When I was 2 my mother decided to marry a man who was not my father. He was an American sailor stationed in Bermuda back in the early fifties. An easy decision made on her part based on the fact she was from a poor family, a little overweight and my natural father had dumped us both. My mother was black and my father was Portuguese, so quite naturally I came out looking more like him and my mother than I did my stepfather.
This is a picture of my Stepfather, his kids and me, the one underneath his picture, the family
From the beginning of my mother’s marriage, I hated him. As early as five (5) I can remember my feelings towards my stepfather, and they were nothing less than acrimonious. I don’t know if it’s possible that a child that young could harbor resentment for two people taking my natural father away from me? If that wasn’t the reason, then perhaps it was the fact he was black and didn’t resemble me in any way. No matter how you slice it, I just felt so out of place in that family regardless of the fact my mother was a part also.
William, my stepfather was an awesome and intimidating figure. Naturally, he stood taller than me, I was just a kid. He was heavy in build with huge arms and a hard look on his face of someone who had suffered tremendous hardship, he always looked angry when not laughing or smiling. I felt he too didn’t like me, and because of this strange dichotomy, our misunderstood exchanges remained in the silent underworld of bloodless lineage. We didn’t talk much to each other, we simply exchanged requests or orders. He was very quick to give me a beating if I got out of line, and sometimes the reprimanding hinged on the absurd. Most of the time when he’d give me a beating I thought it was more for my mother’s sake to show her that he was being the man of the family, channeling her son in the right direction towards manhood, or perhaps because I reminded him of the man my mother loved.
There was always talk about getting an education and the importance of it, he knew what he had missed and why and that it should not be the reason his kids should suffer the same, including me. Coming from the rural South where there were much discrimination and hatred for blacks, he looked at me as white and felt that I should take advantage of my color and advance myself in every way possible way so that I could help my brother and sisters in our immediate family. Though our immediate family consisted of all blacks and the environment where I was being raised were all blacks, it angered him that I began to emulate the black culture so that I could fit in. The ambiguity confused me and often times I didn’t know which way to go, I was straddling the fence.
As I got older and he older than me our relationship began to mellow. To prove this to myself, there was an instance back when I was in my early teens. He had paid for my grandmother and great aunt to come to California from Bermuda during Christmas, for him it was a great pleasure to make my mother happy. While there I noticed there was a lot of whispering and gossip about how black and ugly my stepfather was, it was horrible and it made me feel sad for some reason. Well this same day I was asked to escort all the girls to the movies, the girls being sister’s and cousins, but I didn’t want to and so told them that I would meet them after the movie and we would go back home together undetected, but somehow we got split up and they ended up home before me. When I got there my grandmother and great aunt were instigating a beating for me by taunting my stepfather, “You need to beat the boy,” they chanted over and over until my stepfather, reluctant, dragged me into the garage for a beating.
“I know you’re only doing this to please them because what I did doesn’t warrant a beating,” I said, “and did you know that they talk about you behind your back, calling you all sorts of nasty names saying you are black and ugly?” And I watched as he dropped his head in shame, but came back at me with, “pretend I am beating you,” and I did with all the sounds and groans I could muster.
I wanted to believe that my mother was not part of this. And somehow I began admiring this man, my stepfather whom I hated from the beginning. Some years later my mother passed away, and my stepfather had a stroke and needed someone to attend to him. At the funeral, which was a grand funeral for his beloved wife, and all her family from Bermuda, he sat with tears in his eyes in the front row. I walked up to the casket where my mother laid in peace and shed not a tear for her but instead I shed tears for him.
His own children got together and set up a schedule for him, but he refused and instead asked that I take care of him and so I gave up my life and came home to look after him, and one evening while giving him a bath I said, “I never dreamed a day would come when I’d be washing your ass.” and he laughed and we laughed. During this period we came to know each other, and confess love and admiration for one another that laid beneath a surface unknown for so many years. After 30 years of telling myself how stupid and ignorant this man is I came to see how intelligent, and how much character and integrity he had. He lived a small life in himself, but a bigger life through his family whom he loved and cared for so deeply. There was only his family, and me. When he died he left an equal share of everything, never treating me like a stepchild or an outsider, he became my father that day and I will love him until love is no longer in the minds of man.