It was sixteen degrees colder than average in New York City the day I was born. After a long and troubling pregnancy, and a delivery that was no different, Frances had a baby boy on March 18, 1981. Complicated would become a recurring theme.
Frances moved back home to Whitestone so her parents and three younger siblings could assist the twenty five year old’s first crack at motherhood. My dad William, sixteen years her senior was finishing up a stint in federal prison for hijacking. My parents were married while he was incarcerated. It was her first marriage and his second go around. He was married and already a father of four when they met in the seventies. Bad decisions were employed long before I landed on this planet. William came home in 1982 with only the clothes on his back.
Many things took place in the first twelve years of my existence. A lot of unfortunate and unnecessary things, incidents that deserve specific attention and maybe one day I’ll get around to writing about those encounters as well, but there were also good times. The best thing to happen during their union was a little white haired alien baby named Megan. I have to remind myself sometimes that good things actually happened because the bad memories always seem to outweigh and overshadow the good memories. I’m a glass half empty type of person. My world is always ending. I prefer sad songs.
One afternoon my mother left for good, she asked me if I was joining her in the next chapter of her life, and I said, no. No. I wasn’t going with her. I was eleven or so, our relationship had already been strained, and I preferred to reside with my Dad, whatever that entailed, it was better in my opinion. Little food. No money. Fine. I’d suck it up. Tough it out. Man up. No matter what life was like with him it was better than being with her and my future Stepfather. There was no way then to weigh the gravity of my decision and how much it hurt her to choose my father over her. She packed her shit and took Megan and left, slamming the door on her way out.
It wouldn’t be long before William and I were evicted from our apartment and I was forced to live in a house with two people I didn’t want to live with. I did miss my sister, that was the only upside to my new living arrangement, but the truth was neither of us should have been there. It was an unhealthy environment. My mother’s second marriage was often tumultuous, and my behavior only exacerbated tensions that already seethed between them, in retrospect I often made it worse for my mother. I was a proper bastard to her. I was cold and unforgiving and spiteful. I made it more than obvious I wanted nothing to do with them. I loved my mother so much and everything that went on, everything that I saw, everything I overheard angered me so much and I didn’t know any other way to deal with it except detach, detach, detach. Shut the fuck down and behave utterly cruel. I guess I was always an emotionally unstable, unhappy, anxious little boy, and then my contempt and distrust magnified by a million.
One afternoon in the mid 1990s I came home with Drew, one of my oldest friends, whom I love to death. Partners in crime. My hetero life mate. Drew went down into the basement of my stepfather’s house where my bedroom was located. Oddly enough my best friend’s father, who was more of a father figure to me than my stepfather would be, was my stepfather’s best friend growing up but they fell out. Queens is too small of a world sometimes, especially Whitestone. I went upstairs to check on my mother. I would check on her to see if she was alive, and don’t misunderstand me, I didn’t want to find her dead. Things were just that fucked up and this was the reality in our house. Nuclear family to me meant an explosive device. I always thought I would be the one to find her but it wasn’t me, or my sister, years later my stepfather would get the honor.
When I walked into the living room, she was upset and intoxicated, she wanted to talk to me. I told her there was nothing to talk about. I told her to stop crying and go lie down. She had some shitty music playing. Before she blurted it out, I’m not lying, I thought it, “He’s not your father.” William Gabler wasn’t my father? Lies. I never thought to ask who was because I didn’t want to believe her. I thought the motive behind this confession was to hurt me. I lost my shit and punched and kicked holes in the walls of my stepfather’s house, which resulted in a few days where I was no longer welcome there, fine by me.
William told me to pay her no mind. Whenever she wanted to have an inebriated conversation about my paternity I dismissed her in a nasty manner. It was years later after another exciting night at an apartment in Flushing where we were living in at the time. My sister and I were thrown out although my mother told a few people a different version of that story, her account was that we had abandoned her. Frances was a beautiful person who was troubled. She couldn’t help herself. My sister went to live with our father, William and knowing he couldn’t really take care of one of us, let alone two, I went and couch surfed for a while. I stayed with friends, only returning after a lengthy absence for about a week and things were worse than they were before so I finally left for good. I’m eternally thankful to everyone who showed me kindness, who fed me and gave me a place to stay. I’m looking at you, Mikey C.
It was around then that Megan came to visit me, I was hanging at Drew’s house which had been a pretty normal occurrence since the second grade and we were talking on his steps and she said that it was true. What was true? She said she once saw the man who was my real father. Megan was upset that it made us only half, but nothing in this world could weaken or belittle our bond. Half or full meant nothing to me. Around this time in my life I was fairly removed from any family members aside from Megan and my friends who I love and regard as family.
In 2003 at a place of work I noticed a man off to the side, and I knew before he spoke what it was about, but I had already made a decision about the matter a long time ago. The man asked me if my name was Sean, and I answered, yes. “I’m Brian, and I’d like you to be a part of my family,” he said as he extended a hand. I looked for myself in him. I shook his hand and declined, though we spoke briefly, I found it funny that his wife’s name was Fran, the same as my mother’s, but I made it clear I already had a father.
Meeting Brian was initially difficult for me. His existence confirmed that everything was erroneous, inaccurate, my life was rooted in lies and deception. It is no wonder my trust issues are the size of Jupiter. After much contemplation, some months later I reached into my wallet and pulled out his number and I’m happy I wasn’t so stubborn. I met Brian for dinner and was introduced to my step mother and my younger brother for first time. My clunky family tree extended its sibling branches to a total of nine, some I love, some I might never talk to again and some I’ve never met.
Alexander pope wrote in 1711, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” It’s easy to fuck up, it’s not so easy to forgive. I am not a forgiving person. I hold on to grudges tightly. I never really let go of things that bother me. It’s a problem. It is hard enough to face your own mistakes, but for a long time I felt like I carried the burden of the mistakes made by those around me. There is nothing more unforgiving than the truth. While I can’t necessarily understand the thought processes behind some of the decisions, I’m at peace with it. I’m not good with everything, but I’m fine when it comes to my paternity. I never had that talk with my mother.
I looked at the situation in a negative light. I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to accept it. It made me feel disconnected. Who was I? I wasn’t who they said I was? I didn’t want to be a guest on Maury. I don’t know if the conversation would have made things better then, but I wouldn’t allow it to happen. I didn’t talk to my mother for almost a decade and then she died of a heart attack on January 6th, 2014 at the age of 57. Our relationship like most was complicated, and I miss her dearly, and now I live knowing that she passed away thinking that I hated her. That was false, I hated her choices and the harsh truth that I couldn’t help her, no one could, and I simply couldn’t witness it any longer.
If I was overemotional, William was the complete opposite. I wonder if it was strength or just that life had killed off his feelings. William and I never had an in-depth conversation about it but he was happy that I met Brian, and that we had built a relationship, it meant that I had another person in my life who cared about me. I never looked at it like that. I now had two fathers and I appreciate and love them both. One was Dad. One was Brian. Well, I like the alliteration of Biological Brian, but he doesn’t love the nickname. I think it’s amazing.
William was a good man, flawed like the rest of us, but if anything he was forgiving. I, for the most part, am not. William died on March 23 2018, two days before his 79th birthday. We didn’t talk as much as we should have and that goes for almost all the people in my life who I care about. On March 4th, the day after Megan’s wedding, which he was too sick to attend, William suffered a stroke, in Pennsylvania. The stroke uncovered pulmonary issues and for the first two weeks in the hospital in Allentown, his memory was affected. The decision was made and the breathing tube was removed. My sister, Brother-in-law Michael and I rode out his last hours together and in the morning we said farewell.
There were many instances over the years where William could have put it to rest, it could have been out of sheer frustration or to relinquish himself from his responsibility to me, financially or otherwise, but he never did. I am always shocked that this secret was even kept or that it wasn’t questioned. I drove from my house in Queens, either I would take off from work or go afterward, to sit with him for a few hours and then drive back. He didn’t know his own name. He didn’t know anything. Then one day, sitting beside him, the nurse asked, “William, do you know who that is?”
“Yes,” he replied, shaking his head up and down, with a mask feeding him oxygen and a plethora of tubes affixed to his body.
“Who is he?”
“That’s my son,” he said. That’s right, Dad, absolutely right.