There’s nothing quite as festive as a family scandal
It's safe to say we all want our loved ones to be happy. When I was younger, I once read some inspirational words of an anonymous author, "Only happy people understand love."
I carried them with me for most of my life; I'd honestly thought I was in that bracket until my dad called last year to check on our Thanksgiving plans.
My phone, which was sandwiched beneath one free-wheeling breast and my rib cage, vibrating, woke me from a deep sleep.
"Hello?" I cleared my throat in an attempt to seem alert.
The clock read 12 PM. I wanted to avoid a lecture for my laziness disguised beneath the thin excuse of insomnia.
My dad's signature greeting.
"Your sister's coming early tomorrow and then staying the night. Same plans for you?"
"Wouldn't miss it," I said as my chihuahua, Barnabus, pawed at my hand, hoping to receive some extra gravy since I made him wait for breakfast.
Holidays for my families aren't exactly traditional (and I could assume the same for many of you, considering the divorce rate in the U.S. alone is 3.2 per 1,000 people, according to the CDC).
My parents split when my siblings and I were in middle school and high school. As most divorced people with children do and divorce professionals advise, each year, my mom and dad cycle through holiday hosts.
Then, when we got old enough, we started to add in the siblings. I was thankfully exempt from this list seeing as I was broke as hell after my own divorce, and my studio apartment couldn't handle a lavish holiday spread.
My brother loves us, but can't stand to be around long, so often he'll drop by with his children to have a beer. He'll eat and catch up before taking off with a kiss on our cheeks until the next gathering, which left three members: Dad, Mom, and my sister.
My dad held the torch that year.
Great, I'd thought.
It's not that I had a problem visiting my dad; I love the man, I do. Not to mention, it always feels like a true vacation when I can stay at his place. Who would say no to an MTV's Cribs style ranch in the tranquil countryside of sunny California?
My problem stood at 4 feet eleven inches and is a splice between a geriatric purse dog and a cougar on its heat cycle.
A problem that's been around for 50 years, 10 of them spent with my dad.
A problem named Luanne.
My dad found Luanne soon after he and my mom divorced. I'm not entirely sure where she came from and why my dad stayed.
She was a drunk, and a mean one, which I would mind my business about if she weren't so mentally and verbally abusive to my dad and pretty much anyone who came around but her kids. And my dad was no angel — their whole relationship was toxic. They had many, many highs and lows, which always made visiting cringey.
They were the most mismatched, miserable coupling I'd ever witnessed — -which was the result of a rush job relationship. This is common behavior for divorced guys, who, as specified by experts on the psychology of divorce, have a harder time with divorce than women and are far more likely to rush into a relationship or get married again than divorced women.
(Though I, like a lot of you, I'm sure can't talk. I've made my fair share of bad decisions, and I know for a fact I've been one for several people).
I still remember the last time Dad and Luanne played Thanksgiving Masters a few years back.
She had a Bourbon and Ginger Ale in her arthritic hand by 10 AM. Dad decided to play a documentary on Woodstock before scampering off with his chew toy.
"Hang on, babies," my dad said, "I have to talk to Lu about something."
Her heels clicked across the hardwood floors, followed by the slam of the bathroom door.
I added some brandy to my mug of eggnog from the liquor tray beside the couch. I took a sip, and my sister and I sat there, letting our current situation…happen to us.
We spent a good thirty minutes staring at low-definition 70's muff dance in circles around the big screen.
It wasn't as bad as the occasional squeak and other sounds coming from the back of the house — -and then the fighting. When faced with these two choices, unbridled pubic hair became fascinating.
I know a lot of you might say to mind my own business, and it's true. But trust me, Luanne was no good, and I deserved to at least be able to steel myself, which is why I asked, "So, is Lu going to be there?"
I had to ask, prepare myself. My dad paused, and I followed suit, hoping for some news.
"Actually, baby, I dumped her ass. Kicked her to the curb."
Forget Thanksgiving. Christmas came early.
"Oh, my God, Dad, I am so happy. You have no idea —"
"Wait, hang on, Pip. I have to tell you something."
"Your dad found someone else about six months ago. I'd like you to meet her when you're here."
I shook my head and shrugged to no one in particular as I traced an anxious path across my cluttered room.
"What's the issue then? That's no big deal, right?"
I meant what I said. No one could be worse than Luanne. If she was gone, that was more than enough to please me.
"Well, she's a little young."
"That's cool! I mean, I told you before to make yourself happy."
I said this, too. I had no problem with a woman in her fifties like Luanne or even forties. My mom gave birth to my sister and me a few years after med school. My dad trumped her a bit in age, which made him older than most parents with children in their 30's. Still, he's active and sharp. His body is in immaculate shape.
And besides, plenty of women prefer to date older men (56% overall, though you can check out the specifics for yourself).
"Tess is 30."
My jaw went slack as he listed his reasons. I heard none of them.
I hung up the phone and dialed my sister.
"So, there's a situation," I greeted when she picked up after a few rings.
"I just got off the phone with Mom," she panted, the hum of a treadmill and the pound of sneakers in the background. "She's mortified. Says he's trying to tarnish her reputation."
"Aren't you the one who gave him your blessing, or whatever? That's what he said."
My sister had me. A few weeks back, when my dad and I had been catching up, he'd asked me a question he'd called, 'hypothetical," which we all know means anything but except for me at the time, I guess.
"Ev, what would you say if I dated a younger woman?"
I'd honestly thought really hard about it, weighing the pros and cons. Despite 14% of the women in the group of 56 percenters who wanted to date an older man, 14% of them said they preferred them to be ten years or older than them. But 14% does not a "normal thing" make. In our society, an aged-gap couple can raise a lot of questions. Women get mocked for being "trophy wives" for "having an agenda."
I felt downright righteous when I told Dad, "as long as you're happy." I'd believed I meant it with all of my heart and then realized I was a big fat hypocrite once the truth about her age dropped.
"I mean, yes, but you know, I was referring to someone still older than us."
This is something I'm proud of, but I immediately became suspicious. My Dad is a well off man, and it's a common stereotype the only reason women seek out an older man to be taken care of (which is fine if you do, we're all just taught to turn out noses up as a knee jerk reaction).
What's funny is, studies of many younger/older couples have shown no signs of "unsavory motives," meaning money, of course.
Like the world I grew up in, I was so worried about what others might think and say at the moment. Because, of course, anything out of "the norm" should be shamed, which is what I was struggling with, whether I wanted to admit it or not.
There's also the fear of the "evil stepmother," which is a pretty big reality for many people. According to The Step Family Foundation, 1300, new stepfamilies are being made every day, and for the first few years, there can be a difficult adjustment period.
And it's not a crime to have concerns. Everyone has their opinions. Sometimes, even the right intervention can save you from a lot of trouble.
But the only question that mattered was a simple one: is the risk of scrutiny worth letting down someone who's always been there for you?
You Get What You Give
Have you ever heard the cliché, "you get what you give?"
Like the quote
It's one we should think about more often because it teaches us to step outside of ourselves and think for a moment, "how would I want to be treated?"
And I decided I wanted to support my Dad like he always did for me because that's what people who care for each other do.
"You good?" he asked when I returned to the call, his voice a little tight with concern.
"Dad. I do have one question."
"Are you happy again?"
I smiled. If the quote I loved so much was true, that meant my Dad was happy, and knew a lot more about love than me.
And while a piece of me wanted to say so much more, to break down all awkward possibilities of our visit, I took a pass. I'd deal with it all to see him live his life without apology, the way I've been trying to live my own, and as we all should.
"Then I'm looking forward to meeting her."
I'm sure it won't be too bad, I thought, heading to the closet to pack a go-bag for the trip ahead. And if it is, at least I have another excuse to day drink on Thanksgiving.