Posted by: Dennie | August 25, 2012

Today’s topic: The Beast

As the oldest of  two daughters, I think I was always my dad’s favorite.  We had a bond that didn’t seem to exist between he and my sister. I’m not sure why, but I suspect much of it had to do with the commonality of our interests. I was always an outdoor kid, and liked to hang around as my dad worked in the yard or puttered with lawn equipment. My sister liked to stay indoors, play with dolls, and as she grew older, cook and bake. I had no interest in the kitchen and preferred  cars. In 1969, my parents purchased a brand new Pontiac Bonneville convertible, which my dad referred to as “The Ragtop.” Emerald green with a  white top, the car was a half a block long and the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. When he poked around under the hood, I’d stand beside him as he pointed out the mechanics of different  engine parts. My father and I shared the love of this vehicle and he promised that one day it would be mine.

Up until I was a sophomore in high school,  I referred to my father as “Daddy” or “Dad”.   But that year, while reading “Lord Of The Flies” as a requirement for English class, I decided a fitting name for my father would be “Beast” or “Beastie” after the imaginary inhabitant of the island on which the boy characters of the novel were stranded. (It’s been a very long time since high school, so forgive me if my explanation of the book is incorrect.) My father stood six feet tall and with his hairy chest, back and rumbling voice, I thought the name suited him well. He, in turn, dubbed me “Muttley” or “Mutt.”  I have no idea where that came from, but I loved his pet name for me.

Beastie stuck.  My friends knew him as The Beast as did my parents’ friends. Sometimes people would refer to him as “BeastLY” and I would have to correct them. Later, my husband and his family became familiar with the name and when we had children of our own, my father became Grandpa Beast. I would get a charge out of the quizzical looks cast our way when those who didn’t know us well would overhear either I or one of my kids  call him. The common question was always, “WHAT did you say?” and I would reply that we were talking to, about, or whatever– my father.

“Oh,” would be the response. “It sounded as though you said “Beastie.”  Never embarrassed to educate those who weren’t in the know, I would be quick to explain the story. I don’t know what people thought, and I didn’t really care. He was my Beast, and I loved him dearly.

A decade and a few plus years dissolved into memories and life, as life has a habit of doing, changed. I found myself  drifting in a stagnant marriage, increasingly lonely and discontent. I expressed my unhappiness to my husband who  didn’t  understand my feelings,  and reluctantly accompanied  me to a variety of counselors over a number of years. But it was to no avail, and he spent more  and more time away from me and the kids, working.  I was miserable.

And then, the unthinkable happened.  I had always been the good girl, done what was expected of me by my parents, my husband, my in-laws and even my friends. But I had arrived at a place of desperation…  and I had an affair. The man was as lonely as I, also in a lifeless marriage, and like me, miserable.  I knew it was wrong, and I knew that people, especially my kids, would be hurt.  But I was willing to take the risk to ease the loneliness and pain. I jumped headlong into this new relationship, totally unprepared for the repercussions and fallout that lasted for years.

The Beast was beside himself with anger and resentment. He became distant, cold and totally unapproachable. He and my mother separated themselves from me, detaching from my life.  My affair and ultimate decision to leave my nearly twenty year marriage was, in their eyes, scandalous and inexcusable. And I can say with blatant honesty, that I absolutely understand how they were feeling, and why.  If I could do it over again, I would do it much differently. But life does not offer a return policy and I could not go back and change a thing.

I wish I could say my story ends with everyone living happily ever after. But that isn’t what has happened. Thirteen years have passed since I left my first marriage. I am happily remarried now, celebrating ten years this past June, to the man with whom I had the affair. My children are grown and accept me and my “new” husband.  Although the time of the divorce and the years following were bumpy,  my kids are relatively well-adjusted young adults.  Most people I know have put the past where it belongs, but there are those that hold on to and remain in judgement of my husband and me.

The Beast  has  never recovered. He wears his disapproval and anger like drying concrete. It has made him stiff and immobile, rooting him to a place of discontent. He wants no part of the life I live today. I am no longer “Muttley”, but “Denise,” my formal name, used as a kid when I was in trouble. He is no longer “Beastie,” or Daddy, or even Dad. He is just my father. It saddens me that he cannot get past the hurt and blame that he lives with daily.

Years ago, before moving away to another state,  he one day stiffly  acknowledged that the Pontiac had been allocated for me and presented the option for me to  have it, if I chose. I was stunned. I had wanted  that car since I was thirteen years old.  But now it wasn’t to be. My father was well aware that the timing was terrible. He was aware of my living situation  in a leased apartment with no garage. He was aware of my post divorce financial situation in which I was in no position to rent a storage unit for a vehicle that I would barely have the time to drive. I had no alternative but to turn down the offer and agree to  the alternative– to accept whatever price he got from its sale. The Pontiac and my dream went quickly, the money saved for my kids’ college fund.

Have I learned anything from this experience? I hope so. For one, I will never have another affair. It’s not worth it. Two, I  can’t think of  anything my children could do to cause me to turn my back on them. Nothing. I hope I will always remember that they are adults with their own lives, choices and mistakes to make.  If and when that happens, I hope I will remember to stand strong and support their decisions, like them or not.

Kobe Bryant has been quoted as saying, “My parents are my backbone. Still are. They’re the only group that will support you if you score zero or you score forty.”

That’s the kind of parent I want to be.

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