Sunday, February 21, 2010

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find Out What It Means To Me

respectI was barely nineteen when my mom met the man I now call my step dad. The irony of the situation is my mom hasn’t been married for about fifteen years. Mom and Neal met when they were both still married to other people. Imagine my dismay when I learned of their indiscretion. My self- righteous nineteen year old self could not fathom what on earth they were thinking when they made the conscious decision to disrespect their current commitments. After all, in all of my nineteen years I had acquired more wisdom than either of them in their combined years (insert sarcasm here).

Mom and Neal were transferred to my birth state of North Carolina in 1997 and I soon followed them from Missouri my sophomore year of college. The decision to live with my mom and her new beau was not a difficult decision; after all, I had no money to speak of and no prospects of a job. Upon arriving to my new home it was obvious Neal had a way about him. To put it lightly, Neal and I did not always get along. There were many times the man made me cry at the dinner table. His comments or questions were never an attempt to hurt me, but to make me think. The only problem I had is his efforts worked.

Neal was, and still is, a stubborn man. He likes things a certain way and rightfully so. Neal has been in the construction industry for nearly forty years. He manages projects. He manages people. He facilitates. Although he has not been on his current job site for almost three weeks, Neal is still managing and facilitating. This time though, he is not constructing another East Coast hotel. This time he is facilitating the care of the love of his life. I watch this man bath my mother, rub lotion on her, take her to the bathroom and then I watch him quietly fall apart. I watch this big, strong construction man, with his wrinkled face and callused hands from years on the job, cry like an infant, and my breaking heart melts.

During my last visit east to visit my mother, Neal and I were walking from the hospital to the car after seeing Mom. I carefully brought up the subject of how mom wanted to be “taken care of”. It was my vain attempt to bring up burial services at a very emotional time. Neal laughed and said “your mom always said you and I were more alike than we want to admit”, “I was just thinking about turning her car in since her lease is up in two months”. We continued our walk to the car in silence.

Neal has three children from his marriage. Like me, his children were not pleased about how his relationship with my mother began. In their defense, Neal had been married to their mother for nearly thirty years. My mother, on the other hand, was married to husband number four and frankly my sister and I were not all that impressed with him. All of Neal’s children; two girls and one boy, live with their families in the town which I currently live. Laura is married with two teenage boys and runs a daycare out of her home. My two boys have had the privilege of being in her care during infancy. She is an example to mothers, daughters, wives, sisters and friends, and has forgiven her father. I am so lucky to say she is part of my family. Although I do not have a relationship with Laura’s brother and sister, I know what kind of people they are because I know their sister and their father. One day I hope they will see what I see in their dad. What I see in their father is a devoted, compassionate man. A man of conviction. A man that has my undying gratitude and respect.

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