The Child As Mistress
This blog focuses on the mistress (and ‘mister’) we have, we are, or we become, whether the mistress is a person, an activity, a modality of thought, a cultural norm, or any of a million other possibilities. Today’s quote by Dumas and accompanying picture imply the traditional concept of the mistress – that of a woman on the outside of the marriage that the husband is involved with clandestinely. But I am an example of a mistress withIN a marriage. And I am not alone. My brother is as well, as are millions of us without ever imagining ourselves so. In fact we are mistresses that have the full, ahem, ‘blessing’ of no less than the Catholic Church.
Perhaps a little background is in order. My parents were married in the middle of the Baby Boomer decade of the 1950’s. My father was in his mid-30s and had never been married before. From stories my mother told me about him after their divorce 20+ years later he did not have the best reputation around town. He wasn’t a criminal, he was just someone that was difficult to like closer than an arms-length friendship. He was blue collar WW II veteran with a ‘C-‘reputation and the social graces of a venomous desert insect. He was also cheap, opinionated, and a Republican in a sea of Democrats.
My mother was one of five sisters who were all well liked, well mannered, and, ahem, well endowed. She had been married before to ‘the love of her life’, as she would later tell me along with the stories of my father. Tragically, he was a gunner in the last American bomber shot down over Japan before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing all aboard. Rather ironically, as this would not be possible here in the US due to the circumstances, there is a memorial in the city where the plane crashed commemorating the event. For the next decade mom was lost in grief, certain she would never ever find a man that matched up to the standards established by Charles. Their togetherness had been established in high school before the war and was intended to continue long after till death did them part. And of course this relationship was going to produce an abundance of children as did all Irish relationships in those days. With the sadly abrupt passing of Charles this plan, this dream, passed with him.
Enter my father some ten years later. He began pursuing mom with all aplomb of a drunken dancer. Mom, mindful of his ‘C-‘reputation, held him somewhat at bay. However his continuous pursuit finally wore her down enough to allow for a benign and tepid relationship. She had no intention of marrying this man. But being in her late 30s, and since it had been a decade since her last enduring relationship, she eventually allowed herself to get close enough to him to enable the relationship to continue its natural upward course. My father was in his mid-30s and determined to take their pairing to the logical conclusion of the day – marriage. Their opposing stances eventually caused a standoff. Mom began to pull further away from him to distance herself from ‘C-‘to seek a ‘C+’ or better partner.
In those days a woman in her late 30s could not conceive of having children. Mom’s dream and desire of lining the nest with rug rats had crashed with Charles’ plane. The medical arts of the time were not prepared for the complications that could arise from a pregnancy so late in a woman’s life. It was accepted by society and culture that mom was ‘too old’ to be a safe and reliable contributor to the boom of babies that generation provided to the nation. And so, seeing mom begin to slip away and certain she was his last chance at the legitimacy and rise in stature a marriage would bestow upon him, dad made a bold and strategic move. With the precision of a championship archer he aimed Cupid’s arrow directly at mom’s heart. He said to her, ‘We can always adopt kids.’ The arrow had found its mark. Mom set aside the reservations she had over dad’s ‘C-‘ character. She immediately raised his grade, albeit on a curve and due to his extra-credit essay on adoption, to the lofty status of ‘C’. They married soon after and began a life together that would provide each with what they wanted. She was going to receive children and he was going to receive marital legitimacy.
Until it didn’t. Soon after the consummation of their alliance, dad, living up to his ‘C-‘reputation, reneged on his promise to adopt. Naturally this caused a breach of contract dispute. Their union began to develop cracks and seemed about to crumble. Somehow they agreed to a mediation. They jointly decided to seek the counsel of the precursor to modern psychiatry, the Catholic Church.
The Father they selected as their confessor and whose penance they agreed to abide by was a kind and genial man each of them respected and admired. They each knew his wise and wonderful wisdom would apply the mortar to repair the cracks that had developed between them. After several sessions of listening and head nodding by the good Father he pronounced himself ready to rule. His decision was simple and direct. He admonished my father for breaking his contractual agreement with my mother and ordered him to fulfill its original terms. They were to adopt a baby. The role of this child would be to repair the damage caused by the breach. My father reluctantly and resentfully accepted his penance and set about the task of choosing a child off the rack that would be able to assume the required role. Indeed, what else could an Irish Catholic do when a pronouncement was delivered by the sagest of the sage, the wisest of the wise, a representative of the respectable and all-knowing (insert booming and echoing voice from above) CATHOLIC CHURCH?
Enter me. They decided to baby shop at the orphanage where I had been on display since I had been born a mere three months prior. This made me the latest and greatest model. I still possessed that new baby smell so desired by adopting couples seeking their first human purchase together. I was featured in my crib in which I had been placed and had not budged from except for the occasional diaper change and attendant hosing down. After a series of paper signing (more contracts) and counseling by the (holy shit!) representative of the Catholic Church present at the orphanage, a stern nun, I was whisked away to begin my new life and new duties as the bastard marriage savior.
For a few years into toddler-hood I fulfilled my role dutifully. My father surprised himself by actually enjoying having a little bastard around. He genuinely took to the situation he had once avoided. But my mother was ecstatic. I was the first born son (ok, first adopted son) she had always wanted. Over time, I later learned, I received all the love and attention she was supposed to divide between me and my father. I had become her little bastard mistress son. I was now the third person in the marriage Dumas spoke of. (Well, he didn’t actually mean a child but work with me here.)
My father soon tired of his relegated role and began to resent the little bastard. This, of course, renewed the cracking and crumbling that the advice of the CATHOLIC CHURCH had repaired a few short years ago. Duty bound by their allegiance to the earthly representative of the guy in the sky they returned to the counsel chambers of the good Father. After a suitably perfunctory and long enough listening period the good Father prescribed the same mood altering substance he had last time: adopt another child. And so another little bastard entered the fray of our ménage a matrimony and began sharing the role I had originally been enlisted to perform as a solo act.
I’ll spare the reader and refrain from detailing the years of acrimony, repression, resentment, frustration, anger, bitterness, abuse, and bad days that ensued. Instead I’ll wind this missive down by stating that the open inclusion of little bastard mistresses into the marriage failed. In my teenage years (and my brother’s) mother and father divorced and he moved out, never to be seen or heard from again. The remaining trio of mom and her two little bastard mistresses were relieved immeasurably. But life from then on was no picnic and the requisite emotional scars and attempted surgical removal of them by an unending stream of psychiatrists, psychologists, drugs (legal and sometimes accessible only via cavity search), alcohol, shamans, and voodoo practitioners some 40+ years later and continuing is testament to that. This example of mistress insertion may not prove Dumas right or wrong. But hopefully it is a cautionary tale that forewarns the reader to choose a mistress wisely and not off the rack.