Sunday, November 11, 2007

Success is the Best Revenge

The first time my mother chose a father for me she didn't do the greatest job. She picked an over zealous, religious fanatic with a bad temper who wanted to name me Robin Sue. He hit her. He was crazy. She left him. When I was nine he remarried a woman as equally zealous, self-righteous and angry as he was. The last time I saw him I was eleven and this year, just like every other year, I didn't get a birthday card from him.

The second time my mother chose a father for me she knew she had to do a better job. She was older and she'd learned her lesson and this time she knew that whoever she ended up with had to love me as much as he loved her, but for most step-parents that's not the easiest thing to do. It's almost like people are wired to dislike and reject the children of their partners. Animals do this all the time. If you watch one of the Discovery Channel shows you'll always see one female gorilla beating up on the children the male gorilla had with other female gorillas. I've seen it with lions. I've seen it with humans. I definitely saw it with my stepmother, who made it blatantly obvious every single day that I was from a vastly inferior gene pool, that I hadn't been brought up right, that I came from trash, my mother was a criminal and that it was pretty much too late for me to be anything other than a greasy headed, jelly shod, trailer park princess. Her kids were going to learn to play the violin when they were three and were all going to be prodigies who spoke Japanese and they'd all end up graduating from Ivy League Universities. Mind you, 2o something years later none of this has happened and none of them have even gone to college at all, but I teach it - me who was expected to end up a hooker with illegitimate kids and on welfare. Go figure.

On my parent's first date, which my mother went on reluctantly, they went to a restaurant that is a few blocks away from where they live now. Back then it was glamorous and had live music. Now, it's known as the place that's open really late and they don't have live music, but they do have decent pizza and they'll deliver at 2am. My parents probably had something fra diavlo, and while they were eating it, my father, who was not yet my father, and just some weird Israeli guy that my mother didn't really want to be on a date with at all, began to tell her in great detail all about how he wanted to have a little girl. He described exactly how she would have dark hair and big dark eyes and how she would be smart and funny and how he would love her more than anything else in the entire world. At that point he didn't know that my mother had a child, and he went on to talk about how when his wife had the baby that he would be there in the hospital to deliver it with his own hands, and when he said that two things were going through my mother's mind. The first thing was that she was suddenly enjoying this date and wanting to be on it a lot more and the second thing she thought was that this was just awful because now that she was starting to like this guy she was realizing that their being together would be impossible. Number one, he was talking about how his wife had to be Jewish. My mother barely even knew what Jewish meant. Number two, my mother couldn't have any more children after me and here this wonderful man was telling her how he wanted to deliver his own babies. Sadly, if he stayed with her that would never be possible. She almost got up and left right then and there, but she started to miss me and took out a picture of me she had in her purse to show him. I was about three or four.

"That is what my daughter is going to look like," my father said.

Then he asked her to tell him all about me, which she did and somewhere in the story she mentioned that my birthday was November 10th.

"How funny, " my dad said, "My birthday is November 9th."

A chill went through my mother. It was a sign. The Universe was telling her through coincidences that this man was her daughter's real father, although that seemed more than impossible. What kind of man would want a woman who had a kid that she didn't even have custody of, especially when she couldn't even bear him any children of his own?

Then she told him the story of how I had been taken from her, how her ex-in-laws tricked her and how she was left poor and alone and had to deal drugs to get enough money to get a lawyer to help get me back, and how she was having no luck at all in her battle. By the end of the story my father was silent and she knew that this was her last date with this guy. She was too much of a mess, she wasn't Jewish and it could never, ever work.

"I will help you get your daughter back," my father said, "I will help you do everything and anything so that you can be with her again."

And that is exactly what he did, although it took a very, very long time and great suffering for everyone involved.

My father risked being disowned by his family. He gave up having biological children. He moved to Millpond, which is not the nicest place in the world if you're foreign and Jewish, and he endured so much pain, humiliation, and aggravation to create a most unlikely family when everyone told him he was a dreamer, he was crazy, he was irresponsible, had betrayed his family, that he was wasting his time and that it would never work so he should just give up. But he didn't give up and he didn't give in and now, almost 30 years later we're laughing and happy and still making it work. And believe me, there are times when all of us together and separately thought maybe everyone else was right.

But success is the best revenge.

My father has been repeating that since I was eleven and we were finally together for good and leaving the small minds of Millpond behind.

"Don't think about those idiots - those kids in school who were mean, the people who hurt you and left you and made fun of you and the people who told you you could never be anything. Screw them and remember that one day you'll laugh at them all because success is the best revenge," he told me.

He said it when I was an outcast in middle school. He said it when boys rejected me. He repeated it when I left college at 18, completely dejected and feeling like a failure. He told it to me again when Evil-Ex set off his atomic bomb and vaporized my life. He said it when the lawsuit arrived and when I lost my house and he said it to me every single night as I cried alone in my parents' guest room.

Success is the best revenge.

And suddenly I started saying it to myself. And then I started believing it and realizing that success for me was actually possible and that even though I wasn't anything then, that my not being anything didn't mean I had to stay a loser. It meant I had a clean slate to write a new story and that new story was going to be the story of a vibrant, creative, happy, smart, fulfilled. strong, assertive woman. I could be a success.

So then I started doing all kinds of things to help me become successful. I got healthy and realized that I was in control of creating my destiny. I learned to sail boats, I made mosaic hearts, planted gardens, traveled alone across the world and I went to school. I started writing. I quit a job that made me feel badly about myself and got one that didn't. I told scores of jerk men who didn't appreciate me, to kiss my round, white ass until I found one who did appreciate me. After seven years I'm still writing my success story and every year I do more and more things to improve myself, repeating all the while, the greatest lesson my dad taught me.

Success is the best revenge.

Together, we've gotten a lot of revenge on a lot of people, because we are a success, in spite of all the horrible things people have said and done to our non-traditional, somewhat eccentric family.

So this year on our birthday weekend, I want to thank my father for choosing me, because he did, and most parents really don't willfully choose their children as he did with me, and I want to thank my mother for giving me the best birthday present of all - a real father.


kay said...

Through the tears
I thank you for this.
kay lee

Miss Kitty said...

God bless you, SNM, on your birthday as you realize yet again that you beat the odds--beat what everyone had to say about you--and became a happy and successful woman. Happiest of (belated) birthdays to you. Myrtle Mae and all the kitties say hello and Mazel Tov.

Anonymous said...

one of your best posts to date. Thanks -- and Happy Birthday.

kerry said...

I'm a reader you don't know, but this made me cry.

And you are absolutely right that we are in control of what we make of ourselves. Congratulations on writing yourself a success story!

Anonymous said...

You really seem to be such an amazing person. I love reading your blog and wish this daily post could continue!!

KSO said...

wow, i dont know how to respond, my eyes are all watery, i have great respect for u, and think you are a great writer


Morrigoon said...

Happy (belated) birthday!

chasmyn said...

Add me to the list of teary readers. I love these stories most of all.

Hilary said...

Add mine to the pool of tears. What a beautiful, touching and open post. What a wonderful man your father is. How lucky you are to have each other.

lottie said...

I love your stories, I do, but this one... this one is forever my favourite. Happy (belated) Birthday.

Charlotte said...

Your dad is an amazing guy. You are so blessed.

MP said...

Stories of your dad are my favorite. You are very lucky to have found each other. I'm so happy your mom went on that date!!

Happy Birthday!

Ranx said...

I love the way you write about your parents. Your love for them is apparent without making them idols or making them appear fools. That's a delicate balance and i really enjoy the way you do it. Well done

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful and inspiring post this is. Happy birthday, and all the very best to you and your family.

NicoleinAZ said...

AW, Im' totally crying right now! Happy Birthday Papa SNM!

Leonesse said...

I wish I had a daddy like that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this. You have no idea (ok, you do). I crossed your blog by mistake. I'm actually in the opposite situation and have an abusive dad. I've held a grind against him for so long, only to realize that I've been wasting my efforts and health spiting him. I should let him be, and start being concerned with my well-being, because in the end, I'll be the one smiling. You've given me more in this single post than 85% of the self-help books I've read.

Anonymous said...

I needed to be inspired. Thank you!

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