excerpt from Raised By White Trash
It’s not thought about often but “Father” should be a pretty straight forward concept and easily defined. That’s in theory anyway. In the rural white trash towns of the plains states it’s a little more complicated. For example legally in Missouri the word Father refers to the man married to a child’s mother at the time of his or her birth.The child’s birth not the mans birth. It’s a roundabout way of saying that your wife’s kid is your responsibility no matter who the sperm donor was.
At face value it sounds barbaric but in pre-paternity test times it was a way to keep men from avoiding child support and parental responsibilities just by saying “not my kid”. I have my doubts that this created any responsibility for anyone. At least the kids of cheating moms with resentful husbands had some financial support promised to them once a month.
When you’re young it just doesn’t occur to you to question your own parentage. Mom is mom and Dad is dad and between worrying about what time Scooby Doo is on and who is going to get to the cereal prize first it just never comes up in conversation.
The topic didn’t come up for me until I was around eight or nine years old. After an evening of randomly driving around town with my mother and siblings. I was sent on an errand to get my dad from the bar at the VFW.I was dropped off to go inside and let him know it was time to come home. It was a dirty trick on my mothers part now that I look back. He would be forced to come home once I was there since I was now in his care and probably shouldn’t be in a bar. It was also a testament to her superb parenting skills abandoning me at a bar in the first place to be driven home by someone in an unknown state of intoxication.
I never called child protective services because at the time I didn’t see it that way. I was on an important mission and got to go someplace my younger brother and sister didn’t. I marched to the front door of the place and found it locked so I knocked. A little shot of fear went through me when there was no answer and the tail lights of our station wagon were already shrinking into the night. I didn’t have a chance to panic. Moments later a little sliding door higher up the door than I could immediately see slid open and a gray face appeared. Smoke and country music poured out the face and the bluish light behind it gave a slightly otherworldly look. This was just like the scene out of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends are trying to get into the Emerald City. This was so cool.
“I came to get Jim” I told the face. I was proud of myself remembering to say his name instead of just saying “my dad” since “dad” could be anyone.
“No Jim here” said the voice.
“But his truck is here!” I pleaded quickly. I knew it was there since the only reason we were out and driving around in the first place was to find his truck.
The face retreated and the door cracked open. “JD is this your boy?” Said the face that now had a body.
“Yeah, that’s my stepson” Said one of the four people smoking in the otherwise empty bar. Nothing was quite registering but I saw my dad and I remembered my mission. I ran up and said “Mom says it’s time to come home”.
He took a long drag on his cigarette. He was an expert at smoking and could communicate through his exhales. This exhale was in the tone of resignation. “Ok, tell her I’ll finish this beer and be right home”.
“She’s gone already I’m supposed to ride with you.” I don’t remember exactly how I said it. Excited I got to stay? Smarmy because I knew he didn’t have a choice? Probably smarmy.
He knew he was trapped and I knew he wasn’t going to waste a beer so I sat on the barstool. He ordered me a sprite with a cherry in it while I waited for him.
“Who’s JD?” I asked him. Mimicking the hunched over bar pose he and the other men had and trying to look like a grown up.
“That’s what my friends call me. It’s my initials” He was always so boring at home this secret identity idea started to make sense.
I wanted to ask him what a stepson was but I didn’t want to sound like I was dumb. After all I was practically a grown up.. How else could I have gotten in the bar? I thought about it though. “Step” was like stairs and since I was the oldest I was like the top stair. That must be it right? like the oldest is the ‘step’ because it’s higher up. It made sense to me.