Summary: Four ways to treat your parents with wisdom.
In Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times there was a interesting article about LA Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal (LA Times 6/6/02 "Biological Didn’t Bother"). It was really a story about Shaq and his biological father Joseph Toney. When Shaq was just six months old, his birth father Joseph Toney left, and they’ve never talked since. Shaq’s mom eventually remarried, and her new husband Phillip Harrison has functioned as Shaq’s dad through the years. When the LA Lakers played in New Jersey this last week in the NBA finals, it was like a homecoming for Shaq, because he grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Yet it also forced him to confront the reality that his birth father Joseph Toney was in the crowd as well. When asked about his biological father at a press conference, Shaq’s smile disappeared, and he said, "That man doesn’t exist to me."
I’m sure father’s day is a confusing and difficult day for Shaq. I can certainly relate to Shaq’s dilemma, because my biological father was much the same as his. My birth father was only 17 years old when he married my mom, and just 18 years old when I was born. Their short and tumultuous marriage lasted only a few years, and by the time I was a toddler, he was gone. No child support, no phone calls, no birthday cards, simply gone with no trace.
Eventually my mom also remarried, and because my biological dad had chosen to disappear, the court system let my mom’s new husband adopt me. I still remember the day I met with the judge when I was about 8 years old, that day my birth certificate was changed from Tim Brown to Tim Peck. Yet I still had a gnawing emptiness, wondering what my real dad was like. That question was answered when my birth father came back into my life when I was 14 years old. What I met was a cocaine addict who shared his addition with me on our first meeting. What I met was a guy who made lots of empty promises and then disappeared again just as he’d done when I was three years old. I haven’t heard from him since.
Around the same time, my mom divorced my adopted dad and remarried. So keep count: By this time I had a biological father, an adopted father, and now a stepfather. Really my stepfather into my life too late in life for me to really see him as a father. So as I grew into adulthood, I struggled with this question, "Who’s really my dad?" Was it my biological father, a drug addicted guy who spent his life evading responsibility? Was it my adopted father, a man with many flaws and who made many mistakes, but who at least was there through the years? In a sense, I had to make a conscious decision, I’m sure the same kind of decision Shaq had to make. I had to decide whether to seek out my biological father or to make the choice to view my adopted father as my dad. I chose the latter, and since I made that choice several years ago, the emptiness to know my birth father has disappeared.
Now granted my experience isn’t typical. But for those of us who whose homes resembled the Osbornes more than Ozzie and Harriet, Father’s Day can be a tough time. That doesn’t change when you become an adult, because as long as you live, your parents are still your parents. Learning how to relate to our parents as adults can be a difficult and challenging task. Today, on Father’s Day, we’re going to talk about wising up about our parents.