My stepfather was an asshole. Had he not been cremated, his tombstone would have proclaimed, “Here’s lies one of the biggest anal maws on the planet.” There would even be an etched image of a rancor’s mouth out of his bum on the granite tombstone.
So that’s the foot we start on today: following up on fine parenting. See, for all the pain and misery that I could remember the bloke for inflicting, he had three – maybe four – good points.
One, he taught me inadvertently. The town of Prattsburgh, NY, was rather hilly. Not just from mile to mile, but from street to street. He was unable to walk long distances without assistance. I may recall someone mentioning at some point he had nerve damage from shrapnel during the Vietnam War. We were walking home from the town’s watering hole. He would frequently get completely hammered, while my sister and I wandered around the town’s library. She and I would buy stacks of books for a dollar or two, all because the covers were removed. We never bothered with a library card, because we never knew when we were going to be moving again.
I had fond memories of reading in that era of my life. My grandmother – on my mother’s side – bought me a leather bound, gilded omnibus of Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and “Sea-Wolf”. This was my first foray outside of happy fiction. This was notably proceeded with my love of Michael Crichton (nothing like reading “Rising Sun” when you’re twelve), R.L. Stine’s “Superstitious” (his first “adult” horror), Jeffrey Deaver’s “Bone collector”, “Killobyte” by Piers Anthony, Sherri S. Tepper’s “Marianne” trilogy the Tom Swift novels, and even “The Chronicles of Narnia.” I can chart the times in my life with my stepfather by the books I read; I had nothing else to track the hours and days. I even read an illustrated bible, for lack of anything else.
So, he was hammered, and I was contentedly carrying a stack of books home. As I pushed his wheelchair over the crest of one road, he told me to just let him navigate the hill on his own. I didn’t wait for clarification; I gave him the needed nudge. The first lesson I learned, was to never put yourself in a position where someone else has complete control over your life. You never know when that son of a bitch is going to push you into oncoming traffic.
That’s why I cut my own hair; I don’t trust anyone else with scissors near my head.
He hated repeating himself. This was something that brought about many physical altercations. His was the de facto dictatorship by which a modicum of peace could be sustained. So, it’s a little easier to understand point two is simply, “Do something right the first time.”
It’s actually good advice. It may take a bit longer to do something properly the first time through, but it will ultimately take longer than doing it twice. As a punishment one lovely, youthful summer’s afternoon, I was given every pot and pan in the kitchen, and ordered to scrub the bottoms to restore their brand-new shine. After giving me two days for this – literal two days; my hands were cut and bleeding, with steel wool filaments jammed in the folds of skin and under nails – he decided I wasn’t doing it well enough. Ended up with a lashing anyway.
At least I was done with the damn dishes.
This leads me to another point that has cropped up a lot of the past seven years: there’s no amount of pity or sympathy you can throw at someone that makes them stop being an asshole. Their being disabled or ill has no impact on the person that they are; that is, if they’re an ass, feeling sorry for them doesn’t magically make someone stop being an ass. I can wish the sulfur emission from human being’s butts turned to delicious cupcakes, but even if I encourage and demand it of them, they’re just going to be a giant fart.
Even death doesn’t change that fact. I tried talking to my mother again back in 2002. It was a terse conversation that ultimately ended in my owing an additional $2,800 in taxes six months later, when my post-tax take home was less than $14,000 a year. We haven’t spoken since. She had separated from my stepfather nearly five years prior, but she still wore his wedding band. I inquired during our meeting, and she told me he had died. They sent her the ashes, but she didn’t know what to do with them. So, she flushed them down the toilet and tossed the six-by-four-inch box he arrived in.
The fourth point is one that I think is the most useful for being a good human, “Don’t tell me you’re sorry: don’t do it again.” An apology is simple enough to phrase, but entirely different in execution. Words are just that – black and white smudges strung together which may, or may not, mean what they’re written to be. If the action behind the apology has no intention of being apologetic, then it’s all just words.
That last one has been a guiding force in my life. I’ll forgive anyone that’s willing to ask; if you think I’m going to forget, you’re delusional. I’ll place my trust in you based on the actions you take to amend the situation. You should take an apology for what it’s worth – even in a greeting card.
Know what’s funny about those written apologies? – They’re worth less than when the paper was blank.