Today the man that came into my life by falling in love with and marrying my mother died. Chuck. My step-father. Yet in 21 years he was more of a Dad to me than my real Dad ever had been.
21 years is a long time. I remember the first day he came into my life. My mother had gone to meet someone she met online. I got a call from her that she was going to be returning the rental car and that I had to go pick “them both” up at the airport where she was turning in the car.
I had been raised by a single mother who never dated. So, in many ways I was the man of the house. Or at least felt like I was. Then this big burly bearded dude comes into the picture. You can just picture the testosterone pissing matches that occurred. We had some wild arguments early in those days until one day…….
…..This day is my favorite memory. I don’t remember all of it except for what happened between he and I. I was visiting, I don’t know if I had met my ex-wife yet or not. And he had a football he had just gotten. I was 21, maybe 22 at the most. He kept tossing it hand to hand as we all talked. (Again, I don’t remember if my ex was there or not.)
“You wanna go play some catch?” Chuck asked me, raising an eyebrow. A little of a twinkle of his humor showing through. “Be a shame to put this ball to waste just holding it on Sundays while the Packers are playing.”
Chuck was a rabid Packers fan. When he had a satellite, he paid the extra for the NFL package so he would never miss a game. He’d sit there yelling at the TV with my mother, and sometimes be wearing his helmet. He’d always be wearing a Packers shirt or hoodie during the game. When it came to Green Bay, he was all in.
I had never had a relationship with my father that was good. I don’t remember my father and I ever actually playing catch. I know my mother and I used to throw a baseball around in our back yard when I was younger. I mastered the sinker just by throwing that baseball around with my mom. (And a curveball.)
So I said “Sure!”
We went out onto York Street in Ishpeming, where I grew up and where this man came into my life fully. We threw that football until our shoulders were knotted shouting out insults at each other and laughing as we klutzily tried to outdo each other with catches and throws.
It was the first of very many times that we threw the football around. Those times are some of the most cherished memories I have in my life.
Our relationship began to change on a fundamental level after that. He quit trying to be the cock of the walk and I quit being a hard headed dick. We had bonded, and began to spend more time together talking. I quickly gained a respect for this man who only a year or less before had come into my life because of an online meeting with my mother.
Over the years we had a closeness. After a year or two I asked if I could call him Dad. He had tears in his eyes as he said yes. In our minds we were father and son, though legally nothing had changed other than he was my step-father by marriage. Dad was there the night my son came into this world kicking and screaming. Somewhere I have a picture of him holding this 10 lbs newborn and smiling down at his grandchild. My mother and he were grandparents of the first caliber. They loved their grandson. I don’t know if my mother ever got to meet my daughter.
Over the years I’ve watched countless hours of TV with him, critiquing old shows, laughing and joking together, and drinking a few beers before he decided to become sober. We’d watch wrestling, football, old westerns from his childood. (The Rifleman was a favorite of his, and I enjoyed watching these old morality plays set in the old west fictional world.) We watched movies of which could be the most horrible type of schlock and enjoyed the time we spent together. We enjoyed a mutual love of old John Wayne movies.
There was only one instance (which I will not go into here) in which Dad and I were not able to agree on, and in fact when I was cut off from contact with my Mom and Dad-Chuck. It was patched over when my mother became ill and died, and I kept up with Dad from that time forward as we were able to once I moved to Wisconsin.
Once Dad met my fiance El, he was approving of her. As we were leaving and saying our goodbyes, he hugged her and mouthed the words “I love you” to her as he did to me. El was such a support to him as well as I as we were in that hospital room together and her caring for us both, despite her not knowing Dad that well, was a testament to the purity of spirit that El has.
This morning I tried to call the nurses station, and did not get through. I hung up the phone and it immediately rang in my hand. It was his nurse, who I submitted for an award the hospital offers to exemplery nurses, CNA’s, and other employees. She told he had passed 10 minutes prior in the company of herself, two his doctors in his care team, and a picture of my mother that he clutched. I thanked her profusely for her service in his care, her empathy, and her understanding.
Dad died peacefully at approximately 9:15am EST. As I told you last night when I left, “For 21 years you have been one of the best men that I have ever known. You have been honorable, trustworthy, supportive. You were so respectful to my mother, even past the day she died and to her memory. I am honored to have called you, and to continue to call you my Dad. I love you.”