Sunday, June 18, 2006

More than DNA


Such a complicated topic in my own life.
I have 2.
No, not like the 1980's sitcom.

My biological dad. His name is John. Boy, I thought he was cool when I was little. The Marlboro Man. He rode a green motorcycle and took my little helmeted self on Sunday rides. Sounds idylic doesn't it?
In a picture postcard sort of way, I'm sure it was.
Like when he'd talk to the neighbors outside. Sliding his can of beer to me when I'd beg for a sip.
The memory has a slightly grainy, greenish hue - like fading white edged photographs from that time.

When I was 4, he left. I remember sitting on the front porch, holding onto the iron railing as he walked down the 4 concrete steps to my left. Carrying a duffle bag. I was crying. I don't remember if he leaned down to kiss me goodbye. I don't remember. I don't think he did. I don't remember.

I was 4. I dont' know exactly why he left. What I pieced together was that he didn't want to be domestic.
Soon after, he lived in a pepto-bismal green apartment building with a 19 year old girl named Kim. My sister and I visited there sometimes. There were lots of half burnt candles and plates of incense.
He had long hair and smoked cigarettes. It was the 70's afterall.
Despite it all, we never stopped seeing him. I credit this to the eternal wisdom of my mother.

Enter Father number 2.
Though he wasn't a father at the time.
His name was John too. A cosmic joke in my little 5 year old universe.
My first memory of him.
We waited with some excited anticipation as my mom's new friend... old friend was coming over.
My little sister and i were playing a game in which you throw plastic rings over a plastic flower. We played in sight of the door. And then he arrived.
Did he carry flowers? I don't know. I dont think so.
He might as well have. He brought much more than flowers to my mom. to us.

They dated. He taught me how to put my napkin on my lap.
expected manners. I remember that.
We called him a neat-nik.
So different than my other beat-nik dad.

They got engaged and the wheels began to turn. A family again.
Though we never stopped seeing my biological dad, and I never (and still haven't) stopped loving him, this was a different kind of dad.
The kind you see on TV.
The kind that is there when you go to sleep and is still there when you wake up again.
That kind.

Then, a twist.
They had dated less than a year. My mom was diagnosed with cancer. 6 months to live, they said.

Would you? she asked.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
We'll have to ask him.
I know.

Will you? They asked.
Defeatedly, yes.

My sister and I were adopted by our second dad.
We moved to Chicago.
Our mom lived for two more years.
Then she died.

Though my birth father lived a short ways away, and we went on drives in his orange and black striped Datson from time to time, this one raised us.
The second John.
He was there in the evening and the morning.

and Again.
and Again.
and Again.

It wasn't always perfect.
There was an entire year of Swanson TV dinners.
There were 3 Polish housekeepers to help keep our ducks in a row.
There were adolescent screaming matches and being grounded for weeks.
There were disappointments and fears.

But he was there.

After just 3 years in our midst, he had "married" my sister and I. In a way that few marry. With a devotion to forever. with a heart that will not deflate. With a love that is not conditional. With the spirit of love.

In so many ways, this man is my hero. My Dad. My Dad. My Dad.

My first Dad. I love you. My heart often weeps for you. Please find your center and know that you are ok. You gave us the greatest gift in the world when you said that he could adopt us. It does not make you a failure. Find your path and walk it. You have shown me many truths and given me many gifts. I love you.

My Second Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.
My Dad.

My Father.

My heart explodes with gratitude. You have shown me many truths and given me many gifts. And still do. 35 years later. I love you to depths surprising.

My two dads.
Both have taught me immeasurable things about this life.
Neither perfect.
Opposite ends of the spectrum.

You may want to judge one and honor the other.


Just be grateful with me.

Happy Father's Day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


It would have been his birthday today.
I'm not even sure which one. 60? 58?
I don't know.
His name was Phil.

I used to live in Oak Park Illinois.
An iconic, tree-lined town just west of Chicago.
I walked daily to the train to and from work. 6 blocks exactly.
It became my solace. My meditation.
I passed the homes, built in the 1930's, surrounded by picket fences, flowers, bushes, sidewalks with remnants of yesterdays chalkplay.
Hop Scotch, portraits of stick-figure families, giant daisies dancing in green and pink and yellow.

The seasons were my companions on those daily walks.
The lilacs in bloom in April.
Lush green tree-top canapies over the streets in July.
The piles of autumn oranges and reds rising under undressing limbs in October.
Paths through snow mountains pushed to the sidewalks edge in January.
Grey, angst filled winds howling in March.
They were my companions.

About a year before I moved from Illinois, I noticed a person who stood out among the seasonal changes on my daily walks.
He didn't really fit in in Oak Park.
There was no preppy jacket covering an worn oxford shirt that hung out over softened jeans.

The man was bald.
He wore a grey muscle shirt, sleeves torn off many a year ago.
A chain holding his keys hung from his belt buckle.
A mickey mouse earring waving gaily from his lobe.
An ominous linked chain about his neck.
Worn Chuck Taylors on his feet. Ageless.
A somber quietness about him.
He walked a tiny black dog that looked like the pill verson of my black lab Jack.
I passed this large, odd looking guy and his pill sized dog many times and thought that I'd like to know him.
Why? I have no idea.
He had a shy smile.

After months of soft hello's and me petting the pill sized pooch, I said that we should get together for lunch or dinner or something sometime. It took more months for it to happen. I don't even really remember how.
Eventually it did.

His name was Phil. He was in his late 50's. He was gay. Lost his partner Doug over 10 years ago. Well read. Intelligent. Not well spoken. He stumbled over words. Life made him nervous. Somewhere in a portal to goodness in Oak Park Illinois, we became friends.

He had brought tokens of his travels to Mexico and South America to his 3rd floor Oak Park condo. I helped him choose new countertops. We shared rasberry liquer on the back porch overseen by a Mayan Sun. He showed me how he brushed the pill sized dog's teeth.

Phil didn't sleep well. He had started to get sores on his skin. He didn't want to use the drugs. He scoured health stores for remedies made of royal jelly, herbs. He didn't sleep well.

I moved to Las Vegas. We wrote emails, jokes, stayed in touch. In June, I visited Chicago and saw him as he planted a Hawthorne Tree in his front yard. Adding to the canapy. I said I'd be back in a few months. We'd have Thai or Cuban food when I did. We hugged. Said goodbye with a light, over the shoulder wave.
We'd see eachother then.

The last email I recieved from him was July 5, 2005. Less than a month later.


I worried.
After 2 weeks I sent a friend to knock. Ring every doorbell in the building. I felt the panic rise. He hadn't been sleeping. He had been hurting. Fearing.
Then someone.
next door.
No, he's not there.
He died.
2 weeks ago.
Just a day after the last email.

He took his life.
The note.
Pain. No sleep. Dementia setting in. Have to go. I'm Sorry. I'm Sorry.

My heart ached. Knowing he made that decision and told no one. Trusted No one.
He had seen Doug die.
He had seen the confusion, the horror, the pain.
Decided to leave before.
A hard decision that I respected.

This man.
A gay, intelligent, loving, hurting man.
A man who loved life and said goodbye to it when it threatened it's end.
A man who taught me about gentleness. Loving through pain. The subtle joys of unexplored places.
A man who wore muscle shirts and mickey mouse earrings in Oak Park.

Today I think of the memories of my daily walks.
Lilacs in bloom in April.
Canapies of lush green tree tops in July.
Piles of autumn red leaves in October.
Mountains of shovelled snow in January.
Piercing winds in March.
Mickey Mouse earrings.
Chains and Chuck Taylors.
Shy smile.

I am so glad I knew him.

Happy Birthday Phil.