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When in Doubt, Mumble: Otakon 2012 | 2012 | Disband of Brothers


Without a family, man, alone in the world, trembles with the cold.  

-André Maurois


How I Met Your Father

Amber is not close with her father, largely by design. Without airing other people's dirty laundry unduly, Amber's mother and father divorced when she was young. She continued to live with her mother, her father promptly moved onto a new life with a new wife states away (something established well in advance of the divorce). Amber swears that she isn't bothered by this, but it would be hard not to be a little shaken, especially when her attitude toward him remains icy to this day. I do not think she hates him, but she does not regard him fondly as "dad". (She clarifies, "I love my father, but I don't like him.") When holiday packages appear from him, she indulges the goods within, but she does so with a slightly sour look on her face.

As I nap in the car on the way back from Otakon, I piece together what I can - any man would do the same rather than go in blind against a potential threat. I know her father is computer savvy, having started an early internet café in the mall I frequented as a teen, though I never visited his store (or I would have possibly run into a child-sized Amber, who often spent time there). He is a fan of fantasy, such that he has copies of my first two books autographed to him (I inscribed one "I assure you, I treat your daughter far better than I do my characters"). He is a Born Again Christian, as is his wife and the several now adolescent sons she brought into the relationship. I was not sure that he knows I am a Pagan and certainly doubt he would know what sect, so I hope this latter point would not be an issue. The last thing I needed after this weekend was to argue theology with my girlfriend's estranged father. Her father is aware that Amber and I cohabitate and, when told, replied, "Anything that will get me grandchildren sooner!"

This, as you can imagine, did not charm Amber.

We arrive at the site of the family reunion after a circuitous drive through the City. We are pushed through the house to a spacious backyard, where it seems the weekend-long gathering is nearly at its end. I find some food for us and try one of the too-strong drinks at the bar, then set about being social.

I have never liked meeting my lover's families as it arouses in me an atavistic anxiety far more appropriate to being stranded up a tree surrounded by ravening tigers. It is not that my lover's family have been specifically lacking in charm. I can't countenance the subtext of "So, I see your daughter naked pretty often. We cool?" I have previously felt incapable of acting close to my true self (and, as Amber reminds her, the only time Amber's mother has not found me weird has been when I was warped by sleep deprivation and a cold into someone relatively bizarre). If I don't speak, I can't say anything horrible that will make them hate me forever. Years ago, when meeting Emily's family, I think I spoke only to make a joke about Breatharians (I inhaled and, holding my breath, said, "No thanks, I'm full). This made Emily's father liked me and that came as a relief, as, over the years I knew him, I began to see him as a second father. Kate's parents - who once told me I was not allowed to have a relationship swith Kate if I didn't have one with them as well - did not begin to like me until years into our relationship, once I had gone on a two week Canadian vacation with them and had shown enough of myself that I didn't seem quite like a monster who touch their daughter inappropriately. This fear of other people's parents had become far more muted - it is not as though I date those now who have to abide their parents' edicts - but it remains slightly in force as a general paranoia of appearing a know-it-all, grammar prig, Discordian, genre snob with mild attachment issues and a disinclination toward behaving appropriately in serious situations. You know, like I actually am.

Amber's father, thankfully, does not loom large in her life, as Melanie's mother did for her or Emily's parents for her; I do not feel that I need to impress him, only that I ought not horrify him. He is a man who contributed half Amber's chromosomes, but she gives no indication that she would notice if he neglected to call for two years. He is a man she knows, but ranks several spaced below her Uncle Bruce in her pantheon of familial affection. She has a greater sense of independence, as it seems to me that she regards her family as important but not crucial to her well-being.

Amber's paternal relations, aside from her father, do not intimidate me. In my experience, all extended families are the same: you have goofy and sweet aunts, doting grandparents, a stream of children who seem to belong to no one and everyone. I am pleased to see that our arrival here has been cushioned by their days of ice breaking, as all are quite friendly by now. And, of course, we cannot forget about the too-strong drinks for how relaxed I am around them.

Amber's father, however, is another story. I had seen a photo of her mother and father together once - enough that I could pick out a few features that Amber had inherited - but quite an old one. More than a decade must have passed since then, meaning her father could be most anything.

He introduced himself and I calm down. He reminds me of Billy West, one of my favorite voice actors (and yours too, you just don't realize it). He is affable and self-deprecating, so I don't have any reason to feel awkward around him. That is, I don't until he begins discussing the arc of one of my characters through the two books, at which point I want to burrow under the ground toe first. I can barely stand it when my own family talks about my books. I clench my toes and try to remain a civilized human being.

Amber's sister, Rebecca, deflects most of the attention away from me by instigating spirited debates with her father on every issue that comes up in our conversation, from prison reform to education to politics. I can just listen and nod, Amber cuddled next to me, and feel I have done my duty as a participant in the conversation. Though Rebecca's presence does inhibit me from asking their father the one question I do have for him, one that motivated me to want to come to this reunion (despite the fact that there was nowhere else for me to be while Amber attended), I cannot describe how grateful I am to her.

We are ushered from backyard to front, so a series of color coordinated family photos can be taken. I wait a dozen feet behind the camera man as different configurations of people and colors are mixed until his artistic eye is satiated. Then, one of the family members asks if I would like to be in a family photo. I look bashful, but I was quietly hoping for this or I would not have been in earthtones as well. Once the picture is taken, I decide that there will be no better time to ask her father.

"So, since I am now in your family photo, do I have your permission to marry your daughter?"

He laughs. "I'm fine with it if she is."

I look to Amber and she gives a shrug and a feigned indifferent "I guess!" which will have to do for now.

Soon in Xenology: Male friendships.

last watched: The Walking Dead
reading: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
listening: The Sundays

When in Doubt, Mumble: Otakon 2012 | 2012 | Disband of Brothers

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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