live with our grandmother during his senior year
of high school. For years Dooby resented the fact that our dad did not protect
him from the emotional abuse he endured at home.

Actually, our dad was unaware of the abuse. He worked long
hours and Saturdays and wasn’t home much. Dad was of the generation of rigid
gender roles: men earned the living and women cared for the children.  In Dad’s mind and experience, mothers love
their children—it never occurred to him that a woman might feel differently
toward a stepchild than to her own. In Dad’s book, teenagers were obnoxious and
probably caused all conflicts with authority figures.

Dad cared about Dooby and all of us—but he suffered from a
failure of imagination. He failed to understand the complexity of parenting a
blended family. He trusted that nice, church-going people don’t have serious
family problems. He could not conceive of a woman in a mother-role treating a
child cruelly.

Dooby, probably because he became a parent himself, forgave
our dad. I hope Ria can do the same. No parent can protect a child against
every evil in the world. We do the best we can as parents, and—knowing our own
short comings—we cut our parents some slack.

Date Bait Dad

Adults often object to a widowed parent’s remarriage. But children generally long to have an absent parent, especially a mother, replaced—not realizing the odds of having a stepparent perfectly fill the natural parent’s role are nearly the same as the odds for Santa to stuff a 48”  TV down the chimney.

My dad was really old—in his 30s—when I wanted him to bring home a mother for my brothers and me. Knowing Dad couldn’t manage this on his own, I brainstormed ways to help. If only I’d been placed in Miss Spynster’s 7th grade core class, Dad could have met my teacher and decided to marry her. Miss Spynster was not attractive, but that shouldn’t matter to Dad; he wasn’t so hot either. I nearly died of embarrassment when a local TV station featured an IGA commercial showing my dad slouching in front of the family store in his grocer’s apron, looking nothing like a television personality.

I never made it into Miss Spynster’s class and passed into eighth grade with no prospects of a single female teacher to match with my dad. The family next door to us had a single daughter in her late twenties, also unattractive, but probably too young for Dad. My matchmaking attempts fizzled.

Sometime that year, my brother, Doogie and I became suspicious that our dad had taken matters into his own hands. Dad started coming home from the store after 10 p.m., showering and leaving. A light blue 1954 Chevrolet picked him up. Shocked that Dad had been able to find a girl friend and horrified that he hadn’t gotten our approval first, we chafed to know the mystery woman’s identity. One day a blue Chevy pulled into our driveway. A head of artificially auburn hair appeared from the car. It belonged to a woman in her early thirties who climbed our back steps with easy familiarly and tapped on the screen door. She held a jar of brown peaches with whole cloves floating around in some kind of syrup. “I brought you a jar of picked peaches I just canned,” she announced without introducing herself. I took the jar and stared at her. Didn’t this woman know pickles are made from cucumbers? As she backed from the driveway, Doogie and I repeated, “Pickled Peaches!” over and over, roaring with laughter. We hated her. What right did Pickled Peaches have dating our father without our consent?

Dad eventually married “Pickled Peaches” with our wholehearted approval. Their marriage ended in divorce after thirty-five years making Dad an eligible bachelor again in his seventies. With his shock of white hair, trim physique and neighborhood status, Dad was a godsend to the local widows. Sister Aved Mannchaser extended her attentions to me as well as to dad. Whenever I attended a funeral or wedding with Dad, Sister Mannchaser rushed up, clutched my hand, and pulled me close for a captive tete-a-tete.  “How are you doing? It’s so good it was to see you. Vard talks about you all the time.” Dad was not deceived about her motives. “Aved is just interested in getting some new drapes and a lot of repairs done to her house. And I’d have to deal with her family if I was dumb enough to marry her.” He hung a sign on his desk: “It’s better to be alone than wish you were.”

Dad lived alone and liked it until his body faltered.  At age eighty-eight he moved into an assisted living center near our home in Cedar City. The ratio of women to men in the facility was four or five to one, and the ladies made a rush on Dad. He joked about the women chasing him and his methods of discouraging them, so I was shocked to barge into his room one day and find him sitting on his bed with an elderly woman. She beamed and exclaimed, “Caught in the act!” Unable to imagine any kind of act two people their age could be caught in, I was at a loss for words. Evva Lufven, the snowy-haired lady friend, had just moved to Cedar City from Las Vegas. Before she left, she gave Dad a big lipsticky smack. Dad beamed while I stared. I couldn’t believe anyone would voluntarily kiss an 88-year-old man on his shriveled lips.

This time I was mature enough to respect Dad’s decision even though I questioned Evva’s judgment. It’s tough to think of a parent having romantic appeal and a sex life. Deep in our hearts, most of us prefer to believe we were created by immaculate conception rather than by an act of passion between our parents.

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