By: Hollye Dexter
I’m counting the moments until tomorrow, when my family will be here from Texas to spend the week with us – the family I didn’t even know I had until seven years ago.
The cousins will play together, friends will gather for potluck dinners, and of course we will do the full Disneyland day. It will be a typical family experience for the most un-typical family you’ve ever met. We’ve come together from different parts of the country and different cultural backgrounds and lifestyles, but what we share is love, a dad, DNA, and a very odd history.
I always knew I had a father out there somewhere, but I didn’t know who he was, what he looked like, or if he was even alive. Through some geneology work I was doing in 2003, I found him. It wasn’t what I had set out to do, in fact I feared it, but nevertheless, he is now in my life, thankfully. He missed out on my childhood, as he was in prison. I finally learned the full truth of who I am, where I came from and how I came to be in this world.
I love my dad. Believe it or not, in seven years we have developed a relationship much like any other parent-child relationship. There is love, and resentment, and frailty. There are times I feel like I don’t even know him, and times I feel lucky to know him at all. There have been periods of closeness when we spoke on the phone every day, and a period when we didn’t speak for almost a year. To say the least, it’s been complicated.
But the greatest gift he has given me is my three brothers; Caleb, Ted, and Ted. Oh and my dad’s name is Ted. And my grandfather is Ted, too. How we ended up with a Caleb in the family I’ll never know, but it must have been the good sense of his mama. I am very grateful not to be named Ted.
There is a 20-year span between the oldest (me) and the youngest (Caleb). Ted Duane is 3 years my junior, and now lives in Tacoma. Even though we didn’t grow up together, he and I are two peas in a pod, so everyone says. “Y’all are just alike” says Caleb. “Yep” says Ted William, the quiet one.
Ted William is third in line. He is married to my gorgeous sister in law Heather, and has given me the additional gift of being an aunt to my two nephews, Joshua and Jordan. Heather is another miracle in my life. She is beautiful and strong and has lived through way more than any woman in her twenties should have to, but still, she is the glue that holds our family together.
How my father found the time to populate the Earth with four children in between his stints in prison I’ll never know. In the 60s and 70s he was a heroin addict. He was in so much trouble all the time for stupid things like burglarizing his drug dealer’s house, violating parole, falling asleep in stolen cars -you name it -that they finally just threw him in prison. And that probably saved his life.
My dad has been living the life of the good citizen for the past 30 years, working for the city of Houston. His wife is the Head of the School Board. Dad was ordained a Baptist preacher 15 years ago at the Second Baptist church of Galena Park. Everyone in town knows and loves “Brother Butch” as they call him. (Too many Teds for such a small town). I am swarmed with well-wishers when I attend Dad’s church. “Y’all are Brother Butch’s daughter? Lucky girl! Your daddy is the best man in town” they say (and I can never get over them calling a singular person “y’all” but I kinda like it).
Here’s the kicker: Two of my brothers, Ted Duane and Caleb, are gay. So my father has had the challenge of coming to terms with his own past, and learning to fully accept his sons for who they are in contradiction to his religion. Suffice it to say he is possibly the least judgmental Christian you will ever meet. He accepts everyone as they are, and doesn’t criticize nor try to change them. He loves my brothers equally while acknowledging their unique qualities and characteristics. For instance, he appreciates that Caleb has a fabulous knack for decorating and helping my dad pick out matching clothes for church. Dad even has little pet names for my brothers, like Ted William is “Little Butch”, and Caleb is (add Texas twang here) “Gay boy” or “Queer Eye”. All said in love, and with good humor, but trust me, political correctness does not exist in this branch of my family tree.
I’ll never forget our family reunion in Texas a few years ago. We all stayed at Dad’s house: spouses, life-partners, kids, and all. It was one big happy, week-long sleepover party. One night we gathered in the family room with pillows, blankets and popcorn and watched “Brokeback Mountain” together. At the end, my dad, the Baptist preacher, says, “Well, I guess I could kinda understand being gay. I mean, if it’s just hanging out with your buddies all day I guess I could be gay too….except for the butt-sex.”
Ah, those were good times.
Because we found each other late in life, it’s a priority for us to spend quality time together. We make the trip to see each other at least once or twice a year. We stay up late at night talking, asking deep questions about each other’s lives and histories. Often, Ted Duane and I have discussed how we feel we are closer than many brothers and sisters who have grown up together. We don’t have a lifetime of memories (or, for that matter, issues and resentment). We only have now, so we make every moment count
This week will be spent with my brother Ted, or “Straight-Ted” as we call him, and his family. I’ll never forget the first time I met him. It was at my Dad’s house in the Fall of 2003. Ted and Heather walk in and I’m standing in the kitchen. He sees me, I smile wide, he walks up and throws his arms around me, lifting me off my feet. Then he takes a few steps back to get a good look at me. “Wow, I can’t believe y’all are my sister!” He shakes his head with a look of wonder on his face. Heather looks back and forth at us standing together. “Y’all favor. Y’all definitely favor.” Ted hugs me again. “I’m so glad to meet you!” he says. He takes a step back again, looks puzzled. “Hey! What’s your name, anyway?”
Yeah, we had a lot to learn about each other. Since then, we’ve shared many good times, both in Texas and California. In 2005 Heather and I both got pregnant and had sons just three months apart. My nephew Joshua was born on Christmas Day, 2005. To have the father I never knew call me on Christmas morning to tell me I had just become an aunt was beyond surreal, and one of the best Christmases of my life.
It’s been a crazy journey for all four of us siblings. Not one of us had an easy life, but we’ve all grown up to be good, responsible, hard-working people. We are each a little bit wobbly, a little bit scarred, but hey, we’re still standing, and now we’ve got each other.
I just can’t wait to throw my arms around them all tomorrow. I look forward to heart to heart talks with my brother, coffee with Heather early in the mornings, watching the kids play together. I anticipate the rich memories that are yet to be made this week, and for the rest of our lives.
Today, my heart is full with the blessing that is my kooky, unexpected family. I encourage you all to take a moment to appreciate your kooky families today, too. In fact, how about we declare this “Kooky, unexpected, difficult, crazy-making-but-god-I-love-them Family Appreciation Week”?