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Confessions of the Other Mother Part 7

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Part 3.

Arriving When the Show ALREADY HAs Started: A Lesbian aStepmoma.

Family of the Heart.

Mary Cardaras.

A New Life.



Ours was a nontraditional relationship begun at the tumultuous conclusion of a traditional marriage that had produced two children. Fran and her sons were wounded, hurt and depleted. They had been abandoned by a man who had been a husband for seven years, a father for three, and emotionally absent for many.

When we met, trust was an issue. Bonding was an issue. How would they be able to let anyone close enough so that they could learn to love again? I was confident that I could win the hearts and minds of the boys, because, being children, they were emotionally resilient. I would be true to my word and true to them, devoted, dependable in both the fun times and the more serious times of life. Fran was a diae'erent issue. Not only had her marriage failed, but being with a woman meant embarking on one of the biggest challenges of her life. It was a question not only of trusting enough to love again, but of seeing a partner in someone of the same s.e.x.

The prospect of us, two womena"two Greek womena"raising her sons, ages two and three, was made an issue by both our families; it was questioned by my family and aggressively challenged by hers. We suae'ered unspeakable heartache as her family lashed out, declaring our relationship invalid, ridiculous, and embarra.s.sing, a betrayal of everything they had worked for and believed in. In their eyes, I was nothing more than an interloper, an evil force whose goal was to prevent the chance of any reconciliation or repair of a family, which, according to them, might be mended if Fran learned to behave like a wife.

My friends and some members of my family advised me, in no uncertain terms, to run from a relationship with Fran before I got in atoo 149.

deep.a One of my favorite aunts reminded me how the situation would inevitably turn out. aYour heart will be broken, Mary,a she said crustily, always a no-nonsense realist.

My parents, on the other hand, thought Fran was alovelya and the children aadorable.a My mother asked about Franas marriage and was concerned that it put me in a vulnerable position; she thought chances were that Fran would return to her husband. Still, she reminded me that I routinely took the road less traveled. Follow your heart and your instincts, was her sentiment: aYou have always had a good sense of things, Mary.a I listened carefully to everyoneas concerns, then did what I believed was right for me and best for Fran and the kids. Not at all oblivious to the seriousness of the situation, and completely realistic about the pitfalls, risks, and potential for disaster, I forged ahead. I was in love with Fran and becoming increasingly attached to her sons. I decided to get to the business of mending broken hearts and creating a new family.

My Previous Life.

This notion of consciously creating family is an essential part of who I am. In 1955 I was born to a poor, single teenage Greek girl in Athens who, shortly after giving birth, dropped me oae' at the public orphanage, hoping to erase my very existence. I imagine that, making the rounds through two orphanages, two foster homes, and then to my new Greek family in the United States, I had to learn quickly to love the ones I was with.

I was breastfed by a host of womena"wet nursesa"who had an abundance of milk. Could that have been the genesis of my love for women and hence my s.e.xual ident.i.ty as a lesbian today? I have wondered. I became attached to these women, who provided the softness of a bloated breast that yielded sweet, warm milk while holding me and rocking me to sleep every day. That must be what heaven is like! The point is that I got what I needed. I was an orphan who was held and fed and aloveda by strangers who had extra to give.

In one of the orphanages, I was in a room filled with dozens of babies. We slept two to a crib. On the day the couple from Gary, Indiana, came to ababy shop,a everyone was asleep . . . except me. As the couple surveyed each crib and slowly went down each aisle peeking at the snoozing infants, I propped myself up, tiny arms extended each time they pa.s.sed. My mother always says, We didnat choose you so much as you chose us.

I donat know any other way. Needing, wanting, choosing, I came to an extended family of Greek aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins who became mine, not because I was born to them, but because I became theirs. No one treated me any diae'erently except, I suppose, to single me out as someone a bit more special. I was the baby who came from Greece on an ocean liner. I had gone right to the waiting arms of my new father and from that moment until the day he died, I could not have been more his.

Family, as I know it, is a creation, a product of someone elseas deliberate choosing. Itas like making a quilt. You take pieces from other places and sew them into a unified whole. So it was with my parents, so it is today with Fran and the boys. There is a poem in my baby book. It is yellow-stained and tattered, a clipping from an old newspaper, stapled to the first page. In part it says, aNot flesh of my flesh not bone of my bone, you didnat grow under my heart, but in it.a As an adopted person, Iave long known that family is what you say it is. Adopted people sometimes have a sense about families that have come together by choice. We know that we were wanted. We understand situations that take eae'ort to create. We know that the road is not always easy, but the alternativea"choosing not to bond, not to trusta"can be a lonely life, a perpetual search for inclusion, for belonging to someone who will love us back. We may not look like anyone we attach ourselves to, but we are hungry for permanence at home. Fourteen years ago, I decided it didnat matter how I came into the lives of Fran and her sons, but how I behaved once I entrenched myself in their world.

I was thirty-seven years old and had just come out to my parents a"who had known all along, but didnat want to know, that I was a lesbian. In my mind, I suppose, it was another test of their love for me. Biologically speaking, my s.e.xual orientation was not their afault.a So what would they do with confirmation that their adopted daughter is a lesbian?

I grounded the whole situation in my love for a woman who had children and with whom, really for the first time, I intended to spend the rest of my life. It was their choice to stick by me or not.

I call it my Moonstruck moment. It was after midnight. I issued the ultimatum to my mother alone. I had made a special trip back to Indiana to do it.

She just looked at me. aIt would not have been my choice for you, Mary, but we will always love you,a she said. aLetas go tell your father.a aMom, itas midnight.a But we went upstairs just the same, her leading the way to their bedroom, shu~ing along in her slippers and nightgown.

As in the movie of the same name, my mother switched on the light. Dad was dead asleep. His eyes just flipped open.

aWho died?a he asked flatly.

aNo one died, Ted. Mary is a lesbian and she has a girlfriend,a p.r.o.nounced my mother.

I winced.

My father rose from his bed in his boxer shorts, and we followed as he went to the kitchen, lit a cigarette, and said, aWhat? This is why Iam up at midnight? Okay, good for you.a He patted my cheek. aIs she pretty?a aYes, sheas pretty, Dad.a aGood. See you all in the morning. Amelia, Jesus Christ, are you coming to bed?a That was it.

A New Life and Family.

My new family with Fran and the boys came as naturally to me as being a lesbian. I always knew I wanted children. I also had always known that I did not want to bear them. (The mere thought of pregnancy and labor makes me cringe.) Given our societyasa"and at times my owna"tendency to a.s.sume that blood relations are somehow superior and more real than other types of personal connections, it is startling, perhaps, that a person who has never known a blood relative would not want to create one. The idea has given me pause many times in fifty years. I hear the thoughts and opinions of others who talk about lineage and the importance of ancestral ties, but it is hard for me to relate to them. I was happy in my new role with another womanasa"my partnerasa"two sons.

Once the ties of Franas marriage were severed and we decided to be together, the plan was to move to a new city. It would be a fresh start and a new beginning. I quit a good job as a.s.sistant news director of a local television station in Philadelphia and took a year oae' to take care of the children, while Fran, who had left a career she absolutely loved when the boys were born, looked forward to having her life and her career back.

Atlanta was the city. Fran was giddy about the prospect of returning to journalism and being around friends and colleagues in the news business. She finally felt the freedom of someone who had dislodged herself from an unhappy home life. She freed herself, by her own admission, for her sons, for her sanity, and to reclaim herself. I wanted the experience and responsibility of full-time parenthood and part-time employment. From the time I got my masteras degree at Northwestern, I had lived for my career as a journalist, working in six major markets in ten years, getting promoted at every stop I made. I was on the fast track, but there had to be something more. I realized that mine had become a rather selfish existence. I longed for the experience of living and loving for others. I wanted to have people of my own to take care of.

But who would I be to this family? Was I a stepparent? Was I a temporary, pa.s.sing-through lover who wanted merely to aexperiencea life with kids? Would I have the stamina for all the resta"parenthoodas heavy lifting?

I have always detested the word stepparent because it implies something lesser, and a.s.suming a alessera role in the boysa lives never rang true for me. It was clear to me the minute I decided to make my home in Atlanta with Fran and her children that falling in love with a mother meant accepting her completely, kids and all. How were we to make a happy home if I did not accept that the relationship would include the raising of children? I took responsibility for the situation as it was. My commitment to Fran and her sons, theirs to me, and our willingness, all of us together, to trust in and bond with one another, meant giving them my all.

We became a family in Atlanta. We bought a home, which we loved and made our own. We became an active part of our neighborhood and community. The children made friends quickly and so did we.

The other parents at our sonsa school were for the most part tolerant baby boomers. At first they had fun trying to guess which boy came from which woman. They embraced us and we them. There was never a question about our being a lesbian couple raising children. They made it easy for us to be out. They made it easy for the children to be open about their nontraditional home life.

Still, we understood that if people were to be comfortable with us, we had to be comfortable with us as well. Others were taking their cues from us. We were conscious of not being afraid to open up and share our lives, and determined that the childrenas lives would be like other childrenas lives. It also was true that if the children were to be comfortable having two mothers, we had to set the example for them; we had to show them that we were not ashamed and were proud to be their parents together. Fran and I attended school meetings and partic.i.p.ated in cla.s.sroom activities. We invited other children to our home and our children were invited to theirs. We had people over for dinner.

We also sought to join a church. On some level we missed our Greek culture and we wanted to oae'er the boys a sense of their heritage. Fran also wanted the boys to have some kind of religious foundation. We found a Greek Orthodox church, like the ones we both had grown up in.

During our scattered few visits to the church, people were drawn to Fran and the children during the coae'ee hour. There were questions about them and how they would be involving themselves in the congregation. I felt like an appendage. Fran seemed insecure introducing me and so I faded into whatever background was available. The experience made me emotional and uncomfortable, something the children sensed. I was short with them and cranky after our few encounters there. Fran and I quarreled. I wanted to know why she excluded me. She wanted to know why I excluded myself. It became clear to both of us that, in trying to bring the children to a Greek church (which we had experienced in the past as a small, exclusive, and h.o.m.ophobic community), we were introducing a gaping disconnect between one part of their life and another.

In the end, we didnat go back. We decided to figure out the role of religion in our family later. (We never have.) We have explained to the boys that a church that doesnat allow the partic.i.p.ation of women, and that would neither acknowledge nor accept our family, is not one that we can support. Now older and more mature, they understand and support our decision to sample many churches. G.o.d can be found in many places, we have taught them, and what you define as spiritual is a very personal experience.

Carving Out My s.p.a.ce.

Since joining Fran and the boys, I have been asked on countless occasions whether I am the boysa real mother. And each time I have wondered, what does that mean? Real. Is my mother my real mother? For me she is. With or without the legal connection, she is the one who raised me. She was at my bedside through every illness. She attended every sporting event and play I partic.i.p.ated in. She met with my teachers and loved me even when I didnat make her proud. She fed and clothed me. Since she had once felt, before adopting her two children, that she would have to remain childless, she never took the blessing of children for granted. She always told me that I could not have been more her child; that whether or not she bore me had no influence on how deeply she would love me or how much she wanted to care for me. I feel the same way.

My mother was the one who taught me to understand that, had I been biologically connected to the boys, I could not love them more than I do todaya"that biology is not a measure of anything except DNA. My mother, the man I called dad, and my brother, Nick (who also was adopted), all belong to me.

I am not a biological mother, nor am I a legal parent. All I have are some papers I carry around, created by our wonderful lawyer and friend, which give me Franas permission to sign things, handle doctoras visits, and deal with teachers. That is all I have to prove I am someone to them.

Of course, we have wanted more. As Fran says, we want to make what is real also legal.

We have attempted a co-guardianship, which does not threaten the legal standing of the boysa father, only better protects the children. Their father is not involved at all in the boysa upbringing, and Fran travels. Often I am the sole parent responsible for them. In fact, Iave spent more time with them than anyone else in their lives. However, their father has several times refused to sign the co-guardian doc.u.ments. For now, we have chosen to leave the matter alone. The boys are angry about it. But the four of us know that in just a few years, when they each are eighteen years of age, I will be able to legally adopt them without their fatheras involvement or knowledge.

In the meantime, I have worked at making sure Fran and the boys know where my heart is at every turna"not because I have to, but because I want to. That is the beauty of our situation. Because there is no legal doc.u.ment requiring me to pay support or dictating on which days I can see the boys, should Fran and I part, we can appreciate what is real, the here and now.

And what might that be? Real was the time both boys had their tonsils out on the same day, at ages three and four: two little boys sharing a bedroom, crying in stereo in the middle of the night.

aIall go this time,a I said as I collected the Tylenol and the little plastic sippy cups. aLetas take turns going to them.a aWhy should you have to go?a Fran asked. aYouare not their mother.a aNo, I am not their mother. But I am their parent, or at least I want to be.a Playing Dad.

Fran did not want to exclude her ex-husband from the boysa lives. She told their father when they parted that all she wanted was for him to be a good father, to see the children as often as he could. He could take them whenever he could arrange it. He could come to Atlanta to share their experiences. He was completely welcome into their lives and so were his family. We expected them all to be engaged and very much involved.

Yet during the three years we lived in Atlanta, he came only one time. And once, for a period of over three months, he did not even bother to call. To this day, we have no idea why. The boys see or talk to his family only when their father arranges it. He communicates only with me, not with Fran, to arrange visits, which have become nonexistent over the last year. The boys quickly learned what they could expect from him: not much.

One spring in Atlanta, our youngest son, Nicholasa"he was about four years old at the timea"called his father to ask him to come to a special luncheon before Fatheras Day to honor all the dads. When his father replied that he had to work and could not attend, Fran and I suggested Nicholas ask an uncle, his grandfather, or one of our male friends. Instead he turned to me and asked if I would be there. My heart swelled. And on that hot afternoon, I sat proud as could be with all those men as we were honored and thanked for being good dads.

I began to serve on school committees and coach the boysa soccer teams. Despite remembering little about soccer, I was the head coach for Nickas team. We named it the Apollos. We werenat very good, but the boys had fun and the dads quickly became used to two facts: I was a woman, and I could run a team. I liked sports. I liked children. I had the support of the wives of those men, who liked that I had control of the team. They reminded their husbands to hold their tongues. For me it was not about winning, but about the kids having fun and learning about being members of a team. I hugged those kids more than I shouted at them to do one thing or another.

That first summer in Atlanta, we went to our community pool almost daily, and I taught the boys how to jump from the diving board and eventually to dive. I was there when the training wheels came oae' their first two-wheel bikes, when they scored their first goals in soccer, and when they got their first hits in baseball.

A New Community.

A few years later, after Fran and I had been together for about four years, Franas brother Leo was diagnosed with AIDS. Her parents had shunned him when he came out as gay, so when Leo came out again as sick and perhaps dying, he told them that unless they accepted his partner of five years, Bobby, they would not see him again. Period. Absolutely heartbroken that their son had an incurable and potentially lethal illness, they aaccepteda their son and his lover without hesitation.

But still, Fran and I were not allowed into the fold. Franas parents would not accept us and refused to come to our home. We were persona non grata. Though Fran always sent the children to family events, I was not allowed to attend and she refused to go without me. These included several weddings, one in which Nicholas was a ring bearer, and a huge seventieth birthday bash for her father. Leo and Bobby were welcomed like royalty.

There were other uncomfortable moments at which the boys were present, but they were too young to catch on to their grandparentsa prejudice. At an Easter dinner at a fancy restaurant, Franas parents let some dear friends of theirs think that I was the au pair. Her mother to this day introduces me as aFranas friend.a There is only one small picture of us in each of their two homes, which are filled with pictures of everyone in their lives.

So when Fran was oae'ered a job at CNNas London bureau, we considered leaving the country. As citizens of the European Union, we both had Greek pa.s.sports and were interested in the experience of living and working abroad. The boys could go to a neighborhood British school and I could attempt to freelance as a writer or work in a college as a journalism professor. We would keep the house in Atlanta and decide what to do with it and ourselves later, once we returned to the United States.

We made the move to London when the boys were ages six and seven. Upon enrolling them at a good public school, primarily filled with British and other international students and conveniently close to the house, we requested a conference with the headmistress. We wanted to let her know that we were a nontraditional family, and that the children needed to be treated with a certain degree of sensitivity because of it.

On the first day of school the schoolyard was filled with chattering parents. This is where we all waited until the school opened precisely at 8:00 am. Our first morning marked the tone for all the mornings to follow. In the fourteen months the boys attended this school, not one parent ever greeted us or talked with us on that playground. We always stood alone. I donat know that the boys noticed. They were already into the business of making friends, friends whose parents subsequently would include the boys in social activities and playdates at their homes. But our adult interaction was limited to mostly polite conversation as we shuttled the children back and forth. There was never anything deeper.

We supported all that the children were involved ina"plays, presentations, cla.s.s projects, and schoolwide eventsa"but there was a veil of separation that we would never conquer, even though the boys made friends with children from all over the world. Because we were there alone, strangers in a strange land, with no family nearby, London was the place where our family became strong. We traveled to Italy, France, Switzerland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The boys became savvy world explorers. Yet, despite our adventures and the wealth of visitors we happily hosted in London, our life across the pond was complicated.

Living in London was proving expensive. While Fran thrived at work, employment for me, a silver-haired soon-to-be-middle-age American lesbian, was not kind. I had work when I hustled it, but could not find a permanent job to save myself. Despite the golden pa.s.sport, alas, I was unmistakably American and there was a certain amount of prejudice that came my way. I applied for jobs at every single news organization in town and told them I was willing to do anything. I also oae'ered my services as a teacher. But work was spotty and unpredictable. It came and went. Although I was professionally disheartened, however, the boys and their lives kept me busy, engaged, and focused.

Meanwhile, Franas relationship with her parents began to thaw. Leo and Bobby had requested that we all spend a Christmas together in Londona"parents includeda"and they agreed. Fran and I knew it would be good for the boys, who needed extended family, and who also needed to see that their uncle and his partner, as well as their mother and I, were loved and accepted by family. The occasion was not completely comfortable, but we managed to enjoy one another, and the boys were delighted to have everyone in our home, spending time with everyone in and around London, which is even more charming at Christmastime than at other time of the year.

Finding Our Place for Family.

Winter turned to spring and summer finally came. I was exhausted working long hours at places that paid little money. We were having a great time, but we could not get ahead. Fran finally accepted that we had to go back home. Had we been successful, I think we would still be there. Though weave always been comfortable in European culture, there were the boys to consider; we felt they needed to be closer to extended family. This time I would find a job and she would follow me. We considered San Francisco, Chicago (near to my family in Indiana), Boston (where Leo and Bobby lived). If nothing else came through, Atlanta was still home.

It was Boston that panned out; I landed a job as the academic chair of a department at a small communications college. I would work with people in academia I both admired and could learn from. Leo and Bobby were ecstatic. Leo would have his sister in town, and they both would get to be full-time uncles and help us raise the boys.

We launched into gear. Fran went to Boston first to find a good school for the boys and an apartment for us to rent near it. Our new landlords never skipped a beat with regard to our two-mom household. As far as they were concerned we were a regular couple, married with children. The only thing they asked was if we planned on having any more: there was an issue with lead paint.

When Fran returned to London to close down the house and wrap up business at work, I flew to Boston to start my new job. She and the children would join me a week later, on the birthday of our older son, Harrison. That very day, just hours after they landed, we did what any self-respecting Bostonians with sons who like sports would do; we went to see the Red Sox play at legendary Fenway Park. The boysa undying allegiance to the Red Sox began that evening.

That first year in Boston was a time to remember. It seemed an idyllic place in which to raise children and to be completely ourselves. We were no diae'erent from any other family. There were plenty of aour kinda around, anyway, and there is a tolerance and acceptance in Boston that Iave not experienced to the same degree anywhere, ever. We got involved in our community and in our school.

The boys grew close to their uncles, who saw them at least once a week for dinner and came to their sporting events as often as possible. They were good and caring uncles who spent time getting to know the boys and spoiling them appropriately. Our boys were also very aware of their unclesa limitations. Leo had been fighting AIDS for years, and Bobby, although not symptomatic, was HIV positive and had to take care with his health.

Iall never forget the day in July when Leo, who for weeks had a chronic ache in his chest, finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor. The boys knew all about AIDS. They talked about it in school. They understood it was the cause of much discrimination and hate. They knew many gay men suae'ered. They knew their uncles could die from it, but they had also seen them vibrant and active.

So how do you tell two young boys that the uncle they adored would maybe leave them forever? When the boys came to the hospital after their games, sweaty and dressed in their dirty uniforms, Leo made a special eae'ort to get on his feet and walk the halls of Beth Israel Hospital, tubes hanging from both arms and bald from the chemo, so the boys might not feel so frightened. He promised Harrison that he would be there to see him turn ten and he did. We had a party in the waiting room of the hospital. He told Nicholas not to worry, that in the end he would be fine.

In the end, he would not be fine. While dozens of family members kept vigil at Leoas bedside in those final hours, I went home to tell the boys that Leo was very, very sick and would probably die. I tried to explain that we were lucky to have him in our lives and luckier still to have moved here to ahis towna to share his final year. What a gift that was, I said, struggling to find a bright light somewhere in the darkness of that moment. I looked at two angel-faced boys, one holding back all emotion, the other letting the tears silently fall from his big brown eyes.

This was life with children. We had always been honest with them about their father, about us, about life as gay people, about gay people who are sick, about prejudice and pain. Dying was a part of living. They would learn from experience.

We were so proud of them. They endured all the days of people coming and going, family coming from out of town, filling our house, the wake, the funeral, and a year later, a beautiful outdoor candlelit dinner in Provincetown to remember Leo after we spread his ashes in the bay, the house he loved in full view of the boat Bobby had chartered. The boys were able to grieve and were supported by all who loved them.

They demonstrated maturity beyond their years. I recall them at the wake, kneeling at the coan of their uncle at either side of their mom as she quietly spoke to them. I remember the giggling as they secretly put some Starburst candies in the breast pocket of Leoas suit jacket. The three of them used to enjoy Starbursts together, fighting over flavors. They wanted him to take some, wherever he was going.

But it was the compa.s.sion they displayed that was most impressivea" genuine compa.s.sion for their mother, who had lost a baby brother, and for their grandparents, who had lost a son. In the awfulness of those days there was also beauty.

A year later, on the evening we scattered Leoas ashes, many people spoke about him and how they would miss him, what he meant to them, and how he made them laugh. Nicholas, the one who had had the most diaculty with this death, the one who, in response to the loss, had become withdrawn and troubled, unexpectedly rose to his feet: he, too, had something to say.

On a boat at sunset, at nine years of age, he spoke in front of dozens of people. Extemporaneously, he talked about his uncle and what he had meant to him. aI just want to tell Uncle Leo that I love him,a he said, strong and clearly, aand that I will miss him and that I will never forget him. He taught us so much.a There was not a dry eye in the group. After he finished, he kissed his mother, his grandparents, and all his other auncles,a friends of Leo, who were part of our world. He was so poised and collected. From where had he gathered the strength . . . from where the courage to speak?

Camp Life.

Uncle Bobby is still in our lives, even though he has moved forward on one front and married a new love. For six years in a row, without failure or pause, he has gone to the boysa summer camp for aDadsa Weekend.a Fran and I selected this camp after a friend recommended it. Our friendas three children had gone there for eighteen years combined. We received applications and a video in the mail that showed us what the boys might enjoy and expect from summer in the Berkshires. The four of us sat in front of the television, eager and excited. The camp is a sleep-over camp. The boys would be gone for a month. No cell phones. No video games. No television. The great outdoors awaited them. Sports. Leadership-building activities, hiking, camping, boating, swimming, and the fellowship of other boys, men in waiting.

One portion of the video was devoted to aDadsa Day.a This was a day during Family Weekend when fathers came to share the experiences of the camp with their sons. Together we got quiet. The video ended. Silence. Very pregnant pause. Well . . .

Finally, Harrison turned to us and said, aWhat are we going to do, Mare? I donat think you can come.a aWell, no,a I said. aI canat come. That special day is for guys only.a But I was moved by the sweet gesture. He thought I should come.

aWhat about your dad?a Fran suggested, for the boysa sake.

They chimed, in unison, aNo.a I was surprised by this emphatic response; he was still their father, after all. Fran was not; to her it was inevitable. Her ex-husbandas consistent inconsistency and long absences in the boysa lives took the toll she had predicted. They had eventually simply lost interest in him.

We suggested male friends. G.o.d knows they had a host of men they called uncle. But there was only one uncle they wanted to take: Bobby.

Family is certainly who you say it is. For them it is Bobby.

Their gay uncle had the coolest SUV, from which they tailgated with the supply of gourmet food, goodies, drinks, and other supplies he brought to camp. Bobby set up the fanciest campsitea"new tent, color-coordinated sleeping bags, a French coae'ee press, and torches to mark their area, even though they werenat able to light them because of the woods all around.

Talk about queer eye for these straight guys! Bobby is in excellent shape. He looks like a model and moves like an athlete. He gave those other dads some real compet.i.tion on the field during the sporting activities. Dads with thinning gray hair and thickening paunches watched him and, without seeming obvious, tried to keep up with him, maybe even to emulate him.

When we arrived for the rest of Family Weekend with my mother, Bobby walked around with us, the unoacial mayor of the camp. Every man who pa.s.sed by had something to say to him. They shook his hand or gave him a high five, and most of the boysa friends and the counselors told them they hoped their adada was returning next year. He always did.

My Parents, My Family.

My mother and father have always been a presence in our lives. They came to visit us in Atlanta several times. They came to London, and since my father died, my mother comes to Boston twice a year and occasionally vacations with us. Nicholas began to call her yiayia years ago, which means grandmother in Greek. She has been to their baseball, football, and lacrosse games. She calls them her grandsons. Fran is her daughter, and she encourages us to marry.

The boys never really knew my father as well. They were young when he was healthy, and my parents lived halfway across the country. Because of his health, my mother traveled more than he. So I was surprised, when I broke the news of my fatheras death, how hard Nicholas took it.

From that day on he has called him pappou, grandfather. He has drawn pictures of him and talks about his life as a soldier during World War II. He speaks about him as if he knew him well, and asks a lot of questions, as any grandson would. I tell both boys that I hope they grow up to be as good a dad as he was. My father was so much a part of my life a"a huge influencea"and I have talked about him a lot with the boys. They feel like they got to know him through me and, after all, some of my best and most eae'ective parenting techniques came straight from The Book of Ted!

Growing Boys.

Over the years, our family has basked in much joy, but also sustained much hurt with regard to our extended families. We must have been strong to weather those times, and we must have had a tremendous amount of energy to shield the boys from it all. They could have been drawn into the madness and heartache had we not been, at the very least, vigilant in protecting them, despite the anger.

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