Without a plan, or even a clue, I did my best to make a family. Things got much better before things got way worse. I was hired by the Post Office and the increase in income gave us a tremendous boost as our family had expanded quickly. After Shawn and Brandon came to live with us, Chris and I got married and we had Carey, who in time became the glue that held all our dysfunctional parts together.
And we were plenty dysfunctional. Every one of us was wounded, and none of us realized how our individual wounds affected the others, but it didn’t matter, we loved one another and we stuck together anyway. Chris was traumatized by an alcoholic father who was physically abusive. I was molested at nine and raped at 17. Shawn and Brandon were children of divorce, then their mother moved away leaving them with us. Carey was too young to be aware of the many wounding opportunities ahead for him. Micheal had grown up with a drunken mother he suddenly had to share with three other children. He had a verbally abusive father…oops…no, he had a verbally abusive stepfather he thought was his father, then he had another stepfather, Chris, and then, of course, there was the father who never got talked about anymore.
We all muddled along with this setup until one night an old friend, Cindy, was tending bar at Mack’s when the *least likely candidate, who was visiting from out of town, came in for a few drinks. It had been ten years since the candidate had left Richmond so there was a LOT to catch up on, like why had he left town, did Jane have a baby, and who the child’s father was, all things that had been settled in my mind, as much as they could be settled, for forever. But Cindy, always the skeptic, decided things weren’t all that settled. She rang my phone sometime around midnight, rousing me from sleep.
“Jane,” Cindy said, “You’ll never believe who is here at Mack’s tonight.”
I was beginning to really hate phone calls. “Let me guess, Joe Nuxall?”
“Don’t’ be silly,” she said, “it’s the *least likely candidate visiting from out of town. He says he knew you were pregnant before he left Richmond. He wants to know if it’s possible he’s Micheal’s father”
“Yea, it’s possible,” I answered, my pulse suddenly beating a drum in my brain, “it’s just not likely.”
“He wants to know if you will talk to him.”
“I’ll talk to him, but not right now. Give him my number and tell him to call me tomorrow.” I needed time to think about what to say. I knew a day of reckoning was coming, but it was coming about a decade sooner than I expected. The *least likely candidate’s appearance was something I had not even considered. Why did he want to know now? If he knew I was pregnant before he left town and had questions, why didn’t he ask me then? He told me several times during our short relationship he had no interest in children, saying outright that if anything happened he would be down for an abortion and nothing else. I remember him telling me about the abortion he had financed for the girlfriend before me. Understanding his attitude from ten years ago, I figured this would be an easy brush-off.
I was wrong. *Least likely told me he was very interested in knowing if he was Micheal’s father. He wanted to have a DNA paternity test done, which was expensive at the time. I am still torn about whether I should have agreed to it or not. One thing I am certain of, I am desperately sorry for the way I handled it with my son. Looking back, I can feel his confusion, his fear, his anger in a way I was incapable of at the time. I wounded his tender heart deeply not just with the information, but with my cavalier attitude.
“Micheal, you remember when I told you that you had a daddy before Dave?” My talk began.
“No. I don’t remember that. I have another father besides Dad?”
“Yes. I told you but you must not remember. He didn’t want you, so when I married Dave he became your Dad.”
“Okay.” I could see my son struggling to grasp the information, but I wasn’t worried. He had always managed to roll with the punches.
“Well, a man who could be your father wants to find out for sure. He wants us to do a test. A nurse will need to take some blood and it will hurt a little bit, and then we will know in a few weeks.”
“Are you sure you’re my mother?” Micheal asked.
“But, how do you know?” I didn’t grasp that my son’s foundation was crumbling underneath him.
“I know because I was there when you were born.”
“I don’t want to have another Dad.”
“Don’t worry sweetheart. I would never stop you from seeing your Dad. If the test says this man is your father, then you’ll have two dads. How great is that?”
As it turned out, the *least likely candidate was only .01% less likely to be Micheal’s father than any other man on the planet. I was good on my word. I continued to let Dave see Micheal while *least likely was getting acquainted with his new son. *Least likely went all in, I have to give him credit for that. After I gave him my assurance I wouldn’t sue for back child support, he moved back to town. He asked that Micheal take his last name, which Micheal refused, but *less likely began paying child support and seeing Micheal regularly anyway. It might have worked out if they had some help establishing a bond, but Micheal kept his new dad at arm’s length, and *less likely, having no experience with children at all, couldn’t seem to make any headway in getting close to him.
Micheal’s relationship with both dads limped along for many months. I lost patience with Dave’s irresponsibility when he brought Micheal home well after midnight on a school night. It was the final straw that convinced me it was in my son’s better interest to have one father instead of two. The problem with this, of course, was Dave was the dad Micheal was bonded with. Even with Dave out of the picture, the relationship with *least likely did not improve, and after a couple of years he gave up trying and moved away.
In a matter of two short years Micheal went from having two dads and a stepdad to having just one stepdad who was becoming more and more dissatisfied with his behavior, which was beginning to spiral out of control.
Christmas Day, 2018
Every holiday I wait for my boys to call me or send a message. One by one, they make contact. Today the first text comes from Shawn, “Merry Christmas! Love you.” He posts pictures of his baby son opening presents. His daughter was in high school when his son was born. He is experiencing fatherhood in a way he didn’t when he was young. I can relate. The older you get the more you appreciate the role you play in your children’s lives.
Brandon sends me a video of his kids opening presents. I laugh and smile, not only at their joy, but in remembering Brandon’s joy with his brothers on Christmases past. He is home for the day from rehab. He is finding his way back to his family and is learning to love them in a new way. I am grateful to God for his sobriety and how his spirit has become more open and loving.
Carey sends me a “Merry Christmas! Love you Momma” text from Europe. I can’t wait to hear about his adventure. He will be home soon and when he is I’ll breathe easier.
Micheal phones in the evening. As I wait for the recorded instructions to finish, I try to count how many Christmases he’s been in lockup, but I can’t remember. The years have run together until they are all a confusing jumble. I wonder what it would be like to have an endless succession of Christmas prison memories instead of the normal family joys and sorrows. Even though I’m glad to hear my son’s voice, I’m still sad.
The search light in the big yard
turns ’round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes like the dust in the sun
It’s Christmas in prison there’ll be music tonight
I’ll probably get homesick, I love you, Good night
-John Prine, Christmas in Prison
*When I began writing this blog, I asked all persons mentioned for permission to use their name. All agreed except for Micheal’s biological father. Instead of using a pseudonym, I chose to not name him at all.