Hello There 2018 - Let the Catching Up Commence!

...you'll be my bodyguard and I can be your long-lost pal.  I can call you Betty—and Betty, when you call me—you can call me Al...

    After three years of: ‘no good reason to sit down and write’ my life has spanked me with a dozen reasons.  Now I feel driven to get the swirling cacophony onto the page in-hopes of, maybe, getting “thoughts in order.”  (A distant *yay* echoes off the surrounding cliffs of the neverscape.  Or, at least, I think it was a yay...maybe it was naaayyy?)

    My ex-step-daughter — I can call her Betty — contacted me a few months ago.  She was 19 when I divorced her mother (with whom she shared a close, daily-contact, type of relationship).  Now she is 35.  Over the 16 year interim, I assumed our estrangement was, unfortunately, the expected outcome of what had become a tenuous relationship.

    In the early 1990s I assumed the temporary, non-tenured, position as her primary care-giver from a litany of predecessors.  She was an obedient, friendly and pleasant ten year old.  Easy to talk to.  We liked each other.  Her mother’s ‘hands-off’ parenting style fit nicely with my desire to teach.  My more authoritative and ‘present’ style seemed to be more appropriate and needed.  Until ... a few years later ... it wasn’t.  Because: teenagers.  (I see no need to provide details about the petty crimes, drugs, running away for weeks, or dropping-out of school.)  She was not “cash me outside, how bout dat?” girl.  But in the late 1990s, it felt like all my efforts to help her become a good person had amounted to hundreds of man-hours of wasted time.  Against my wishes, her mother allowed her—at 16—to get married.  At 19, my adult step-daughter was back in my house as a divorcĂ©e with an infant named Destiny. 

    It had become perfectly clear I was nobody’s parent, nobody’s teacher, all my opinions were worthless and the only things required from me were: shut up; provide food, shelter and money; and shut up.

    A year later, Betty's mother told me that all she required of me was the same five things.  And, that was when I paid thousands of dollars to lawyers so they would legally affix the prefix “ex-” in front of all of our respective relationship labels. 

    Last month, the aforementioned ironically named infant (my ex-previous-step-granddaughter...if that’s even possibly a real label for a relationship) turned 17.  Her mother, Betty, had progressed from using my name to using the title ‘Dad’ and we have progressed from the occasional text message or email to weekly phone calls.  By yesterday — Festivus of 2017 — our phone calls are almost daily and they sometimes are hours in duration. They are a vibrant and wonderful mix of reminiscing, catching-up, discussing current topical issues, exchanging opinions and tears, and planning future visits (Betty lives 3,000 miles away).

    In eight weeks, we have become bodyguard and long-lost pal.  I have learned many of the lessons (which I assumed had been a waste of time) were, actually, vitally important.  My parenting style twenty years ago had influenced some of her parenting successes.  She had now raised three, constantly-on-the-honor-roll, loving, respectful, and wonderful children, who are now 10, 14, and 17.  Yes, of course, her life has not been without its pitfalls.  But, I have recently learned, in several conversations, that the reason Betty believes she became an attentive, loving, parent (one might use the term “helicopter-parenting soccer mom”) with a job, stable household, and a smile in her voice, is partly because of me. 

    Next week, she will be visiting with my wife and I. 

    The pronoun game has already been addressed and re-addressed.  We can lay no claim to the names Grandpa and Grandma — even if those labels were appended with our names so that the “grand kids” can distinguish us from the people who rightfully hold those titles.  More important (and to-the-point):  two months ago, neither of us had any idea we would soon be exchanging stories with a highly likable, mature woman, overflowing with laughter and love who wants us to think of her as our “daughter” and who asks for, receives, and heeds our advice.  Also we held no inkling in our minds that this self-same “woman of many titles (none of which fit perfectly)” had three children who might someday be eager to include us in their lives as “pseudo-quasi Nana and Papa figures.”

    Maybe this is an appropriate point for me to provide a synopsis about the end of my life?

    Most people cringe when someone discusses their own death, preferring to only think of death in an abstract manner.  Or they always ask to postpone those “morbid thoughts” for when the “time comes.”  Others attempt to hold on to an obscenely strange belief that, “it’s never going to happen.”  That is not who I am.  I have contemplated and embraced my terminus and have come to accept its eventuality without any dread.  I hope to have about five years left.  It would be great if I have double that.

    If I make it to 62 (in 2021) I will have outlived all my male ancestors, none of whom lived to receive social security.  None had retired before they died.  All died of apparent (or possible) heart attacks.

    I have attempted to avoid and continue to (mostly) avoid many of the "environmental factors" which contributed to the early demise of my father, grandfathers, and great-grand fathers (nicotine, alcohol, red meat, etc.)  None-the-less: genetics.  So I retired at the age of 43 from the military, divorced a stress-inducing woman the same year, and have attempted to live as frugally as possible on my military pension for the last 16 years.

    My goal was to live through at least two peaceful decades of happy retirement.  Most people want the same thing.  Only the masses don’t think about actuary tables; they fall in lock-step with the government who proclaims that everyone should retire about 65, because the government says they'll more-than-likely die in their early-to-mid 80s.  (Those who think that way are stupid, conformist, sheep.  *baaah*)

    Now, I've — out of nowhere — received a wonderful surprise opportunity: to be able share my last few years (five? – fingers crossed ...  20? – all fingers and toes quadruple-crossed) with not only my still-fantastic wife, Pam.  But, now, with our new bodyguard Betty and her three children.  I'm immensely glad she treats us both like long-lost pals.