Mama, there is one tiny sexual reference in this story. I think you can probably manage.
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Yesterday morning, the children and I took Victoria out for an early birthday brunch; my fiancée will turn 35 tomorrow. We are getting married in 27 days.
Eira – my fourth ex-wife, and mother of my children – will be at the wedding. We had also invited Eira’s mother, but she’s not quite well enough to come up north for the ceremony. My daughter is old enough to recognize that the relationship between my former and future wives is special and precious, but it got her thinking. After brunch, Heloise asked about my relationships with the parents of my other exes. I gave her a sketch, but share a bit more with you.
It is May 1985.
April and I have been a couple for five months. April is but 15, but to call her precociously adventurous would be to undersell things considerably. One Sunday night, she and I have a foursome with another boy and girl, classmates of April’s at Monterey High School. Since it is a school night, I have a curfew, and I reluctantly leave the other three in April’s bed.
I step out into the hallway to be confronted by April’s mother, who is perfectly aware of what the four of us were doing, but who does not allow her disapproval to rise to the level of intervention. Instead, Connie takes my arm, and walks me towards the door. “I am disappointed,” she says gently but firmly; “I know this is a part of April, but I didn’t think it was part of you. I need you to help her say no to her own impulses.”
I apologize profusely, and am waved out of the house “Think about what it means to love someone, Hugo;” she says. "Think about it hard."
It is March 2001.
My third future father-in-law and I sit alone in a sushi place in Pasadena. Elizabeth and I are two months away from marrying. Harold pops a spicy tuna roll in his mouth, and pushes a stack of papers across the table. Harold was an Air Force Colonel. His brother is a lawyer, and has drawn up a pre-nup. Harold and Elizabeth jointly own the home into which I’ll be moving, and my new dad wants it to be clear that the house I’ll move into will never be mine.
“For me,” Harold says, “love comes before trust. My daughter loves you. I may love you. I am a million miles away from trusting you based on what I know about you.”
“That’s fair,” I say.
“Sign on the bottom of page 4,” he says – and I flip to it, seeing my fiancée’s signature there.
Harold sips his Sapporo. I sip my Diet Coke. We smile at each other. “You can build trust with time,” he says.
I feel humiliated, but know better than to let that show. Instead, I give him my best smile, and my most sincere, “I intend to do just that, sir.”
The marriage will last 16 months. The pre-nup came in handy.
It is July 1989.
My first fiancée and I sit in her parent's kitchen. My girl is old school; she wants me to ask her father’s permission for her hand. Her parents are Filipino Catholics, kind as can be beneath a surface of sarcasm and constant references to the better things in an older time and place.
“Sir,” I begin.
He cuts me off. “You may call me Arnoldo now.”
I am sweating despite the air conditioning. “Arnoldo, I would like your permission and blessing to marry your daughter. I love her very much and I believe I can take good care of her.”
My words don’t come out as smoothly as I’d wanted. I feel like I’m a wedding guest in the first Godfather movie, awkwardly asking Don Corleone for a favor.
My future mother-in-law grins at me. Alyssa squeezes my hand under the table.
Arnoldo glares at me. “What do you think love is, Hugo?”
I launch into a small, nervous speech about love being devotion, care, commitment. I’m throwing out synonyms.
My future father-in-law shakes his head. “No,” he says. “Love is consistency. It’s the same thing every day. It’s coming home when you don’t want to and getting out of bed when you don’t want to because you made a promise. Day in, day out. Can you do that, Hugo”
I decide that brevity is a good idea at this point. “Yes. Yes, I can and will do that.”
Arnoldo beams, and shakes my hand. “You have my blessing.”
It is January 26, 2009.
I am holding Heloise in my arms when my fourth mother-in-law walks into the hospital. Heloise is three hours old, and Eira is recovering from a C-section. The new mama is in a deep, drugged sleep.
I hand our daughter to Ana, who coos, strokes the enchanting infant’s cheek. We murmur back and forth, and then this woman who has always been so guarded, thanks me. “Thank you, Hugo. No matter what you ever do, I love you for helping give her to me.”
My mother—in-law kisses my cheek.
No matter what you ever do.
So far, Ana’s keeping to her word, despite countless provocations.
It is March 2018.
When Victoria told mother and stepfather about her new beau, the latter started Googling. He didn’t like the age gap, and as he told Victoria, he had “suspicions.” What Ron reads on the Internet about the man who is dating his stepdaughter horrifies him. Ron calls Victoria, demands to know if she knows the full horror of my past. When she replies, calmly and evenly, that she does know and is prepared to love and commit regardless, Ron calls her a fool.
Ron friends me on Facebook, and when I accept, sends me an angry screed warning me to stay away from Victoria. “If you have any decency, you’ll leave my stepdaughter alone. You and I both know what you are, even if she doesn’t.”
I block him.
That was in the summer of 2017, but today, I’m meeting Ron in person for the first time. Victoria and her mother have both worked on him, and he’s calmed down, even sending me an email to say that he’s sorry for his initial mistrust. I reply at once that I understand, and so by the time Ron and I shake hands at last, there’s already been the tentative beginnings of a rapprochement.
This first meeting is at a restaurant in Manhattan Beach. When it is time for dessert, Ron asks me to join him in stepping out for a cigarette. We stand in the parking lot, and he offers me a Camel, lighting it for me. We puff in silence for a moment.
“I’m so sorry about the things I said,” Ron says softly.
“I’m a dad,” I reply; “I get it. No need to apologize.”
Another moment of silence. We crush out our cigarettes.
“Family is about growing to love the people you wouldn’t otherwise choose,” he says.
I tell him that’s true, and on impulse, rest my hand briefly on his shoulder.
“That doesn’t mean I love you yet,” Ron says, and laughs. I laugh with him, and we walk back into two women who love us in spite of ourselves.
Ron will die nine months later. His memory is a blessing.
I’m always up for a good cover of an iconic song, and the new Ashley Monroe/Ruston Kelly take on the Everly Brother’s classic is most excellent.