The Man Who Stepped Up
There are things I have trouble dismissing and letting go no matter how hard I try. My relationship with my father. The car accident that killed one brother. The prison that houses the surviving brother and will continue to be his home for years.
And there are things I don’t ever want to forget -- like the fact that my wife would probably not be here today if it wasn’t for her Mamaw and her Papaw.
I’ve talked before about the awfulness of her childhood. The only thing that made it remotely bearable were those two people. They gave her all those things you’re supposed to give a child: love, encouragement, and safety. All those things our society persists in believing can only come through something as tenuous as blood -- an idea that needs to be murdered now, because her Mamaw and her Papaw made a bid for custody, only to be informed by the lawyer it would never work because they weren’t actually her Mamaw and her Papaw.
Society focused on the fact that her Mamaw was technically her great aunt and her Papaw’s only tie was marriage. And society has a lot to learn. Antiquated ideas of familial bonds and ignorant court opinions did not stop them for being Maria’s family, from being there for her, from loving her, or, in her Papaw’s case, kicking the shit out of her father in the driveway.
Not even divorce broke their bonds. Both have always remained in her life.
Even her Papaw Jack. The man who some people foolishly insist on reminding her isn’t “family" has been there through it all: good times and bad, triumphs and failures, birthdays and Christmases, first cars and high school graduations, walking Maria down the aisle and helping to bury her mother.
In a few hours, we’re heading down south to Maria’s cousin’s house for a surprise party celebrating Jack’s 70th birthday. Man, there’s so much I want to be able to say to that man. So, much I want him to know. I mean, does he understand how much he’s meant to my wife? Does he understand that he helped save her life? And does he even know what’s he’s meant to me -- not just because of what he’s done for Maria, but for, in a lot of ways, becoming a sort of second father and, beyond that, becoming the measure of what it means to be a man?
I don’t know. I hope so, because I don’t know if I could even say it. If I could ever express it.
I think the closest either one of us has ever come was a couple years ago for Christmas when we got him a personalized copy of the newest Andrew Vachss book. (Crime fiction is one of the things Jack and I have in common and I’ve tried through the years to introduce him to a lot of writers he’d never read before.) Inside the front cover, in that way he has to sum up an entire complicated mess of feelings and ideas, Vachss wrote:
“For Jack, who stepped up when everyone else stepped out.”
I wonder though, is that enough?