Growing up in the 80's it seemed that everyone's parents were divorced. Well, not everyone, but an alarming number of my friends had houses and families that were much different than mine. Mom, Dad, sister...oh, and a half sister and brother that were grown and stayed with you sometimes. Wait, what?
Having a father that had been married before he met my mother, married her and had us, NEVER connected for me with the stories of all my friends whose parents were now married to OTHER people. What the heck is a stepmom, anyways?
I pride myself on my intelligence, and always have. I've always been a precocius, interested child that was as happy or happier at the grown-ups table listening and sharing stories as at the kids table coloring and cutting up. But this issue of divorce is one that I was just plain dumb on. I very specifically remember asking my mother once around 5 or 6 if Carol (the woman my father had married in his early 20's before divorcing as he entered his 30's) was my stepmom, or could she be, since everyone else seemed to have one.
I knew she was my older brother's mom and my older sister's mom, and that seemed an awful lot like the relationships my classmates had thanks to these divorces.
Mom scoffed at first, then laughed, then warmed into a smile and spent quite a bit of time explaining the vagueries of modern American marriage. Dad met and married a woman when he was younger. They ended up divorced because that happens sometimes and marriage is hard, and then later Dad met Mom, and they fell in love and after a lot of thought, they ended up getting married and had me and my baby sister, and that's how our family looks. It's okay, it's not just like everyone else's but it's not "weird" either. And no, my Mom and Dad aren't getting a divorce. Ha.
That was my own personal after school special somewhere around 1987 while parked outside the Hughes Quik Stop to get an icee after school.
For years, I very specifically said that this was a part of Dad's life I wasn't going to copy. I knew better than he did, so surely I'd pick perfectly on that first mate and not complicate my life story and my children's lives with this step and half nonsense.
But I am my Father's son. And as bright as I am, or as righteous of us Sharpton's may be, we're are every single one of us human. And that comes with a whole lot of "I probably should've"s.
Jimmy Sharpton is a wonderfully gifted singer, with a natural ear for music and an innate ability to harmonize, riff on a melody or even imitate fairly closely an original take on something he's heard just once or twice.
His song is his joy, and an expression thereof, as he has spent more of his life whistling, singing or humming than silent or talking. This is a trait that he very thankfully passed on to me. The music is in my heart, because his blood flows through my veins.
He's a silly old man, and has been for my entire life. Full of peccadillos and quirks that would drive anyone other my mother insane after sharing a home and house with him for 40 years and counting. He clears his throat constantly and bangs his spoon against his cereal bowl incessantly and wipes down his drinking cups to clear off the condensation obsessively.
He spends hours on end watching old western serials that he's already seen, which is a mirror of the hours on end he'd spend watching hunting videos and tv shows when I was a kid.
He's got a sweet tooth, and an eye for pretty ladies and decent taste in both arenas. He loves my mother in a way that I have always appreciated, even when I didn't understand it. He loves her for her humor and her intelligence and her supreme ability to run a household, but he CRAVES her too. He longs for her presence, it calms and sustains him and I have spent my whole life hoping I'd find a love that lights me up like his love for her charges him like a duracell. I'm so glad I have found it. Even if it took me two tries as well.
As I've grown, I've learned that Dad really did have a whole life before he met Jamie and I came on the scene. Imagine that? 34 years can hold a lot of living, as my 37 reminds me when I bend over too fast. Just this year, I learned, for instance, that Dad rode the rodeo circuit for a period. That may have even caused some head trauma that he's seeing the effects of now, though that's a bit of a long shot.
I didn't know about the rodeo, but I did grow up hearing stories about his tournament fishing days (there were patches and some awards around the house when I was small), his move to deer hunting and how it CRUSHED all his other hobbies and interests outside carpentry.
I had heard the stories about how he missed Vietnam because he'd been water skiing in early March and his physical showed spots on his lungs (pneumonia that he didn't know he had yet). How he tried college, but ended up shooting pool more than going to class and dropped out after one semester. How he worked with his father during high school and was making more than hired mill hands when he graduated so he just went into business and started building houses.
I remember how hard he pushed me to do something else with my life. Use my head and sit at a big desk and push papers or ideas instead of hammering nails. Where I ended up isn't where he wanted me, but I do know that he's proud of where I am. I know because he tells me.
My Dad wasn't and isn't perfect. But he always showed and shared his love. He hugged us, and kissed us and held us when we cried, even when it was him that had made us cry. He always told me he was proud of me, not just my achievements or abilities, but me. And he means it too.
Jimmy Sharpton is a complicated man, who I have disagreed with more than anyone else on earth most likely just because I've been confronted with so much of him over the years. But there is no one I'd rather call my father. There is no one I'd rather see beside my mother, and no one I'd rather have my children call 'Opa' (Dutch for Grandfather).
So much of who I am is a direct result of who he is, and for that I am eternally thankful. Even my rough edges remind me of where we came from and how far we can go from there when we put our incredibly hard heads to it.
Today, Dad turns 72 and is enjoying some of those sweets he likes so much, and almost definitely watching a western. I can't be with him, but he is always with me, flowing through my veins, echoing in my ears and pushing me to use my head while I'm being led by my heart.
I love you, Dad. Happy birthday from me and all these weirdos listening.
For now, I'm Joel. That's my story, or one of them anyway. Thanks for listening.