Shortly after I had moved into the first apartment I could afford on my own, my parents separated. I was standing on the deck overlooking the back yard when Dad told me what was going on. He explained incomprehensibly how he still loved my mom but that they couldn’t live together any more. He knew that there had been times as I was growing up that he could have been there for me but I had to rely on my mom instead, and he promised that things would not just be different now, but better.

There were hints of problems between my parents before this announcement, and I don’t really know whether I was shocked more by the revelation or its telling. I’m not sure what I expected to happen, then living on my own, but if I had anything good to walk away with, I looked forward to having a better relationship with my dad.

And so, soon after I had moved out, I helped Dad move out into his first apartment. I drove his Stealth, and he a borrowed truck containing furniture. We lugged a Lay-Z-Boy up three flights of rickety fire escape scaffolding that served as the main entrance to the two-room rooftop apartment. After, we had a somber dinner at an Italian place in the new town where Dad lived. Things didn’t seem like they were going to get any better for him.

Mom couldn’t live by herself or didn’t want to live in that house, so she moved in with my grandmother, who I call Nana. She made a room for herself in the basement, no windows or outside light, but warmly decorated with the country style Mom likes so much. Meanwhile, the our family home sat empty.

Berta and I lived in the apartment for two years while the house was on the market. Nobody would buy it. Too expensive? I don’t know. But the mortgage payments were getting to be a strain on my parents with their concurrent separation housing arrangements.

Dad had moved around a bit over those years, too. He moved into a rental house with Cathy and her daughter. We stopped by with my brother that Christmas to visit, and were herded into the basement when Cathy’s son’s family arrived.

I have since met Cathy’s son, and I envision him to be the kind of son that my dad might have liked to have for his own. He likes sports and cars as hobbies, and can talk about NASCAR without saying something stupid about the Japanese cars that are involved. He keeps up with football and knows the players on sight and by name. He seems pretty fit and holds a good job - construction or something else very hands-on and approachable. Moreover, he drinks a generic beer and is a likeable family guy.

But I wasn’t going to play second-chair son to someone I wasn’t even supposed to meet. So I went on with my life.

I finally proposed to Berta on Christmas. We would finally eschew our secret from her parents and live together in public. Whatever insanity posessed me, perhaps the simultaneous talk of marriage, we volunteered to pay the mortgage and move into my old family house, essentially as renters.

There were arguments with Dad leading up before this about how we could not afford the payments. I’m not sure why these happened because the payments weren’t much more than our rising apartment rental. Even with the insurance bills and the taxes that got passed on to us, it wasn’t a stretch, although were weren’t getting any of the benefits of actually owning the house.

The wedding took place in the back yard, the reception was on the porch. There were only a few people there. From my family both Mom and Dad, my brother, and all of my living grandparents came. Berta’s sisters all showed as bridesmaids, and her parents were there. Some friends came, and the lady next door. It was a happy beginning to our life in the “new” house.

So we moved in. For quite a while we made my parents’ payments while living in the house. It was odd living in my old house. Weird not just due to sleeping in my parent’s bedroom, but living next to neighbors that knew me when I was 10, with all of their kids grown up and moved on to better places and more important lives.

Mom and Dad both helped keep the house in reasonable repair, since Berta and I are not handy with tools at all. It turns out that keeping a house from falling down takes more work than you might expect. On the other hand, the looming sensation that this was still their house never left me.

Abby was born in 2001, and we carted her all over the place to see relatives. It was about this time when I started to resent having to travel to so many different locations to see people on the holidays. There always seems to be an obligation to go, but then there were so many individual stops. It was hard on us, even if Abby didn’t mind.

In the meantime, my mom got a new job. This was great for her because the pressures and politics of her old job were too much for her day to day, and she wasn’t making enough money to compensate her for her years of service and expertise. The new job provided her with much needed insurance coverage. Since she had been dependent on Dad’s insurance for her cancer treatment, she wasn’t able to afford coverage other than what law would require an employer to provide. The new job afforded her a way to finally complete the break from my dad.

Whether my mom’s new job was the catalyst, I can’t say, but the pressure of having the house mortgage on my parents’ credit became too much. We sought out our own loan to buy the house from them. At some point it was revealed that my dad had contracted a lawyer to write divorce papers, but the papers would be impossible if the house was still in their names.

There were many contingencies in the home purchase. Certain money had to be repaid to Nana, who had loaned my parents money for their original down-payment. Lawyers were called and phone calls placed between them. Two months of haggling over issues that didn’t concern us but hinged on my parents’ divorce settlements ensued. Our loan people became impatient.

At one point in the discussion Dad got upset. He said that Mom’s lawyer told his lawyer some-such-thing and that if the house wouldn’t be sold then he would just default on the loan and let the bank claim the house. He told me this twice. Twice, he told me that the house that my wife and I were living in and potentially all of our stuff would become property of a bank to whom I owed nothing, if I couldn’t talk my mom into being reasonable. This didn’t sit too well with me.

It was really the lawyers who had caused the miscommunication, struggling to squeeze every cent of a deal from people who just wanted to be done with it all. Frankly, I was relieved that the lawyers who oversaw the signing of the mortgage papers had arranged for staggered appointments for each of us so that we didn’t all have to be present at once, because I didn’t think I could take it. I had seen what I amounted to on the scale with my dad once more, not in malice, but in a Freudian revelation.

I couldn’t force my issues on Berta and Abby, though, and it’s hard not to be forgiving with their big hearts always behind me. Time passed in friendlier terms with everyone.

Last November I had announced that my 30th birthday, which would normally have taken place in January, would be celebrated in July. There were many discrete reasons for this change, but fundamentally birthdays in January have been historically bad. I’ve been abandoned by family and friends on my birthday more often than anyone should have to count. I’ve even broken bones on my birthday. These memories are something I would do better to leave behind. And so in preparation, I moved all these things, planning and looking forward to what would have to be a reversal of my 30-years of birthday fortune. I even convinced my brother to fly cross-country to attend my backyard barbecue 30th birthday party.

July rolled around quickly, and Dad had come over to help me assemble a swingset that we had gotten for Abby. We were packing his tools into his truck when he invited us to his wedding - to take place on the same day as my rescheduled birthday. I stood with a stupid grin, listening to him describe his plans, wondering how I had just managed to flush all of mine.

I still don’t know how I feel about my dad’s marriage. Cathy is a fine enough person for him. I suppose like any child who has parents that remarry, I have doubts about this new woman being worthy of my dad. But I can console myself in thinking that it is of no concern to me whom my dad marries, especially at this age when I need not consent to obeying her like a stepmother. Maybe it’s just the idea of having a stepmother at all that chills me.

On the other hand, I had no idea whether my mom knew about the ceremony. And in being divorced from my dad, I have no doubt that he wouldn’t have bothered her with it. And so like many other burdens of communication during their separation, it would fall to me or my brother to say anything if at all, a task that I would personally do my best avoid, but into which I had unwittingly dragged my brother.

So on the day after my re-rescheduled birthday celebration, which was tinted with the boreboding of the next days events and a full bottle of sangria, we four attended my dad’s wedding ceremony. Dad had assured me that it was informal dress for guests and that we need do nothing but show up and celebrate, and so I was completely underdressed when Dad asked me to stand for him when he and Cathy took their vows. I don’t think I have ever felt so hopelessly conflicted.

So I haven’t taken my dad’s calls in a while. Not that he has tried to call me. Maybe he has detected my unease. I can be cynical and find it more likely that I don’t have anything that he wants enough to call to schedule a trade. Guilt for home repair services rendered in exchange for time with Abby or something of his that he left in the garage. I’ve been glad he hasn’t called, but Berta’s mentionings about calling my dad have gotten more frequent.

I guess that Dad has been trying to contact me lately, though. No phone messages. I got an email today from him saying that his dad died. The viewing is tonight, though I haven’t looked up how to get to the place should I decide to go. I suppose that I should talk about it with Berta and that she’ll insist that I go. Grandpop came to our wedding, after all. I asked Dad to invite him for us, and he came.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, and there certainly isn’t anyone unbiased to talk it over with. I suppose it’s just one of those things, right?