Prodigal Son Squared

*This post was originally published as a page which left it pinned to the header on my blog’s home page.  I have decided to republish it as a post because while it was an incredibly important piece of writing to me it did not seem right on the header which has thus far been reserved for pieces which flesh out my personal philosophy and serve as references I can hyperlink when I am expanding on those arguments in subsequent posts.
As well, I might tweak it a little over the next while because although I think “a blog laid is a blog played,” I don’t know that I am 100% thrilled with my wording.  My candor is not the problem for me, but rather the fact that you can address problematic issues, and even treat them with humour, in such a way that doesn’t exacerbate them.  At least I’d like to think there is.  Sadly I don’t think I have done that here.

Friends,

My birth was a momentous occasion for my family.  Both sides of it.  On my mom’s side (Italian immigrants) I was the first of the next generation, and as I’ve been told on several occasions, “a prince.”  I spent my childhood being told how special I was and how subsequent grandchildren, although loved, paled in comparison to me.
On my dad’s side (Portuguese immigrants), I was held in similar esteem.  While the adulation was not as overt, I was still the first of the next generation and a veritable godsend.
Things went swimmingly until my mom and dad got divorced (as was fashionable in the 80s), and remarried to different people.  Each remarriage introduced problematic elements into my life and challenged my toddler worldview.  A worldview which, up to that point, amounted to the belief that everyone around me existed only for my benefit.
I’m going to describe how things changed on both sides of my family and how they have contributed to who I am today, starting with my mother’s side.

The Italians.
As I already mentioned, I was the flyest nigga in my family from birth, and prior to my parent’s divorce I had only to contend with my sister, Tanya (exactly a year my junior) for the affections of my family.  But it wasn’t really contention, or if it was I wasn’t cognizant of it at that young age.  The problem was that when my parents divorced, my mother, Theresa married my step-father, Brad in relatively short order and an older step-brother, Alex, was thrust into my life.  This was a blessing in most regards, but my mother’s family was not very accepting of my brother on a fundamental level although my mother had chosen to raise him as her own.  Sure we did everything together as a family and he was never unwelcome, but I was often taken aside and doted upon while being told that he wasn’t really my brother and that I was “the best,” “the first grand-child,” etc.  Beyond this, my mother’s family placed a premium on the fact that I was blood and he was not, a mentality which persists to this day, sadly.
Even as a child I suspected something was wrong here, and whenever my grandparents were critical toward my older brother (still a child, only two years my senior) I would jump to his defense and assert that I was no better and that he was my brother, blood or not.  Unfortunately, this was seemingly seen as some overarching magnanimity on my part which only served to increase the esteem in which I was held.
As I perceive it, this persisted throughout my entire childhood and over the years Alex began caring less and less about the favour of his adoptive grandparents on my mother’s side.  Rather, he became vocally critical of them and their perceived shortcomings in his eyes.  I can’t say I blame him; there’s only so much shit you can eat before you stop asking for seconds.
In any event, my home life became more and more troubled as I grew older for reasons I won’t elaborate on here and I began to identify more and more with my step-father, Brad (whom I had typically not gotten along with as a child) and my step-brother, Alex.  Somewhere around mid to late 2000 the three of us decided that my mother was a detriment to our family (which consisted of us three plus my sister Tanya, half-brother Adam and half-sister Tarah) and she was removed from the family in November 2001.

handcuffsLike removed removed.

Needless to say, this drove a bit of a wedge between me and my mother’s family, and sadly this equated to years in which I didn’t see them or have any contact with them.
That’s pretty fucked.  Glaring, inappropriate favoritism aside, these were the people who loved me more than anyone in the world and I was out of their lives for years in a matter of hours.  But the saddest part?  Not once has any member of my Italian family ever openly called me out for “betrayal.”  On the contrary, they maintain that I was brainwashed by my step-father and step-brother.  To me, this is a testament to a degree of mind-lock which not only denies my agency, but inaccurately condemns my co-conspirators as evil and manipulative.
After years of zero communication, I re-established contact with my mother’s family while training for deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.  Since then, it has been a rocky few years of reconnecting, peppered with heated arguments about the defensibility of my actions and the moral fibre (or lack thereof) of my step-brother and step-father.  And sadly, these flare-ups have more often than not resulted in more bitter months at a time of zero contact.  But fortunately in the last year and a half or so we have been rebuilding our damaged relationship with a more solid foundation (hopefully I’m not fucking that up with this post).  And though we don’t agree on a lot of the specifics of the past, we have managed to cultivate a relationship that does not hinge on who is/was right.
Still, it’s easy to see how this sad story relates to the title of this post; I am very much the prodigal son returned to my Italian family who have, in spite of friction, accepted me with open arms.  Still, there have been conversations where my mother, uncles and grandparents have lamented that I could have had everything but I threw it all away.  I have never really gotten a satisfactory answer to what is meant by statements like this but they don’t really bother me.  How could they?  A vague sense of losing something you never knew you had can hardly be expected to irk you when it is overshadowed by the tangible loss of half of your family for years.  So to anyone in my mother’s family who might be reading this: I don’t care about what you had planned for me or what was promised to me; I care that I missed out on years with you.

The Portuguese
Thankfully, the title of this section is a bit of a misnomer as I was never estranged from the whole of my Portuguese family.  That said, there were troubles in my father’s household when I went to live with him after my mother’s aforementioned removal.  But let’s take a step back to clarify the context; I already alluded to the fact that my step-father, Brad and I did not get along too well throughout the early part of my childhood.  As well, I felt the absence of my father, Paul very acutely.  I loved going to see him on weekends with my sister, Tanya when I was a kid and before long I had the desire to live with him rather than with my mother and step-father.  However, as I perceive it there were two things which stood in the way of this move (and possibly a third now that I have the wisdom of hindsight, but more on that later).
For starters, my mother would not allow it.  Initially she seemed to be very understanding of this longing on my part but when the desire didn’t go away after her talking to me she became irritated when I brought it up on subsequent occasions and it was pretty much no longer a discussion topic.
The second obstacle to me moving in with my father was resistance from my step-mother, Anita.  She had married my father a couple of years after my father and mother had gotten divorced and while I don’t remember specifics of our interactions before a certain age I definitely remember her as the disciplinarian in my father’s household.  On the subject of how much she accepted me and my sister, Tanya as her own, all I will say is that to this day we both refer to her by her first name.
In any event, the subject of me moving in with her and my father was vehemently opposed by her and my mother when I first brought it up in elementary school then again when I brought it up in high school.  For his part, my father just seemed to go along with their decisions, caught between a wife and an ex-wife.
Well, flash forward a couple of years and with my mother no longer in the picture I wasn’t about to let my step-mother alone stand in the way of what I wanted.  After my mother was arrested and removed from our lives I finished the year at school and the following summer living with my step-father and made it abundantly clear to my father that I was going to move in with him at summer’s end.  It is important to note that not once did I mention my intentions to my step-mother directly before the slated move-in weekend.
Well that time came and she made an attempt to dissuade me by explaining how her and my father were going through a rough patch, but to no avail; my mind was made up and I moved into their home in Burlington and started at my new high school that week.
And so began perhaps the toughest three years of my life.  We argued all the time, I wasn’t welcome in certain parts of the home, an unreasonable curfew was imposed upon me and I was suspected of all manner of bad and criminal behaviour.  This is amusing considering the worst I ever did was get black out drunk and have to be brought home a couple of times.  Oh, I would also smoke weed from my bedroom window but I feel I was very discreet about that.
However, worse than the second-class citizen status I enjoyed in that home was the way I was isolated and alienated from my father and step-mother’s kids; my brother, Zachary and sister, Sierra.  My relations with them were so strained because of their overbearing mother that I couldn’t even playfully joke with my brother lest I say something too pointed to him in jest and be sternly reprimanded.  One glaring example comes to mind but I don’t want to get into a “poor me” storytelling situation.  Rather I simply want to give some context for the toxic environment I had entered of my own accord.
Anyhow, much like my step-brother Alex becoming hostile to my maternal grandparents after years of open disrespect, I began to be hostile toward my step-mother, openly antagonizing her and calling her mothering skills into question.  My father always tried to smooth things over but after time his efforts and promises about stern action he would take to right the situation began to feel like so much lip service.  I was very much isolated in the house I lived in and my only escape and chance to feel part of a family was when I went back to visit my other siblings and step-father, Brad every once in a while.
My father’s relatives, my Portuguese family, were seemingly unaware of what was going on and if they were they didn’t show it.  I remember my aunt once reprimanding me for speaking of my step-mother negatively rather than asking why I would speak about her in such a way.  Talk about a failure of critical thinking and compassion!  It wasn’t like I was overly guarded with the realities of my situation either; that is to say, she knew me and my step-mom weren’t getting along but didn’t want to know specifics.
No, everyone liked to keep up appearances and when we all got together as a family you would never guess that me and my step-mother had any problems; she was warm and loving to me and the picture of motherliness.  For my part, I was happy to peacefully co-exist for these short periods of time (remember, for the longest time I had tried to please her and a part of me still wanted to for a long time).
This arrangement persisted for three years until I left for university.  Aside from a few scattered nights back at my dad’s place on holidays, I more or less made a clean break and was living on my own from then on.  My persona non grata status at his home was made very clear by her not even waiting til the school year was finished to start re-purposing my bedroom.
So where do me and my step-mother stand now?  For a while I boycotted family functions because I couldn’t stand the sight and sound of her and what I perceived to be her phoniness.  I gave that up when I realized I didn’t want to miss out on time with my father’s family just because of her.  And honestly, the family functions still happened without me so its not like my absence made the world stop spinning.
These days me and her are certainly not close, and although her behaviour toward me currently ranges from coldly civil to affectations of warmth (depending on who is around to see the performance) nothing has really changed except for the fact that we are not in each other’s face everyday.  And this brings me to one of the main reasons I am writing this post: I have tried to make sense of this for years with no luck.  Remember earlier I alluded to a third obstacle to me moving in with my father?  Well, that obstacle was my father himself and his attempts to appease her.  Don’t get me wrong, my father was and is a great guy but I suppose I still feel some resentment for the way he allowed my step-mother to dictate the terms of his relationship with his children from his first marriage.  He always defended his actions as picking his battles and maybe that was just the way he learned to survive his marriage.  What exacerbated the problem however was that I dealt with my step-mother almost exclusively through him; he brokered all of our communication and I lament how much trouble was caused by miscommunications.  Rarely if ever have I had a serious conversation with Anita and any overtures I have made in the last few years to have a one-on-one chat with her and clear the air have been rebuffed with my father getting in touch with me and explaining to me whet her particular problem is this week.  I never really got to know her and more than anything I would like to understand her better because right now I feel I have an incomplete view of the picture.

Final Thoughts
I suppose there are many who would call this kind of openness “attention-whoring” and maybe they are right; I would love this post to create a discussion among certain people.  I have things on my mind that never get talked about so I am exposing them to the light of day because I am not content with “elephants in the room.”
More important than any sort of temporal amends and reconciliation I may be hoping for however is that writing, and art more broadly, is useless if it is not honest?  I felt compelled to write about this so what kind of writer would I be if I ignored that impulse?

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Prodigal Son Squared

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