As I walked up to the front door I was greeted by me of thirty years ago. One look at the face and I was seeing myself as I used to look when I was 25.
"Dad, why haven't you replied to any of my mails?" Roger asked as I stepped up the staircase to open the gate.
"I read the mail and found out that you were sorry about what you guys did 10 years back and then closed the mail. There was nothing there that warrented a reply. You wanted to let me know that you were sorry and I know it. What more do you want?" I spoke calmly as I opened the door.
He was still looking at my face when I shut the door. Even with the door between us the pain did not subside. Here was son who called me an asshole for fighting for my money. When his mother, Wendy, and I divorced the scene was quite ugly. I had caught her cheating and wanted my pound of flesh. I fought for an 80-20 split and got 60-40. With the house sold and not enough money to buy the house in town anymore I bought a house in the outskirts which demanded an hour's commute to my office. Things were rough but I held on. Even with a 60-40 split I was in deep financial difficulty and paying off Child support for two children drained my resources. On top of it all my son resented me for fighting for my rights and refused to talk to me. He was not a child at 15. He knew very well that his mother had been cheating on me for six months and did nothing because he wanted to avoid us being divorced.
I did not go to his graduation or to his wedding. Wendy married the asshole who she was shagging regularly and set up house with him and my son and daughter. My daughter, Sue, was 17 at the time of the split and had the option of either staying with her mother or I and she too chose Wendy. She did come up to meet me on a couple of weekends but said that it was interfering with her social life and dropped off my horizon. She also told me that I was asshole in not forgiving Wendy and that if I really loved the children I would have hung in. I told her in no uncertain terms that I was miserable in the marriage and it would have made their lives hell in the long run but she refused to listen.
In fact I had a soft spot for my daughter and I did send her some gifts and extra money from time to time. One day I came home to find all the gifts, still packed, lying on my doorsteps and that was it. I tried to give the best of me to my family only to be discarded like a used apron. Six months ago the family business that the asshole Darin used to run went under. From being a fashionably rich family Wendy and Darin went to a lower middle class lifestyle. No more club membership and no more cruises in Caribbean.
My business has picked up due to economic downturn. I offer consultations on keeping the bottomline low in a business without letting a lot of people go and my specialty was in high demand by mid size businesses. I even had an offshore oil rig as my client was making more money than ever before. This is not to say that money was the factor that my ex-family was after me. I had come to know that roger was a doctor in making and Sue was a doctor as well and they were doing quite well financially. To be honest, I did not know why they were contacting me but I did not want to know either. I am a bitter man today with more home entertainment systems than you can imagine - a beer cooler in each room, a centrally plugged music system which played music across the whole house, a huge TV set in the living room and an equally huge TV in my bedroom which I made by knocking together three rooms and was a little larger than my living room, a gym in the basement and a pool in the back. The downside? I have not had a single friend since the divorce. All of my sanctimonious friends thought I was being too harsh to Wendy and dropped me like hot cake.
As I closed the door I realized that I was suddenly very tired and I flopped on the sofa. The bell rang and I opened the door to find both Roger and Sue standing there.
"I was in the car." Sue said, "We need to talk to you even if it is the last time you talk to us."
"I have nothing to say to you the two of you. That said, I have never denied you kids anything in my life and I am not starting now. Short of a relationship with me you can ask for anything." I said as I asked them to step in.
Roger and Sue looked at the living room and were impressed. I could see them treading softly as if they were walking on egg shell.
"Don't be a stranger. You can break anything you see here. I always loved to indulge the two of you even when your mother said that I was spoiling you. The two of you have turned out alright, though I am not sure if it was my indulgence or the right upbringing that Darin gave you, but I am happy." I said smiling as I opened up the cooler to take out a beer. "Either of you game for a beer?"
"No, thank you." They said in unison and took a seat opposite me.
"So what do you want to talk about?" I said taking a sip.
"Why did you not reply to any of our mails?" Roger asked again.
"Unless you want me to repeat myself for the benefit of your sister, I have nothing new to say. You said you were sorry and I got the message. What else was I to? I did not want to read too much into it only to be told that I was an asshole all over again or be told that I was interfering with your lives." I said. I could see a feel of pain and shame in their eyes and I did not want that. "But, that said, it is water under the bridge. I have missed the chance to be a father to my children and have lived a lonely existence thanks to all my friends thinking I was an asshole. I guess all of you could not be wrong. Everyone, my wife, my children, my friends and my family thought I was asshole of the highest order and I think there must have been valid reasons for doing so. Just to be safe, I have not gotten myself into another relationship because I did not want to hurt anyone else after having hurt your mother and the two of you."
"We deserve it. You know as well as I do that you did nothing wrong. You were reacting to a very hurtful situation and we compounded your pain by being the insensitive teenagers that we were. We did not know better, as a teen ager you tend to live lives with your head shoved up your ass. That is what happened to the two of us. After the divorce nothing changed for us. Instead of you, it was Darin buying us stuff and with all the money that he had we thought that it was hell of a nice thing that mom had traded up because our lives had become a lot brighter. It hurts just to think how selfish we were but we were just children back then and we reacted selfishly to all of it." Roger said as his eyes teared up. "I have missed you all these years and I do not know how to make up to you. I feel so rotten inside that I cannot even bear to look at my face in the mirror."
As Roger broke down crying I could see Sue also sobbing.
"Dad, is there any way that we can make it up to you again so that we can have a semblance of a relationship?" Sue said between her sobs.
"This is not a matter to be discussed between us anymore. We are not the same family that broke up so many years go. The equations have changed. When your mom and I were married, it was the four of us that took any decision and that was the rule of the house. I was working a full time job and running a consultancy on the side to bring in enough money to keep up with the lifestyle that my family demanded and these joint decisions were the only way that I could be involved in your lives. For the last year of my marriage, I was not invited to any of these decision making meetings. I was the outsider who was cut off from my own family by an affair that was illicit and immoral. I am telling you all this because I have welled up these feelings inside of me for ten long years and it has made me a skeptical and bitter man." I said as I got up to get another can of beer.
"Any discussion to our future relationship has to involve all parties concerned. That would include, your mother, your father, the two of you and me. We should all meet this weekend at this place to discuss the future and I promise I will not bring the past into play too much. I will not insult your mother or your father and I will not insult the either of you. I will go by my way of collective decision making and then we will see what happens." I said with a finality to it.
The two of them stayed for a while and repeatedly told me how sorry they were and left after a promise to come on the weekend with their parents.
It was on Saturday that I saw three cars come to a stop in my driveway and a whole lot of strangers get out of it. There was Wendy and her husband, Roger with his wife and an infant and Sue. I asked them to come in and take a seat in the living room. I was casually dressed in a tennis shorts and a Tee having just arrived from a refreshing game of tennis.
I asked them to make themselves at home and help themselves with some drinks while I took a bath and changed. I took a short bath and changed into a pair of Khaki trousers and a summer shirt. When I came out I found them sitting where I had left them. They were quite and had not taken any drinks.
After giving them each a choice of their drink I settled in and started to talk.
"I am sure that Roger and Susan have told you why we are here. They want to get back in touch with me and I was not ready to comment on the matter before everyone involved got their say. In fact, I had a lot to say in this matter and I wanted all of you to hear this. After what I have to say I will give each of you a chance to have a go at my logic." I said as I broke another can of beer open.
"I haven't been a father to either Roger or Susan in over a decade. All the father they have known all these years is Darin. I have spent a lifetime resenting Wendy and Darin but I have come to realize one thing. The only thing that I really resented was being painted a monster in front of everyone who knew me and the taking away of my children. I do not care for the people who called me monster all those years ago. I have not seen them and talked to them in ages and it is their loss that they are not enjoying a nice game of tennis with me or not spending time lounging around my pool. I am still resentful though about me losing my children because I had so much invested in them, my dreams, my aspirations, my love. Then again, ten years has dulled the pain and I am used to living life alone." I got up and started to pace around.
"I do not know the definition of love but I am sure that I love children a lot. I will leave them all my earthly possessions when I go but I am not sure I want them around me anymore. I have not dated in the last 10 years but I have been active sexually mainly through paid escorts. I do not date at all but there is a constant flow of prostitutes in his house. I am not sure I want to expose my children to an environment like this. I am sure that I am not giving up living my life just because Roger and Susan want their old father back." I looked at them as they heard with a sense of disbelief.
"Now I am going to ask you a series of questions that will tell you why I am right. The reason I just mentioned is not the only reason why I want to keep away." I said as I sat back down.
"Roger, has Darin been a bad father to you?" I asked Roger who looked at Darin and then at me
"No. He has done a good job of taking care of us." Roger said, with his head bowed down.
"You do not have to feel ashamed to admit it. You should be proud that Dain was such a caring person and that he was your father. I would not have been able to be a good father to someone else's children." I said and I saw Darin shift his position to speak up.
"Don't say a word Darin. I will say it for you." I motioned him to say quite and then looked at Roger.
"Dain did not ever feel that he was raising someone else's children. What you do not know and what I uncovered in my snooping around at the time of divorce was that Darin was sterile. He chose your mother because of the two of you. He was seeing two other women along with your mother and it was only the two of you who accepted him as a substitute for your father. The other two women also had children but the children refused to admit Dari in their lives." I spoke as I saw Darin bow his head and a look of surprise pass across Wendy's face.
"Your mother was also seeing more than one man at the time and Darin was the one who proposed so he was her choice. They both were looking for something that was missing from their lives. Darin was looking for a family and your mother was looking to trade up. I was just a collateral damage.' I said and I saw Roger and Sue look at Darin and Wendy in surprise.
"We all look for happiness all our lives. Ask me, I have been to the depths of despair and I know what unhappiness means. I have been looking for a moment to feel happy all this time. I am comfortable and I am at peace but I haven't been happy in a long time. There were nights when I went to bed hoping that both of you would feel pity on me and give me a call. There have been days when I have cried like a baby holding the gifts that I sent to Susan because in my mind they were attached to you in one way or the other. I still remember where you used to hide your stash of porn Roger and I still can feel the taste of your first cooking Susan but these are memories that are fading as my age advances." I could feel a bit of moisture in my eyes but I gathered myself.
"Darin has also invested the same in you — his dreams, his aspiration and his love. If you chose to spend time with me you will be robbing the pleasure that Darin and Wendy have worked for all their lives. If Roger comes to my place on a weekend with his lovely wife and son he is robbing Darin and Wendy of a weekend with their grandson. You guys forgot all about me for ten years and if you do not keep in touch with me Roger's son will never even know what he has missed. I am too senile and too bitter a human being to be a role model to Darin's grandson. I refuse to acknowledge him as my grandson because I do not want to go through rest of my life missing him. My advice is that all of you go back to the life that has worked so well for you. I will only bring confusion, chaos and resentment in your lives. I wish that you let Darin and Wendy live a life they have dreamed of and let me live the life that has been given to me." I said and suddenly felt exhausted. I finally had my say and it was burden off my chest.
"Now if anyone of you have anything to say." I said and closed my eyes, a big mistake. As I closed my eyes the moisture in my eyes rolled down my cheek as a tear.
"I do not know what to say. I have never been so ashamed in all my life." It was Darin who spoke up. "You are right that I was looking for a family when I seduced Wendy. But in the ten long years I have come to love her more than life itself. I knew about the other guys that Wendy was seeing and I proposed in a hurry because I did not want to lose her. I am sorry for taking your family away from you but by refusing to establish a relationship with Roger and Wendy you are punishing them for a youthful folly. I have only wished for their happiness and if it makes them miserable to be away from you how can I be happy?"
"I would also like to say something here. The reason why everyone hated you was because I told everyone that you were a wife beater. I have been ashamed of it ever since it slipped from my mouth and I could not refute it without losing all my friends and family. I am sorry for all the pain that I have caused you. I know now that it was wrong what I did to you. I am not sorry that I married Darin because he has been a good husband and a good father but I am sorry the way it all happened." Wendy spoke as she hung her head low in the same of the revelation.
"Well, as I said, it is water under the bridge. Go home and be happy. Forget me again and lead a nice life taking good care of your son and wife, Roger. Susan, please lead a good life and never hurt the people around you. Wendy, Darin, I forgave the two of you a long time ago and I have nothing but good wishes for your future. May you have a healthy life ahead full of joyous moments with you children and grand children. All of you are welcome to seek me out if you need any material support. I earn more than I can spend and it is for Roger and Susan anyway. I do not have much left in my heart of offer any of you. After two heart strokes, it is quite weak!" I smiled at my own joke but no one else did.
"I am sorry that I am not the same man you remembered from ten years ago. I would have asked all of you to stay back for dinner but I have a very limited kitchen." I said as I announced the end of the meeting.
I shook their hands and even put my hand on the forehead of my grandson to bless him but I did not hold anyone in my arms not my son, not my daughter and not my grandson. I know you think I am heartless. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. I have a brain tumor and doctors have given me two to three years to live. My life will be hell after six months or so from the pain that it will cause me and I do not want Roger or Sue to start a relationship only to lose me again. At least this way, they can dismiss me as being an old-fart who did not know better than to turn them away. I am content being lost in a lonely world.