Friday, April 25, 2008

Missing Persons

Every year, around my birthday, my mom hosts an informal party for the family. Every year, the lights are turned down; my mom emerges from the kitchen, carefully bearing a hand-baked cake, aflame with a ridiculous number of candles; and my family sings the birthday song to me. My heart swells and my eyes get swimmy.

In past years, I've gazed upon the familiar faces, grateful to have them all around the table together, singing to me, one more time. I thought: It can't last forever. Sooner or later, a year will come when one face is missing. And that will be a sad year.

I always expected one of my mother's parents to be the first missing person. They're both near 90 years old now. They can't live forever.

I was wrong. This is going to be that sad year, and the missing person is going to be my step-dad. He's back in Toronto now, living in a rented house with his new lady-friend, but he may as well be on Mars.

It was tough not having him at the Passover Ceders. Not only did I miss his familiar presence, but it became clear that he had an important role to play in our family dynamic, and no one has stepped in to fill the breach.

Superficially, he was kind of a dork. He was always being shushed for talking when we were supposed to be reciting prayers. My grandmother was forever saying "Not yet!" as he gobbled down a ceremonial food before the proper blessings were said. And he invariably spilled something that left a nasty stain on the tablecloth.

I never before appreciated the silver lining to his incredibly casual attitude. Pretty much everyone else on my mom's side of the family is sensitive, fussy, and easily offended. Everyone takes everything personally. Everyone cares way too much. Especially around each other, where it all gets multiplied to the nth degree.

My step-dad was always there, leaning back in his chair, a mild grin on his face, observing the nonsense and making light of it. He'd have another swig of wine and say "Come on now" to whoever it was who was getting overly wound up at that moment. He'd make a joke about the situation. It wasn't a knee-slappingly funny joke, but it soothed the tension in the air. Minus his presence last weekend, the tension level cranked up higher and higher until I thought the air itself might snap.

It doesn't help that one of my mom's sisters and her husband have been aggressively forward about continuing to socialize with my step-dad. They didn't sit down with my mom to discuss the situation, or show any concern for her feelings whatsoever. My mom feels betrayed. I would too, in her shoes.

So, overall, it's a bad, bad scene. So bad that last Saturday I was tempted to get up in the middle of dinner and walk out the door. Could I fill my step-father's shoes? I'm tempted to try, but I don't know if my family would accept it from me the way they did from him. It could just end up making things worse. That's a big gamble to take, when it could split the family further.

However, knowing me, if the atmosphere from Saturday night becomes the new normal for family gatherings, I won't be able to stand it for long. I'll either speak up, or walk out, or both. So, I guess only time will tell.

13 comments:

Warped Mind of Ron said...

{{Hugs}} There is something to say for the people who can break the tension. I will generally try the joke thing, but if they continue to be wound up and bitchy I just leave, that's just how I roll.

jameil1922 said...

awww. i generally get along with different groups of people pretty well but i'm not necessarily a good soother of tension, either. i'm more likely to walk out. your mom's sister makes me hurt for your mom. *hug*

Keera Ann Fox said...

Well, don't start making yourself (feel) responsible for how your family gets along. They're *!#%-ing adults and are responsible for themselves. 'Course, if they act like jerks on your birthday, I hereby give you permission to throw a hissy-fit. Make it a good one! ;-)

Leighann said...

You can't be expected to be the peace maker in a room full of so called adults. I can't imagine what it must feel like to have a man who seemed so important to the family now absent.

::big hugs::

Nilsa S. said...

It's funny - with my friends and most of my family, I am always one to say things to make people laugh. However, with one family member in particular, all he makes me want to do is be one mean son of a bitch. And I am. I try to lighten up around him, but it's virtually impossible. He gets worse over the years and my tolerance for him has decreased. If you can fill that void now, after all these years, I'd say you're a stronger person than I!

Karen said...

I try to be that peacemaker most of the time and it sucks. It isn't our responsibility to smooth everyting out when our family can't behave.

1218Blog said...

awwww. I was just saying the other day you never really know you miss something or someone until they are no longer there. I'm sure you could do a good job filling in for that void.

San said...

My dad was a little like your step-dad. Your post makes me remember the week after his funeral. There was some amazing family intensity happening--and I caught myself thinking, Well when Daddy gets home, he'll make everybody calm down. The next thought was of course very sad and startling. He won't be coming home.

Change, it's tough.

Christopher said...

I'd walk out...

Claire said...

Sending vibes and hugs your way, sweetheart.

Cxx

Sparkling Red said...

EVERYONE: Thanks for your support and sweetness and hugs! You guys are the best. :-)

Aurora said...

Your step-dad's role sounds like one to be played by someone with a lot of tacit authority. Maybe if the group needs someone like that, an heir will emerge? With people gone, families do change their dynamics--and sometimes for the better.

Jenski said...

That's rough. It is too bad that mom's sister can not let that go quietly. It must be difficult enough for your mom and you to not have your step-dad at Ceder without someone rubbing it in that they see him. Maybe the next family gathering will be far enough removed that at least the step-dad factor will not be there. Who knows about the adults being stupid factor though?