Sunday, July 06, 2008

Thoughts on My Step-Dad

Ok, clearly, if I'm going to write this post, I need to give the Step-Dad a pseudonym. So let's call him G. I know, terribly original. But I tried to call him something else, unrelated to what I actually call him, and it just doesn't work.

So my mom and G. met when I was 12 or 13, when my mom was just about done with her divorce from my actual dad. He worked in the parking lot where she parked. That's right: G. was a parking lot attendant. He'd been in the U.S. (having emigrated from Lebanon) for about 8 or 9 years at that point, and at that point only he, his younger brother, his one sister, and his mom were in the country. His dad had been here, but he died. They all lived in a house in the suburb to which my mom and I would ultimately move after I finished eighth grade (upon my mom deciding, fuck it, let the house get foreclosed because we can't live in this neighborhood anymore, for my dad was a real dick during that period, thinking he'd get a million dollars for his half of a house that was in a slum - a slum that he'd bailed on without looking back - whatever).

Anyway. So my mom and G. meet. Some questions she asked him on their first date:
  • Are you a citizen?
  • Are you a Christian? (Not in a devout sort of way, but she was afraid that she and I would be sold into white slavery or something if he was Muslim. And yes, this is fucked up and prejudiced, but I recount this to give you a sense that my mom was in no way on board from the get-go, for she has a suspicious nature.)
Turns out he was both a citizen and a Christian (and he's quite handsome, to boot). In other words, she went on more than one date with him. My mom was 32 at the time, and probably looked all of 25. She told G. she had a kid - and he assumed I was like 5 years old. In an attempt to get in her good graces, and to bribe me, he'd brought girl scout cookies to their first or second date - Samoas - for her to give to me. Needless to say, he was quite surprised when it was revealed that I was a surly pre-teen with an ax to grind. And, indeed, I had an ax to grind.

Remember: this was the Divorce Time of Crazy. This was when I was in the full throes of the divorce angst, which ultimately entailed some shoplifting (about which my mom and G. still don't know), as well as watching pornos that my friend Jennifer and I scavenged in her parents' bedroom after we'd stolen some of her parents' beer (also which my mom and G. know nothing about). So my mom brings this foreigner home, who wants to bribe me. Let's just say for about the first year, I didn't really speak to him unless absolutely necessary. I was all about "hiding in my room" (my mom's description).

G. never pushed me. He never tried to act like he was my dad. He had no interest in being my dad. He did, however, want to get to know me, and he let me go at my own pace. And somehow, we did end up getting to like one another prior to the move to Suburb. (I have to admit, I don't remember a lot of this time - lots of the Divorce Time of Crazy are a blank - the trauma of it, etc.)

So the one time when my mom and G. were in danger of splitting was when we moved from the house I grew up in to Suburb, when I was 14. My mom wigged out at G. (stress of moving, etc.) and it almost was o-v-e-r. But - G. approached me (drove past the house when I was outside), and managed to use the Young Crazy to get back in her mother's good graces. G.'s story now is that if it weren't for me, he would have told my mom to fuck right off (my language not his, as he would never say the word "fuck" in front of me). I actually believe this, as G. and I are weird kindred spirits. 20 years later, I'd argue that G. is the parent whom I most resemble and with whom I have the best relationship. I mean, I'm close to my mom, but G.? I love him with a love that's pure and true. And we're a lot alike. Which is not true with me and my mom. Anyway.

So mom and G. didn't split, and all was well. There was never any official notice that he was moving in. See, the thing with G. is he doesn't actually have possessions other than clothes - esp. since prior to living with us he lived with his family. So I noticed sometime in my 14th year that his shoes were around in the morning, and that was pretty much the moving in evidence. (Needless to say, I interrogated my mom about this development, in ways that were not kind.) But no, there was no discussion of moving in, nor was there any "moving in" day. Just one day I noticed that G. lived with us. According to my mom, that was pretty much her experience as well. She and he didn't "decide" to live together. It just happened. Dude, his mail didn't come to our house until his sister was married and moved out of the house and his brother was married and moved with his family and his mom to another suburb nearby.

So, in high school (and into college a bit) G. and I did have some conflict. It wasn't real conflict, but rather that he would bait me with political conversations, and I was filled with hormones and feelings. Imagine many tears and doors slamming. Slammed by the Young Crazy, obviously - not by G., who's totally awesome if a teensy bit of an instigator. And I worked for/with him when he left the parking lot and bought a stand at Cleveland's West Side Market (and then I quit in a huff because of his nephew working with us one summer and being a tool - needless to say, I think he's great now - and I went and temped instead) and he helped to put me through college and grad school and, well, he is really probably the reason that I went to grad school because there's no way my mom would have supported me without his encouragement in that endeavor. And my parents only just got married a few years ago, for the health insurance - natch. But as I said to my mom when she told me they were finally going to make it official, G. has been my stepdad for a long, long time now, and dude, he's the one I'll take care of in his old age - not her :)

And so now, G. and I are going to Lebanon together. He's not been there since I've known him - indeed, it's been 26 years since he's been. It's just me and him - my mom's not coming, for a variety of reasons, but probably the biggest of which is that she'd stress him the fuck out and he and I will be chill and, well, I'm the one who he really wants to see Lebanon. See, he has this fantasy that I'm going to write a book about "the family" and "Lebanon" and that I'll make a million dollars.

But you know what I realized a few days ago?

I think I actually do want to write a book - a non-academic book, which could actually make money if anybody ever published it - about, well, about going to Lebanon with G. and his coming to America, and his family, and me ending up in fucking Lebanon as a working-class blond girl of primarily Hungarian and Polish descent from Cleveland-fucking-Ohio for Christ's sake. Yeah, I think, in spite of myself, that this trip is about more than just a vacation. Though, indeed, it is quite a vacation sort of trip. But I've got 24 hours both ways to make G. answer questions for me, without my mom interrupting, and I've got all of my experiences that I will have and memories that I do have, and well, why the fuck not? The "academic" book proofs are here and in glancing at them there's not much with which to deal. My university doesn't really care about the research I do, and yet I suspect they'd support (at least minimally) any kind of a book even if it's not related to my research. Why not have this be my next book instead of some bullshit about women writers and orgasms and such? It's not like I'm mobile as it is, so why not do the book that my G. wants me to write anyway? Or at least to try to do that book?

And yes, I know I'm a crazy person, because I could just be thinking about slacking at this point. But you know what? I'm a person who needs a project. And maybe this is my next one?


Belle said...

Sounds like a good book! Go forth, have fun, interview and observe - and hey, if a million dollar book comes out of it, be sure that your university will love you even more.

Anonymous said...

two things. first, omg, yes! write it. I would totally read it. of course, I'd be almost as likely to read about woman and orgasms and shit like that but that's mostly because I like you. :)

second, this post is fucking great. not for any particular reason, I guess. It's just...earnest and funny and self-aware and shows compassion for G and your mom. I just love it.

yes, I did just have my third drink. :)

Jenny Davidson said...

Write the book!

life_of_a_fool said...

I love your stories about your step dad. And, that book would be awesome!

Kjerstin said...

When one has to do a lot of professional writing that's restricted by rules, it's important to indulge in some unrestricted, non-academic writing as well, to avoid going stark raving mad. It might as well be about something that one cares about. Judging from this post, even I would read it, though Lebanon has never held much attraction for me (too hot, I suppose).

helenesch said...

Yes, write the book! I'm actually interested in your real book (but don't know who you are, so may not ever read it...) since I do feminist theory, and I suspect your "real" work would be of great interest to me.

But... I'm sure I'd really enjoy reading a book like the one you describe here. You write so well--with a voice that is honest, engaging, perceptive, and also entertaining. I guess I don't know much about publishing books like this, but I would think there's be a big audience for such an account...

At least I know we'll get to enjoy the blog version of your story! Sounds like an awesome trip.

Addy N. said...

What a cool book idea! And what a great post- I also have an awesome stepdad. He and my mom are not even married any more (they divorced my freshman year in college), but he's been more of a dad to me than my own dad. As I was just commenting over at B*'s, my "real" dad disowned me for marrying an African (I was also pregnant at the time!), but there's no excuse for racism. At one point, my stepdad was my only family member still speaking to me! He never judged or criticized and even made a special trip to PhD City to meet H before he left town for his first TT job. That's so cool you are taking that trip together. I would totally go on trip with my stepdad! That's just great.

James said...

After spending too much time pleasing other people to get tenure, it's time to do something that you really want to do and it sounds like a fun topic for a book. Have fun in Lebanon.

adjunct whore said...

1) impressive relationship with G;
2) write the damn book;
3) young adjunct whore was very similar to young dr. crazy in divorce land. shoplifting rang a bell.

Earnest English said...

Awesome! Do work, no play, on this project. I too have a project like this -- a bit closer to my own research -- that I want to do too. Please blog this experience and how you write about this different place (there's all sorts of orientalism and tourist with typewriter criticism crap to make you want to pack up your laptop and hide in a frigging cave!). I'm excited! Go and have a great time! Maybe take along a tape recorder to record G's stories? Do you want mine?

Horace said...

And you know what? If a book doesn't work out, I can help you turn it into an autobiographical performance piece. JUST what Dr. Crazy needs on her impressive cv.

May your trip be transformative...

Susan said...

Absolutely write the book. And I love your writing about G -- sometimes after the trauma of divorce, it also brings us good people who enrich our lives. I adore my stepmother -- not because I don't like my mother, but because she's terrific. And actually, my Mom agrees with me.

Chloe said...

Ya, ya--write the book.

I'm curious, though, what you (and others) think about doing both this sort of work AND "real"("academic", "scholarly", etc) work. Is it possible to combine both in tenure? Can it work before tenure? Who does it well? How do they do it? Does there have to be a boundary between "real" and "popular"? Are there better categories?

Dr. Crazy said...

You're all so supportive! Who knows whether I'll actually do it, but it is feeling like a possibility as I consider it that's not totally outlandish. We shall see.

Chloe: I think it depends a lot on one's institution, really. It could work at mine (post-tenure) in part because it would fit with the president's emphasis on "internationalization" and because I have a number of colleagues who have written books that are outside the scope of "traditional" academic scholarship, and it does count for something (although I wouldn't bank on getting full professor with such a project, whereas I would with an academic book). I would be much less inclined even to consider such a project if I were at a research university.

I'm going to think about your questions more though, especially if I decide to pursue this.

Liz said...

I never knew you were an Ohioan!