Friday, January 22, 2010

Ben, My Favorite Step-Father

Mary Lou and Ben circa 1962
Can you tell my mother has a flair for drama?

Mary Lou, me, my sister, Candy, and Ben, our third step-father at Six Flags Over Texas. That boy in the back was checking my sister out, we don't know him. I was twelve and my sister is fifteen years old.

Looking back over my life, I never imagined that I would marry a blond headed man. The tall, dark and handsome ones were my type. My father was dark, handsome, but not tall. He had left our mother for another woman when I was three. Perhaps looking for a man that was similar to my father's features would bring him back to me if only briefly in the face of my Mr. Perfect man.
I was always looking for my dad everywhere I went. Constantly searching out faces that resembled our father. Looking for his eyes. Desperately seeking him. While we lived in the same city, he never called and the last time I saw him, I was nine years old. His new family had taken his time and attention away from his first family and we felt abandoned. But we never stopped searching.

I really never even thought about blond haired men with blue eyes, until our mother married a new man. He would become our third step-father. He was blond haired with the bluest eyes you ever saw. Ben was his name, he was tan from his work as a linesman and had a kind and gentle way about him. He drove the most beautiful blue convertible car with big fins. How he came to marry our mother was a surprise to us. Mary Lou never settled down with just one man; there were many men in her life and ours, too. Ben now had an instant family. Not many men wanted a woman with kids. Those were the men the we did not like.

Often, when we did not like Mary Lou's boy friends, my sister and I would put our plan in action. Our one objective was to get rid of the obnoxious man by our terrible behavior. It worked every time. A few times it did not work out to our liking, but this time was different. Ben was persistent, and we found ourselves with a new step-dad and moving into a real home. Not the ugly,cold and grim apartments we had lived in before, but a house with a yard. Life was good with Ben.

This was the first time in a long while that we were a family, if only briefly. Ben traveled with his work and came home on weekends. We had barbeque's, went swimming, traveled to meet his family all over Texas. My sister and I did not know what an extended family was like because Mary Lou was an only child. This was a new and foreign experience for us. So this is what having family is like? One of his nieces was a little girl that was about ten years old, Ina, was her name. She sang I-N-A all the time. There was a song about an insurance company named INA. She would sing and dance a little bit like she could not be still. My sister and I were city girls and had little in common with these little country girls that had even less than we had. We went all of Texas to meet his family and they us. Little did I know that from those childhood introductions would one day years later help us overcome our sorrow.

For awhile our mother was sober and off prescription drugs for several years, but she still did crazy things like getting all holy on us. She tried to save all sinners. We were just children, we weren't sinners. Why she could not just leave us alone? Always pushing us away. Why didn't she work on herself first. Maybe later when she finished her own self-improvement and finding God she could save us. It was all or nothing, or nothing at all. Bazaar extremes and bad behavior were her trademarks. Life with our mother was not easy and she knew how to pick you to pieces. She did not want to be our mother, but rather our sister. Good grief! She had to be the center of attention.

Ben stayed married to Mary Lou until I was nineteen and in college. We had gone through a lot with Ben. Mary Lou was admitted to a long term facility for her addictions. My sister and I lived alone that summer. We were 16 and 18 years old. While Ben worked down in Florida at Cape Canaveral. It wasn't soon after that Ben came home less and less. We saw the writing on the wall and knew Mary Lou had lost another chance at love. I felt so forsaken like an unwanted kitten on the side of the road. I am not even sure I can aptly describe this feeling that had become all to familiar. The farewells and the leaving was a constant reminder of not being wanted. Repeated over and over for many years. Never feeling worthy of being loved.
One day, I received the call from Ben telling me that he was leaving our mother, Mary Lou. He felt really sad about leaving us and I could tell by the sound of his voice he was sorry he could not make it work out. Politely, I thanked him for the call, wished him well and said good-bye, once again, good-bye.

Trying desperately to just put this out of my mind. Every few weeks, Ben would call. He was a little tipsy, but always sorry for leaving. I thought that bothered him more than he even knew. We were used to it, the men coming and leaving. He always ask about Mary Lou. The conversation was cordial, but revealing little information. It was his check in call to make sure we were alright.

Every so often I would get that drunk call in the middle of the night from Ben. For the first couple of years, I just would listen to his liquid sorrow that spilled forth from his night of imbibement. His pain was palpable, but I was sad, too and so I listened.

Some how during all those many calls we became true friends. I liked Ben, even when he was teetering on and off sobriety, even after he left our mother. He traveled all around and yet still the calls came. He came to meet our first born son, Brian. He would drive for hours and as soon as he got here he would play ball with Brian. He also came when Hunter was born. He was still like family to me even more so than my mother. My mother never came for the kids births or for anything when I needed her, but Ben came. My own father abandoned us, but not Ben.

It would take me years to realize that I had married a blond haired blue eyed man that was like Ben. Not that tall, dark and handsome Mr. Perfect man that I always yearned to marry. Perhaps all those years ago,while my mother was never satisfied with me, Ben did the one thing my mother could not. In my mother's eyes, I felt imperfect, but Ben never tried to change a thing about me. He loved me for me and not what my mother wanted me to be. Ben visited my family a lot. He was the grand father my kids never had. He spent quality time with us.

He mentored me as an adult, encouraged me to bridge the gap with my estranged father. I learned how to forgive and let go. Ben was there for us when we found out months later that our father had died. He came with us to say our farewells at the foot of our fathers grave. He never judged our father because he understood what we were feeling. I learned what real family was about and what it meant to be a family. So many lessons learned while Ben was alive.

Even in his death, I learned how much he loved us girls. We went to his funeral in Vernon,TX. We were listed as his children on the funeral program. I can't even begin to tell you what that meant to us. It made me feel whole and loved. His family lifted us up with unconditional love. They had so many wonderful stories to tell us that Ben had shared with them. Photos and memories were shared in the Dairy Queen in that little town. I took my photos as well to share our stories of Ben with his family. I have never felt so touched. This beautiful family embraced us, we caught up on one another's lives. Some how they made it better. Their faith surrounded us.

Ben's sister ask me "Did you ever wonder why Ben did not have children?" Well, yes I did wonder why. She said"Because you and your sister were his children." I fell apart in tears and total surrender to this thought that a man not even related to us loved us more that our own mother and father did. This quite humble man taught me so much without saying a word. He was my best friend and I still miss him so very much. His family were good people and they showed without words just what love means.

I will never forget Ben. Never. He was the kind of man that inspires one to do good for others. I am who I am because of Ben. What a gift he gave me, when I least expected it.


DeEtta said...

Pam, I needed a tissue while reading that. Ben was you dad for sure. Thanks for sharing that beautiful, sad, and happy story.

jennifer said...

Oh Pam. This was a touching post. I'm so glad that you were able to know how much you meant to Ben.

Aphra said...

That is really so beautiful- that you for sharing.

Finding Pam said...

DeEtta, I cried too because I miss him so much. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.

Finding Pam said...

Jennifer, sometimes I miss him so much. There is so much more that I could say about Ben, but I will save it for another day.

My son has step-children and I keep telling him that teenagers don't appreciate anything. I know they will later in life.

Our Saints are playing and it will be a miracle if they win.

Finding Pam said...

Hey Aphra, It is so nice to read a comment from you.

♥Mimi♥ said...

What a wonderful post. You gave me chills. My dad and I were never, ever close. He always disapproved of each and every thing I ever did or attempted to do in this life of mine. When he passed away he and I still had not reached any comfortable level of appreciation. He knew that I dearly loved him. He never once told me that he loved me.

So, you were very lucky to have Ben - a man who demonstrated his love for you. Not everyone gets that in life. Nope, they don't.

Finding Pam said...

Mimi it is so sad to think of how much approval we desire from our parents.

I tried to give my sons all that my mother could not give.

Unconditional love. I think we did pretty good.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!

Just Be Real said...

Pam, this is an ever so touching story. My heart cries. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

First of all my friend I hope you are feeling better. I'm so sorry you were sick. Nothing worse. Take care of yourself. This was a wonderful post. Ben sounds like a wonderful man and I'm so glad he was your dad. Get better soon :)

crochet lady said...

Sounds like you had a great man in your life just when you needed it.

Chickie said...

What a wonderful man. I am so glad that you all found each other because it seems like he was someone that did a world of difference for you and your sister.

And did you mean to make me bawl like a baby? ;)

Finding Pam said...

JBR, thanks for stopping by and commenting. This was good for me to write about. I cried too.

Thom, I am better now. I hope you have a good trip to the mainland. I am blessed to have had Ben in my life.

Crochet Lady, it was not always easy, but Ben made it so much better for us. I appreciate your comment.

Awh, Chickie, I really did not mean to make you cry. You have so much empathy, I appreciate your friendship so much.

Did your cat come back?

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness this was so heartfelt and it made me tear up too. I know exactly how you felt when you thought you had a 'family'.. and all the substance abuse issues and all.. We can learn a lot about ourselves as adults by looking at our childhoods. Somebody did something right and you are a very strong person to become the wonderful adult that you are...hugs..Michelle

Finding Pam said...

Michelle, I am really still a work in progress with my childhood. Sometimes, it sneaks back up on me and catches me totally off guard. That's when I have to write about it.

Thank you for stopping by.

Debra said...

I've enjoyed visiting your blog this morning. Your Mom and mine sound a lot alike, so I so identified with this post profoundly. I'll be back to visit!

Blessings, Debra

PS: We love the same footbaall team!!!

Geaux Saints!!! Who dat!!

Finding Pam said...

Thank you Debra for stopping by and commenting. I am finding out that a lot of us had the same type of mother.

I will come by your blog later tonight.

Love them Saints. We are from Louisiana. Geaux Saints!

Nessa said...

This was such a heart warming story. Thanks for sharing it with us.


She Writes said...

Pam, you have me in tears. Beautiful man. Beautiful story. The end got me.

Finding Pam said...

Amy, thank you for the lovely comment. I appreciate it so much because you are such a wonderful writer.

I hope all is good with you.

GunDiva said...

What a wonderful tribute! My step-father has also been more of a father than my actual father has been.

Finding Pam said...

Gun Diva, thanks so much for leaving a comment. It is always nice to meet new people. Thank you for following.

Anonymous said...

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I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as technology further develops, the possibility of downloading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I dream about every once in a while.

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Anonymous said...