I am not sure what made family such a strong thing with me. I was kind of the black sheep growing up. At the age of 15, I left my family of four sisters and three brothers and hitch hiked to Houston, Texas (From Niagara Falls, NY). It was a very wild time in my life, experimenting with drugs and breaking other laws. I don’t remember how long I was away from home, but I became closer to the people I met in Houston then my own family.
It could have been the fact that when while 18 years old, I was arrested and sent to the country jail. My Dad refused to come bail me out. My public defender had me believing that I would have to wait until I saw the judge before I could even think about leaving jail, and that even depended on whether he could get me off with a slap on the wrist.
After about a week, I was released from jail. I asked how did that happen, thinking my Dad decided I had been in there long enough. I was told my sister Vicki had bailed me out.
Maybe it was after I joined the Army and had a very tearful departure when I left home. It was at this point when I discovered my parents really loved me. They were crying, I was crying. We were a blubbering mess. I remember during the enlistment process, my Dad was so interested at what options I had open to me. He kindly asked if he could meet with the recruiter and ask some questions. I had no problem with that. In fact, without showing it, I was happy that he wanted to involve himself.
Maybe it was while during Basic Combat Training, I got news that my father was in ICU and they had requested through the Red Cross that I be allowed to come home to visit. I have a story about a feeling I had that very day about my Dad….another Blog. I was told to pack a few things and that I was being given a 3 day leave to go see my Dad. I was an emotional mess the entire way home.
…and maybe (probably) it was when I got married and my first child was born. I am sure this was the reason the importance of family fully bloomed in my mind. I was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX. It was December 1980. I had been there since May 1977 and I met/married my wife in 1979. Before that, I had no intention of reenlisting. It was the fact that I was getting married that made me realize that I was now responsible for the life of someone other than mine. This feeling only multiplied with the birth of my oldest son.
Mary Ann, my first wife blessed me with three children. Chuck, the oldest, then Chesney who was born in Germany in 1983 and finally Dustin who as it turned out was born at Ft. Hood, as was Chuck. He popped out in April 1985. A month early.
I had come to discover that the term ‘unconditional love’ among humans only existed between parents and their children. I am sure others would argue this point, but I believe that through thick and thin, right or wrong, good or bad, a parent will ALWAYS love their child….or at least they should.
This is the way I was and have been ever since the birth of my first. Things changed throughout the years, but this rule always stood firm with me. What changed? Well, the break up of not just my first marriage, but my second one as well. Details of those events in my life are another blog or six.
When my first wife and I split and without going into a lot of details, I ended up a single parent, in the Army with three children under the age of 9. This situation ended my 13 year career in the Army as a soldier. I was being discharged due to the inability to perform my duties due to parenthood. (Actual verbiage on my DD-214).
By the time the Army finalized the procedures required to discharge me, I had met and started a relationship with Rebecca who would become my second wife about 8 months later. The reason I married her was because I was offered a chance to get back into an Army Reserve Unit in NJ and I could not accept the position as a single parent. Was there love between Rebecca and I? I guess there were strong feelings, but we both understood the importance of my staying with the military.
What I had not mentioned yet, is that Rebecca also had a daughter (Meagan) who was one year (almost to the day) younger then my daughter Chesney. She became my daughter and my three children became Rebecca’s children. We have never used the term ‘step’ when discussing our relationship. When we enrolled them in school, Rebecca was Mom and I was Dad (even though Meagan had a different last name then the rest of us). She became part of my family. Unconditional love can be used to describe the love I had for her. She WAS my daughter and it would be that way for the rest of my life.
Rebecca and I were married for a little over 12 years. Three of our children had graduated from high school and our youngest (Dustin) was a senior. I believe Rebecca felt it was time to move on and she did. We divorced in 2002 only because a woman I was seeing wanted to know she was seeing an unmarried man.
Unconditional love exists between parents and their children. But…not between mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, etc. There are always conditions. Staying faithful, respectful, etc. Once the love diminishes in a relationship, sometimes there is no recovery.
Now, when it comes to family, I have to also bring up the point of ‘in-laws.’ Even though Mary Ann and I divorced in 1989, I still consider her brother and sisters and her sisters spouses as my in-laws. I consider their children as my nieces and nephews. Same goes for Rebecca’s siblings. I may not LIKE all of them, but it will never change that they are family to me. I guess in a minor sense, I will always consider my ex-wives as family, of sorts, but a divorce is a divorce.
From 2002 – 2008, I had a couple of relationships with women who had children of there own from a previous marriage. These did not last for one reason or another, but I have always felt a sense of being a parent to their children, even though we have both moved on. I love their children. I constantly seek updates on how they are while trying to avoid contact with their mother directly. I keep photos of all of them in a directory on my computer and in some photo albums. There are good memories to be sure, but there are unsettling memories as well. Mostly of the relationship between their mother and I.
In 2007, when my last relationship ended, I went home to western NY where it all began and decided I was done with relationships. I told my sister Donna that I was done. …and so it was until I met Francia online in 2008. She was living with her parents in Camaligan, Philippines and had a 2 year old son Nathan who was born on 17 July 2005. In fact, Nathan had his 3rd birthday shortly after we met and I got to know them both quite well utilizing Yahoo, Skype and email.
Without going into a lot of detail about my courtship, I just want to describe the immediate love I felt for not only Francia and Nathan, but all of her family as well. Her mother is a very cautious woman whose first thoughts of me were negative. This was surely because of her love for her daughter and grandson and the threat I posed as the man who wanted to marry her daughter.
Her Father and I had a chat online where I asked him if it would be OK for me to become more than just friends with Francia. Her mother stood in the background with her arms crossed and a worried look on her face. We chatted for about an hour while Francia translated for both of us. I made her dad laugh several times and when it was all said and done, he gave me permission to ‘court’ his daughter, Keep in mind, I was turning 50 years old that year and Francia was going to be 31. I felt I needed her parents permission to pursue anything more than friendship.
So, because of health problems, the Veteran’s Administration decided to ‘advise’ me not to consider a trip from NY to the Philippines for two reasons, my health and the treatment I was under and the availability of medical treatment should I need it while over there. This was going to make planning this very difficult. The USCIS had very strict stipulations when trying to document a relationship when issuing a VISA to the Filipinos wanting to come to the US. The best way to do this would be to go to the Philippines, take photos, document our relationship and make USCIS believe there is no ‘hanky-panky’ going on in an attempt to skirt their process.
So, I went to a civilian Doctor who after hearing the situation, told me to ‘Go.’ He said, if you can find the daily medications I needed and since there is a VA clinic available in Manila, he saw no reason why I could not go. I decided to make the trip. I went to the VA in Buffalo and told the pharmacy there that I would be leaving for a while and asked for 60 days worth of my medication. They obliged. I also set it up that any future medications be sent by mail to my current address…(where my sister could forward them to me in the future).
I remember being on Skype with Francia when I told her that I was planning to come over there. She applauded. She was happy. She brought Nathan to the computer and told him. He was only three, but he appeared to be happy. I began to feel the excitement myself.
I checked the price of air fare and arranged for my ticket. I asked Franzie to look around the city for a hotel room or any other accommodations so that I have a place to stay for the 45 days or so that I would be there. She went and then emailed my photos of a couple of places. We decided that I would stay at an ‘Apartel’ (Apartment Hotel combined). It had two bedrooms and bathroom with a kitchen and was furnished including TV. It would cost about $23 a night. Everything fell into place.
I arranged for a private car service to take us (Pop, Ma, Francia, Nathan and myself) from Manila to Naga City where I would be staying and Francia and Nathan were going to stay with me there during my visit. This gave us time to talk. Her mother was there everyday to cook for Nathan and take care of Nathan while Francia and I brooded over the many documents required to request a VISA for her to come to the US. It wa about this time that Francia and I decided to get married while I was there. I am not sure her mother understood this at first, but after about a week, Francia and her Mother had a conversation in Tagalog which I could not understand.
Afterwards, Francia explained to me that she offered for me to come stay at their house so I would not be spending the money on the Apartel. I looked at her Mom and asked her if she was really OK with that. Francia translated and her mother nodded, with a smile. I felt really good.
So, the next day, I paid for the time I was at the Apartel and moved over to my future in-laws house. I had met her sister and her sister’s children at the Apartel, but I had not met her two brothers. I never felt more welcome in my life. Don and Joseph, her brothers, were very happy to meet me. Her sister, Jeanny with her four children Exekial, Jameel, Jemina, and Emanuel, were the most pleasant people to meet. I felt very comfortable.
On 2 December 2008, we got married by the Mayor of Camaligan in my in-laws living room. I learned that with this family, I gained 5 Uncles, 3 Aunts, their spouses and their children as family members. I met many of then during the 11 months I stayed in the Philippines and as far as Nathan goes, he has had my unconditional love since the day I asked him to ‘pull my finger’ via Skype before I went over there the first time. As for all of my nieces and nephews, many, many cousins and new found Aunts and Uncles, not to mention Francia’s grandmother, they all have my love.
What is family? Family is the most important aspect of anyone’s life. Of all the titles I have held in life, military, civilian, son, cousin, brother, nephew, uncle, and father, being a Father has been the greatest title of my life.