My mom had been sick for at least nine or ten years before I was born and she finally reached the end of her rope when I was about three. I have nine memories of her and four of them are of her being sick. We didn't spend time together and she was never my "mom." The older kids were more or less in the same boat that I was, and also she couldn't be a partner for our dad. He was a lawyer in downtown San Francisco and every day after work he commuted home in traffic and then he made dinner for the kids. He told me that he and my mom argued a lot but I never saw it. Anyway, he divorced her and took custody of the kids and within a year or two her health tanked and she stopped leaving her house, and then she faded out of our lives.
When I was ready for a new mom I started harassing our dad to find a good one. I imagined that she would be like a fun babysitter, but a mature adult in his age group. I nagged him about it everyday, and eventually he started dating but something went terribly wrong: All of his girlfriends ignored his kids. They weren't looking for stepchildren.
Some of them were obvious. For example, when I was about six we took his girlfriend Pat out for breakfast and while we waited at the hostess stand to be seated I saw a colorful bubble gum machine, and within a nanosecond I got pennies from my dad and had a handful of bubble gum. They said "Ford" on them. I was very excited about this because that was Pat's last name, and so I showed them to her as if they were made out of gold and she was like, "Yeah, whatever, go away."
He ended up marrying someone who was too young and she had the mentality of a teenager. She was searching for a daddy for herself. Tina Gallo from Moraga, CA. She was 28 and he was 47. She competed fiercely against all four kids for our dad's time and energy and for his spending money. She was determined to take it all.
They had three babies within four years. It was a living nightmare for the rest of us. To compound the situation, she was a temperamental closet alcoholic. We knew it but our dad lived in complete denial about it. She kept several cases of wine coolers in her bedroom closet and I told him to look and he never did. When I was fifteen Tina unplugged the phone and she chased me around the house and then she hit me as hard as she could. I knocked her on the ground and she happened to break her leg, and then she told our dad that it was my fault. He didn't say anything to me about it but he still didn't look in her closet for the alcohol. About a year later my big sister Suzy returned home from college for Christmas vacation, and she was sitting on the couch watching TV when Tina walked in and threw a dinner plate at her as hard as she could. I was sitting next to Suzy when it happened and so I saw the whole thing. Our dad still didn't understand that his wife had a problem. Eventually, when I was 17 and away at college, he got really sick (congestive heart failure) and he couldn't get out of bed to get a glass of water, and when he asked his wife to get it she refused. Even then he still didn't realize how nasty she was.
Finally, about two years later he began to understand the impact that she was having on his kids. My oldest sister Sandy left her husband and moved back home with her four children and Tina harassed her everyday. She was determined to push my sister and her kids out of the house. One day there was an incident over there and our dad called a moving company to pack Tina's stuff and haul it somewhere. All of our relatives had a field day; it was as if I could hear a collective sigh of relief coming from all directions.
After our dad died we had to remove everything from his house, and one day when I was in the neighborhood I talked to his neighbors who lived three houses away. They told me that they happened to randomly run into Tina on the street when she still lived in our house, and she told them that she kidnapped my dog and had him put to sleep. He was an eight year old black Labrador Retriever and he weighed about 50 pounds. I always suspected that he was kidnapped because my dad and I searched for him at every animal shelter and so we knew that he didn't get picked up by animal control. We knew that he didn't get hit by a car because they said that none of the dead dogs they found look like him. We hung posters on every telephone pole for miles and no one called and so we knew that he didn't get picked up by a good samaritan. Kidnapping was the only thing left, but we couldn't imagine who would ever do that. Buddy had knocked over our neighbors' garbage cans a few times but they wouldn't have killed him. For seven years I knew in my gut that he had been kidnapped and murdered but I couldn't imagine who would do that, and sometime during that period Tina confessed to the neighbors and for some reason they didn't tell anyone until after our dad died. When they finally told me I instantly realized that it made perfect sense.
Now that I'm an adult, when I date single dads I always remind myself that his kids may need a good mom as badly as I did. It's somewhat like being an adult former orphan looking at kids who are still living in that state. I know what their day is like, from beginning to end. And so when I meet single dads I show interest in their kids, and then a really strange thing happens: It becomes clear that their entire focus is on finding someone for themselves and they're not even thinking about who would be best for their kids. It's as if their kids don't count. It's shocking. When I ask a few basic questions about their kids they try to redirect my focus back onto themselves, and if I persist than they'll actually say that they're searching for a woman who is right for them, not for their kids, and that if we're a match than he'll figure out what to do about them later. Every single dad that I've ever dated said that.
As time went on it became apparent that dating is their way of escaping from their kids. In other words, they view dating as their time off away from their families. One guy got the childrens' mother to take their kids during his weekend with them so that he could invite me over. When I found out about that I thought he was the biggest loser on earth.
They don't seem to realize that they're living a double life with their girlfriends and that their kids are watching it. It confuses the kids. They'll blame the whole situation on the girlfriend because she's the person who he's with when he's gone. They don't understand that she's only an escape; that the real problem is him. Some women take advantage of the situation, like Tina did, but if he was a responsible parent than he wouldn't allow it to happen. It's understandable that men need to have time alone with their girlfriends, just as they would if they were married, but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction for his kids.