I have an awkward relationship with almost all of my family, my stepdad, in particular, and it hasn’t changed now that I’m 32 and he’s dying of heart failure.
He’s had heart problems for a long time. It never struck me as odd or out of the ordinary, even after they initially developed. I don’t remember if I called him after his first surgery.
I drop the “step” and call him “dad” because that’s the role he took. While my sperm donor (we don’t talk), John, was in Michigan (getting krunk), my dad was doing likewise while also providing barbequed ribs, AOL, cable, and a waterbed—you don’t hear much about waterbeds anymore—they’re not good for you.
Before I started Middle School we moved into a Pepto-pink house. Neither parent had no intention of repainting it. They worked too much and had their own priorities. For my dad, it was his prized hot tub, photojournalism (he worked for the Valley Morning Star, but his real passion was, and still is, animal photography), and weed.
Not long after we settled in he wanted me to do chores around the house like cleaning dishes, picking up his dogs’ shit, bathing his dogs, feeding his dogs, and picking up trash from our front lawn. I was paid for my work but criticized regularly for missing the occasional piece of trash or pile of shit.
He also insisted that I refer to him and other men as “Sir” and my mother and other women as, “Ma’am”. Binary. This was not a public formality, this was a general expectation along with holding doors, standing when a woman returned to her seat at the dinner table (so old-timey), and many more things nobody does as an adult (not even him). He threatened to spank me if I didn’t, which he only did on a couple of occasions when I was really young.
But that never stopped either from threatening to spank me—my mom was just as guilty. A lot of kids grow up and naturally realize their parents can’t just hit them anymore, but that line was blurred during that time of my life.
He’s laying in a hospital bed, eating hospital food, and making Facebook posts. A mid-century Texan born into a wealthy farm family, Smith. He was almost the Marlboro Man—another gem you don’t hear much about today. After his career in journalism was put to an abrupt end he started driving a Truck. Then came the pacemaker, and then, a decade later, a massive heart attack. Told me he didn’t even realize it. Said he felt off and drove home on a hunch. He was scheduled for a quadrupedal bypass the next morning.
I can’t remember if I called. I’ve always kept myself at a distance from my family, both literal and emotional. When I was 11 or 12 my parents separated. My mom and I lived together for about a year before we nearly got into an altercation over the amount of oil necessary to fry frozen chicken nuggets (our hands clutched each other’s shirts and our fists were drawn). A few weeks later I flew up to Michigan to live with John and my sister, Nicole.
A few months after I graduated from high school and turned 18, I moved to Las Vegas, and that’s about the time my dad started driving. A few months later Facebook launched. He didn’t discover it until much later (and I’m very grateful), he joined and now he’s posting selfies, sticking his tongue out and quoting the Borg, “resistance is futile”, while his heart is functioning at 20 percent. A thumb up, heart or any of the other fucking emojis just don’t articulate how I feel.
He also has to comment on every single thing I post that’s even slightly political. All he wanted to talk to me about after the recent Las Vegas mass-shooting was an article I posted about Australia’s gun buyback (which worked great). He wrote me via Messenger, “…left forearm that has an infection from iv in Tyler. A note on gun control. Ask the American Indians how allowing their guns collected worked out. A long list of nations fell to dictators and evil rule. I wouldn’t trust any country of individual who collected the firearms. Just food for thought.” And no, he didn’t spare me the cliché cherry on top: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Then he ended with, “Long road to a heart transplant. Hard to wrap my head around it.”
He’s still in the hospital and he essentially has two options: heart pump or transplant. I talked to Nicole today and she tells me He’s leaning towards the pump, they have about the same life expectancy. He’ll have seven or eight more years to bitch about my Facebook posts and take pictures of hummingbirds.