What’s a boy to do when his dad brings home a woman who resembles—but isn’t—his mom? You mean besides therapy?
More than a decade ago, my dad—long since divorced from my mom—introduced me to his new girlfriend, a tall, slender Czech with terrific posture and curly brown hair. She seemed perfectly delightful, but she also looked like my mom.
It was weird. With all the women in the world, my dad had to pick one who looked like my mom? And was I supposed to pretend like she didn’t? Were we not going to talk about this? I kept waiting for my dad to acknowledge the obvious, to tame the elephant in the room. I would have settled for an awkward joke as he and I walked the family dog in the park, something like, “Remember when your mother and I divorced—how I never wanted to see her again? Well, son, she’s back!” Or, more likely, “Son, you may have noticed that my girlfriend looks a little bit like your mother. It obviously doesn’t bother me, but if it’s an issue for you, I’d be glad to help you process it.”
But he didn’t say anything. Days passed. Then weeks. We did go on some walks, and he did broach the obvious, although not the obvious I was hoping for. “I don’t know what I did to deserve her,” he told me, shaking his head in disbelief. I tried not to agree too vehemently (I love my dad, but she did seem Heaven-sent), but mostly I couldn’t stop thinking that maybe he didn’t notice. People have their blind spots. Maybe this was his.
Blind spot or not, I worried that my college graduation would be an awkward experience all around. For one thing, my mom and dad would be spending time together, a risky proposition even without the look-alike girlfriend. (My parents are not Facebook friends.) But this would also be the first meeting of the leggy Europeans—a Kodak moment if there ever was one—and I wondered if they would ignore the obvious, too.
I doubted that my mom would. She’s French, which means that she communicates almost exclusively in snooty one-liners when she’s angry, and I could picture her telling my dad, “Congratulations, you managed to find a version of me that actually likes you!” But in this case, admirably, she held her fire. Or did she not notice, either? Maybe I was making this all up?
I wasn’t. There was a cute photograph of the three of us at the graduation ceremony (since lost), and when I showed it to friends they all assumed that the woman was my mom’s sister. When I corrected them (she’s my dad’s girlfriend!), one didn’t believe me. Another said, “Whoa. That’s some crazy shit.”
Crazy shit indeed. But as I stood in a staid Phoenix courtroom a few years ago, waiting for my dad and his girlfriend to finally tie the knot (after more than a decade together, they didn’t need much pomp and circumstance), I tried not to think about it. Don’t think about Czechoslovakian elephants, I kept saying to myself, even as I zoomed in with a digital camera on the smiling bride and my teary-eyed dad.
Fortunately, the judge who administered the brief ceremony liked to think of himself as a jokester, and he kept things light—and kept me distracted. As he filled out the marriage certificate, he asked my dad if he knew that day’s date. My dad couldn’t remember (not a surprise—embarrassingly poor memories run in the family), and as he looked at his watch for help, the judge chimed in. “Geez,” he said to my dad’s soon-to-be-wife. “You may want to reconsider. You’re not even married yet, and he’s already forgotten your anniversary date!”
But she didn’t want to reconsider. I didn’t want her to, either. As I snapped pictures and shed tears of my own, it occurred to me that I could live with a step-mom who looks like my mom as long as my dad is happy. My mom did not make my dad happy. My step-mom does. In that respect, they couldn’t be more different.
Author’s Note: Many thanks to my mom, dad, and stepmom for letting me get this off my chest. I love you all very much. Let’s never speak of this again.
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