60: Dad’s House

60: Dad’s House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Dad’s House

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

~Robert Frost

After my parents separated when I was seven and my brother was three, my dad moved into a series of small apartments, none of which felt like home to us. The first, in the basement of a family house, was sparse and sad, save for the huge trampoline in the back yard we got to jump around on. The second was in an actual apartment building. We had friends from school staying with their divorced dad on a different floor so we could scamper down the hallways whenever we felt restless. Of course, it being Dad’s house, we had an abundance of sugary cereal, pizza, and TV shows we probably shouldn’t have been watching. But after a night or two, we always headed back to Mom’s house, and the strangeness of being in Dad’s apartment would wear off.

The third apartment my dad rented had two extra occupants — my future stepmom and her Pug, named Hercules. My brother and I adored Hercules, with his squished-in face and his loud snoring, but we slept on couches in a room together and were always forgetting something or other at Mom’s house. That place wasn’t home either.

Soon after my dad and my stepmom got married, they bought a house together. It was big — big enough for the two little kids who were still to come — but nothing particularly fancy. It was a bit of a fixer-upper, but it had lots of land for Hercules to roam and it was down the street from some of my friends. It was a step up from the apartment, but it still didn’t feel warm.

Truthfully, we hated going to Dad’s house. My brother would throw tantrums the minute we got home after a weekend at Dad’s, taking his anger and discomfort out on both me and my mom. As for me, I just bided my time at Dad’s house, sitting quietly until the days passed and I could go back to my real room and my clothes and everything I couldn’t carry back and forth in my little bag.

I had a friend at the time, Ally, whose parents were also divorced. Her dad had a big, beautiful house not far from ours, and in it she had a room with a duplicate of everything she owned at her mom’s. She had a second wardrobe, a bed she picked out, and a rosy pink paint color she’d chosen. My room was blue — a color my brother had chosen before we found out my stepmom was pregnant and we were going to have to switch rooms. Mine was supposed to be the bigger room, but it would soon house my brother and the new baby boy as well.

There in my blue room I would sit, avoiding my parents. Dad’s house always felt oppressive. There were things I wasn’t allowed to wear or do, and never with a rational reason. I was a fifteen-year-old straight-A student who had never lied to her parents and yet I wasn’t even allowed to have sleepovers. And with the new baby on the way, I was feeling more and more like an unwanted houseguest.

When I turned eighteen, I was no longer required by law to go to my dad’s house — so I hardly did. In turn, my dad and I started fighting frequently. The summer before my sophomore year of college we barely spoke, and we were on such bad terms before I left that I didn’t say goodbye before packing the car and driving to my second dorm room in New York City. He didn’t even know I had left.

But somehow we started to get back together again, my dad and I. We would have dinner in the city and talk about nothing too serious. I figured that if I saw him on my own terms, in a restaurant in midtown, I could escape if I needed to. There we’d sit, with chopsticks or pizza or whatever the dinner entailed, tentatively getting to know each other. I was surprised to find that when I left the restaurant, I didn’t feel like I’d escaped. I felt like a load had been lifted.

Eventually, I went back to my dad’s house. Two of the biggest reasons were my little brothers, who needed to see their big sister. And I wasn’t rebellious enough to protest Christmas — I had to make the pilgrimage to Dad’s. It began with holidays and easygoing visits, until slowly, over years, my dad and my stepmom became my friends and my support.

Now that I am out of college and making my own home, I often take a weekend to head back to my dad’s house. My mom has since moved out of her house, my childhood home, but Dad’s house remains. I am tentative — afraid to touch things, to take food, to linger too long — because I am reminded of the days when I felt like a teenage houseguest and a burden who needed too many rides back and forth from the movie theater or track practice and could never do anything quite right.

But whenever I ask my stepmom for a bite to eat or a couch to sleep on, she laughs at me. “Take whatever you want! This is your home too,” she says, as if I never should have doubted it. And as I pull the blankets up to my chin and sleepily read a magazine with my youngest brother at the other end of the couch, I believe her.

Dad’s house feels like home.

~Madison James

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