Because

A lot of people, strangers but especially friends tend to ask me why I put up with him, with the hours, with the craziness. I know—it's sort of hard to explain.

There are some easy answers and, easy or not; they're true. I mean I was orphaned—my parents were killed in front of me and then I was thrown into juvie for a month. He rescued me. Literally. He checked through the system, found me and gave me a home when no one else would.

He gave me a place to live, food to eat and clothes to wear. He made sure I went to school and he gave me the tools I needed to get closure about my parent's deaths.

No one else gave a rat's ass. People seem to think I forgot about that part of my life because I tend to be upbeat and make jokes—but I haven't. I just don't make a big deal about it but it's still there, believe me.

And he cared—cares—about me.

Yes, it's in his own screwed up way and God knows he's as emotionally stunted as a dead tree but he cares and that's huge. Sure, when I'm injured he has a tendency to blame me and let me know I fucked up but that's just part of the territory and I'm okay with that. No one's ever going to nominate him for sainthood and we all know that, so you take the good with the bad, just like you do with anyone.

Unreasonable? Well, yeah. He can be pretty out of control and expects me to follow along. It gets tired but I think that sometimes I temper that part of him a little, make him see at least some of the other guy's side. Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, so that may explain why I did this when I was twelve years old but why do I still listen to him? I mean I'm twenty-three years old. I haven't lived in the same house with his since I was eighteen. I have a job and sometimes I even have a girlfriend. I can take care of myself just fine—and I even think I'd be able to if he hadn't ridden in on his big white horse and saved me when I was an incredibly messed up kid.

I still listen, at least when I'm in the mood, because he still has things to say to me that I want to hear. Well, okay—sometimes I want to hear what he has to say. Sometimes it's complete BS. Sometimes we go months without a call and then we'll go through a period when I feel like we're living in each other's pockets—as much as he lives in anyone's pocket, anyway.

I know people who ask me how my father's doing and that's always a kind of a kick in the teeth. The first time someone asked me that, using those words, I was stopped for a minute. I mean, c'mon—my father died in a circus tent fifteen years ago. I know. I was there. Trust me, you don't forget that stuff.

My father.

Yeah. He adopted me. He adopted me when I was twenty-one years old, three years after the guardianship legally ended.

Three years of limbo.

Three years of being neither fish nor fowl.

Three years of being an afterthought. Three years of being yesterday's news, an obligation completed, nothing.

Three years when I knew the damn house key I'd used since I was eight years old no longer fit the changed locks. Three years when the security codes were changed. Three years when I knew I didn't have any firm plans for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Yeah.

Then one day he tells me—hey, surprise, kid—how would you feel about being my son, m'boy? Here are the adoption papers, just sign on the dotted line.

Left field? Oh yeah.

Seems he'd been thinking about it for a while and, well, why not? It would make the legalities of being his heir easier. It would put a period to the big question mark we'd been living with—you know the one—the one where we figured out where I fit into the equation.

And that's the other part of the mystery. He loves me.

No, not like the tabloids say. Nothing like that. I mean he loves me like a father loves a son. Or maybe like an employer loves a favored golden employee. It kind of blurs sometimes.

And, yeah—I love him, too.

Sometimes I think it's based on gratitude and I suppose at least part of it is but it's more than that.

He gave me things I needed—no, not sweatshirts and school tuition and three meals a day, though he gave me that stuff, too. He gave me a reason to get up in the morning.

'You have any idea how much that is?

Sure, I could have done a lot of different things—I know I'm smart and all that but he gave me something to do that matters. He gave me a reason. He gave me a direction.

That sounds pretentious, I know.

I don't care. It's true.

The other side of the coin? Yeah, there is one—there's always a 'but', isn't there?

Okay, he pretty much sucked at the whole parental, warm and fuzzy crap. Birthdays? Forget it. School plays, track meets, graduation? Yeah—right. Vacations? You kidding?

A hand on the shoulder? 'Good job'? 'I'm proud of you, old chum'?

Seriously. I mean, seriously. Not in this lifetime.

But—there's always a 'but', like I said—the pros outweighed the cons a thousand times over.

Then there's that other thing.

I think I helped him. I really do. I think—I really believe that if I hadn't been there he'd have descended into true lunacy. I mean completely nuts, off the wall, call the guys in the white coats crazy. I did that for him. I believe that.

Symbiosis.

That's it. He gave me all this stuff when I needed it and I gave it right back. I love him—in a totally appropriate, man-to-man kind of way and he reciprocates as well as he's able.

It's not normal. I know that and don't give me any crap about 'what's normal'. It isn't and I know that but the bottom line is that it works and it works pretty well most of the time.

So, the short answer?

Because it works. It's that simple.

3/30/08

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