A tiny 6lb 12oz baby girl was born on a clear and cold winter night in January of 1983 on the Upper East side of Manhattan. She wasn’t named until 3 days later, and was simply “Baby Girl” for the first 72 hours of her life. When it was time to leave the hospital, her father arranged a limo to pick up his wife and first child, enjoying a drive through Central Park on the way home to their 400sq ft walk up apartment building. Eventually, the tiny baby was named Alyson, and thus… this was my entrance into the world.
158 miles North, at the same time, in a small town of Rhode Island; an 11yr old boy was in his pajamas, with his twin sister and younger sister by his side, probably getting ready for bed and to watch The A-Team
Little did anyone know that this little boy and this newborn girl would grow up, go on a blind date and eventually decide to spend the rest of their lives together.
I don’t remember the limo ride home, or much of my first or second year of life; but by the time my younger sister was born 22 months later, there was no limo waiting outside the hospital to bring her home. Our family’s financial situation was not the best, and my mother, who had just given birth; walked home from the hospital in the blustery November wind, with her second baby in her arms…. back into the tiny 400sq ft walk up apartment, most likely with a cranky toddler to greet her.
My younger brother was born three years later, only to be followed by my youngest sister in 1990. No limo was there to greet them either, and as our family grew, our apartment remained the same size, and our tiny bank account remained the same as well. If our apartment could be considered small, our bank account was minuscule. There was a while where we didn’t even own a phone. The stress seemed to weigh heavy on my father, but my mother kept us together, shielding us from any stress she bore from raising four children and an increasingly anxious and unhappy husband. We were on on food stamps at one point, and my entire public elementary school meals were free thanks to low income breakfast & lunch programs. None of the children seemed to notice any of this going on, and I think if you ask anyone one of us, we’d say that we had a fantastic childhood. As I got older and could see things from a more mature vantage point, I realized how difficult this life must have been for my parents, and I vowed to myself that I was going to live very differently once I grew up.
Despite that limo ride, I was never my father’s favorite child. This was apparent, if not to my siblings, it certainly was to me. My parent’s didn’t get along, and maybe he saw too much of my mother in me. Maybe he thought he was helping me by pushing me too hard. Maybe it was his upbringing. I really don’t know why, but I was different. I remember being scolded by him at a young age because my sister was having difficultly reading. He angrily said “This is your fault. If you would let her watch more Sesame Street like you had the opportunity to, she would be farther ahead.” I was probably six years old. He was dead serious. Another time, I brought home a test as the same time my sister did one day… mine was scored a 98%. He looked at it and eyed me with a look of disgust “Where did the other 2 points go?” That was it. My sister had a piece of homework with a 75% on it, and I vividly remember him praising her for working so hard and doing such a great job. This all seemed normal to me.
I was one of three students on the “Distinguished Honor Roll” one semester senior year of high school. One of the other recipients was Valedictorian of our class. I had stellar grades and was set up to get into any college I wanted. I was a very good student but most definitely not a math wiz. Math is my demise. At the last minute, he demanded I use my Elective Class (which could have been art, gym or home economics) and take Pre-Calculus, or else he would refuse to pay for my college education. I failed it- for the first time in my educational career, I failed a class. I failed that entire semester. As I applied for colleges, I added in my state college, which of course was my back up, and coincidentally, the first school I heard back from… denied. Turns out they don’t accept anyone who fails a class senior year, regardless of the class or my academic standing. In retrospect, I never understood him, and I guess I never will.
I recently found a box with old letters and photos in my basement that I had saved. As I went through it, I found quite a hilarious and yet sweet letter I had written my father when he was on a business trip one time. I had asked for a typewriter for my 10th birthday (I’m not sure what 10 year old asks for this, but maybe a bit of foreshadowing seeing as I am sitting here writing now). I also don’t know where my parents got the money to pay for it. Either way, this letter showed me the innocent child I was at that time and it also shockingly reminded me of the great affection I had for my father during this time of my life. I was always trying to impress him, to be better for him. Being as this is dated a week after my birthday, I can assume this was my fist “formal letter” I wrote.
I wonder how that we went from where that letter was to where we are now. 20 years later, I ran into my dad at a bar a just few months ago. I have seen just a handful of times in the past 15 years and talked to him about the same amount of times… and we live 10 miles apart. I let him walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and he visited both of my babies in the hospital the day they were each born. Since then, I have spent a few years in therapy and have seen him with one of the kids once of twice. He sees them so infrequently, he can’t even tell them apart and called my son the wrong name when we ran into him at the pharmacy one time. He doesn’t call, he doesn’t ask to come see the children, and he isn’t interested in what is going on in my life. Have I done something wrong? Am I not the child in this situation?? I am not going to beg someone to come see his grandchildren if they are not interested.
As I walked into the bar that evening, I immediately saw all 6’4′ of him, sitting at the bar with a cowboy hat on, sipping on a beer and talking to the bartender, who was coincidentally my brother. As soon as I saw him, I tried to turn around and leave but it was too late. He had already seen my friend and I. I said hello, sat down next to him and excused myself to go to the restroom. Upon my return he was finishing up a story which sounded like a run down of my siblings and what they were up to and how proud he was of them. I caught the end of one of my sister’s stories and he actually used the word “Impressed” and “Proud”. Now that I was back at the bar, he stopped, chuckled and then started a sentence that began “And now we come to Alyson… let me tell you what her problem is….” He went on for an hour. How I had disappointed him, turned into someone else, was a bad mother and was leaving my children in care of strangers at daycare while I went to work and went on and on… and on. I walked out of that bar that evening and vowed NEVER TO SPEAK TO HIM AGAIN. I don’t need that sort of negativity in my life. My father is welcome to see my children anytime he wants. I would never stop him from creating a relationship with them. The thing is, he’s never asked once.
WHAT IS FAMILY? I’ll tell you what family is. Family doesn’t mean blood related. You may be my father, but you aren’t my dad. Family is your tribe. Your friends and family, your spouse, those who treat you with the respect you deserve and raise you up instead of tearing you down. I don’t have many friends, but those I do, I cherish. These are the people who will love you no matter what… and won’t throw your mistakes in your face later on. I am grateful everyday to have married into such a wonderful, loving family. Not everyone has that, and I feel privileged to know and be related to such wonderful people. My mother has married a great guy who serves as a wonderful role model for my children as Grandfather.
I decided to drop all the drama a long time ago, to surround myself with only positive people and to stand up to anyone who is putting me down. I don’t owe anyone anything. I need to take care of ME. I am my own best advocate. It’s taken me thirty years to figure it out…. but ask me now where those other two points went, and I’ll tell you exactly where you can put them.
No Mas, bitches.