Baumhower: Dave’s choiceWritten by Jeremy Baumhower | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I was in the middle of my divorce, still trying to save my marriage and had yet to tell my mom, when I brought my kids to her house for a Friday night visit a little more than four years ago. My heart was beyond heavy, but I was trying to save face and not bring others into the pain I was living with.
The visit felt different as soon as we entered the house. My mom seemed off, almost bothered. As I stood in the kitchen, I watched her nervously fumble through the organized chaos of bills and documents my parents keep on top of the refrigerator. When she located a piece of white paper, folded twice, she started to speak: “I was on the Internet and came across something you need to see and read.”
My mom’s body language was troubling as I began unfolding the piece of paper she handed me. My mind was racing with jokes about what I could possibly be opening until I realized it was an obituary. My mother broke her nervous silence: “Jeremy, your biological dad has died. I thought you should know.”
She trailed on with more words as my confusion continued. The first thing I read was the word “Jeff.” I honestly don’t remember his last name. It has never mattered. He was young, died of a heart issue at age 53. I still did not care. I folded the piece of paper, acknowledged what it was, handed it back to my mom and the visit continued as scheduled.
A couple of years ago, as my family started our journey at Sylvan Elementary, I saw a familiar face in the hallways during an open house. Surprisingly, I instantly remembered his name and how we knew each other. Craig Schuele was a year younger than me at Whitmer High School and we rode the bus together every day for three years.
After a quick embrace and a hello, I introduced my children while he was looking around for his. The corridor was packed, the excitement of a new school year upon us. “What do they look like?” I asked. “They’re black — and there are six of them,” he replied.
Craig, who is white, proudly smiled as he gave his answer, leaving me momentarily confused, until I saw six beautiful children come and join him. As our children ran ahead, he filled me in on their story, how he had adopted his entire family from Toledo and was raising them in Sylvania. All those many bus rides to and from Whitmer, I had no idea how big Craig’s heart was.
In January 1979, my dad married my mom. I was 4 years old. My parents were young, both 23. Eleven months later, on Christmas Day, my sister Jessica joined our family.
We were your everyday, normal West Toledo family. We went to St. Clement every Sunday, played numerous sports and ate out at least once a week. Dave, my dad, is a welder who worked long, hard hours to spoil us with great birthdays and Christmases.
Then Dave’s disease started winning. You see, my dad is an alcoholic. His alcoholism didn’t start taking hold of his life until I was 9 or 10. For the next several years it progressed. My mother stayed by his side. As ugly as it got, she never left. She believed in the man she fell in love with.
My high school memories are filled with my dad and his drunkenness. It was a tough time for our family, especially when you throw a teenage, smart-mouthed version of me in the mix. Then it happened — I did the math.
I was 15 when I figured out an answer to a math equation I had never considered. If I met Dave when I was 4, then how was he my real father? The answer is, he wasn’t. I had his last name, but looked nothing like him.
That’s when one of my life’s biggest regrets occurred. I was angry, he was drunk and I yelled, “He’s not my real father!” at my mother during a small dust-up. My statement got the desired result — it broke her heart. Over the next couple of days, she started introducing my real past. Not that she wasn’t honest before; it was just never spoken of. The story is nothing special. She was 19. His name was Jeff. He left her the day before she gave birth to me and she promised her grandma she would never take him back.
Sobriety and forgiveness
On Feb. 7, 1994, my dad took his final drink. I was 18. In October that same year I became a father for the first time.
My father’s choice not to drink is the single most courageous decision I have ever witnessed. He was exactly my age now, 37, and tackled his disease head-on. Through his unselfish act, he showed me what forgiveness is about. My kids have never known anybody else except the person my mom fell in love with, their Papa Dave. He is truly the most genuinely unselfish man I have met. I love him for what he was and who he has become.
I told Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller about the Schuele family and I suggested their tale for a Father’s Day story. Craig’s choice to be a dad has directly affected my family. Our kids are the same age and have been classmates numerous times. His choice of wanting to be a father and the way he chooses to raise his family is simultaneously teaching my kids diversity and love without regard to color or blood. The Schueles are not perfect, but perfectly loved. You only need to see the constant smiles on their collective faces for proof. Craig’s choice gave six babies a real shot at life, love and family.
I’ve made a life choice in not remembering the last name of my biological father. It haunts me every day that I have siblings and family I will never meet, all of whom will never meet my children. I choose not to remember the last name of a man who left my mom when she needed him the most. I have always chosen not to discuss this personal secret because I think it would hurt my dad.
Thirty-four years ago, Dave chose to be my father. He adopted me, gave me his last name and chose to raise me. Nineteen years ago, he chose to never have another drink and subsequently became my hero. There is nobody else in this world I would choose to be my dad or my kid’s grandpa than Dave.
I have a single picture of my biological father, in my safety deposit box, and by all accounts I look just like him. I find it odd when I receive compliments on how I am with my children. Jeff is the reason why I strive every day to be the best dad I can be, because he chose not to. Long ago, after I did the math, I promised myself I would never be him.
To all men who choose to be a Dad — biological or not — Happy Father’s Day!
Find Jeremy Baumhower on Facebook or Twitter @jeremytheproduc.