This is Chapter two of my life story. Start with Chapter 1, The Myth Revisted, by clicking here.
“I’ll never go back to them.” I said.
The lie from my lips instantly clung to the air, heavy and dripping, but I knew how to hide it. I mustered the confidence of an ancient oak and looked her straight in the eyes with false sincerity.
“I will never go back to them.” I repeated, this time with strong emphasis on my weak-kneed “never”. The declaration was too strong, the conviction was too bold, and the lie still saturated the still room. I would be caught, it was just a matter of when.
The polygraph results of an accused cheating mother played in the background from The Maury Show as my mother responded with her own bit of bad news. Time went slow and I watched as I was caught. There was no solace in knowing that “when” meant “now”.
“Yes you will. You’ll go back to them begging for attention and pity-parties and the opportunity to sit on your ass and be lazy for the rest of your life. You’ve always been a Stiffler and you’ll always be just like them. As soon as you turn 18 you’ll be out of the house and running back to them with arms wide open for that failed family.”
“No, I won’t. You’ll see. I’ll prove it to you. I’m a Dean now, and I’ll always be a Dean.” My inside confidence was shaking, and so was my outer body, but I needed to stick to the lie. I needed to prove to my mom that I was faithful, that I loved her, and that I would prove her lack of faith in me as wrong. I could still make her proud by defying her declarations over me.
But that was never going to be the case. I would never make her proud to call me her son.
Two years later I sat in the living room of my biological family’s home, a 17 year old boy who had done the very thing she had told me I would, that I told her I would never do. I listened to her make another declaration into the mind of a life-long Stiffler.
“Don’t ever contact us again. I want you to change your name. You’re not a Dean, and you never will be. Don’t talk to my family ever again.”
With that, a click as she hung up the phone.
I had lost the family that said they loved me enough to adopt me. In their place the originals, a people that I had little feelings for besides, at the time, a pit of resentment. The Stifflers.
If what Mary said was true, then I was a Stiffler and I always would be. If I resented the Stifflers, I resented myself. I already hated myself, so I hated the Stifflers. I hadn’t just told a lie about moving back, I lived a lie by moving back. Not just a liar; I was a lie.
There was no choice but to escape the lie that was myself. I needed a new identity to claim as my own because the identity that I had brought nothing but self-loathing and pain to the lives of the people I thought I loved.
I asked myself a question, “Will you ever have a family?” and in response I dove headfirst into the same book that literally saved my life a year earlier when I tried to hang myself by the basement rafters.
A father of the fatherless and a judge and protector of the widows is God in His holy habitation. God places the solitary in families and gives the desolate a home in which to dwell;
I had a father.
I wasn’t even totally sure yet if God existed. I would deal with that specific problem later on, but on that day I had a father.
His name was not Michael or John or Greg or Larry or the wise, old Uncle Sam. He was not simply a masculine form of one of the many women or split-personalities of some of those women that had come into my life as mothers.
He was God. And on the day that the Deans called me out on yet another lie, the lie that I had a family that I could still state myself as being a member of, I was comforted to think that this still-distant figure known as “God” would welcome me into his family as a son.
What Does Family Mean?
There are days, like today, when I don’t know what I am supposed to do. Should I call Tammy Stiffler my mom because she birthed me and welcomed me back home after the Deans pushed me out? Should I call Mary Dean my mom because she’s the most recent name to appear on my legal records and loved me once while the earth was being torn from beneath me?
If I pick one over the other, does that mean I love one more than the other, or that I believe they love me more? And if I love one more, does that mean I never loved the other? That my former love for that other was yet another lie on the heap of lies that have been uttered from my mouth? Have I forgiven them all if I only choose one? Am I supposed to hang around and care for and sacrifice for the chosen family like sons are supposed to do, while neglecting the other? Do I need to change how I am acting to better represent what the chosen family stands for? Am I supposed to work hard to fill one family with pride while the other moves on into distant disdain?
Or am I forever alone in this world with no family to pursue but a new one, a God-given one, named after me, myself, and I – the first “Stiffler-Deans” the planet has ever known and ever will know.
I don’t know, and frankly, that scares me. There are no simple Bible verses that lay out clearly what people in my position are supposed to do.
Commitment to Choice
When you’ve failed your whole life, and been called a failure for a vast majority of it, it’s terrifying to have to confront these types of commitments to choice. You don’t want to be a failure anymore, out of a desire to make someone who says they hate you proud or just a desire to move beyond your pained pasts, and so you are frozen solid at the feet of the guardian that requests your choice before allowing you to move on.
Maybe that’s why I pressed so hard into becoming an entreprenuer. I don’t want to “move on” to a path of life defined by some guardian. Damn him and his paths. I’ll make my own. It’s not Stiffler or Dean, black or white, left or right, fight or flight: It’s Stiffler-Dean, grey, up, and standing solid on an immovable rock that will fight in my stead.
I guess in the end I have made a choice. I’m living in Ohio, only an hour from where the Stifflers live, and the only correspondence I have with the Deans is through two of my siblings with random Facebook pokes and likes. Maybe I never specifically stated that I chose the Stifflers over the Deans, but one cannot deny the fruit of the actions.
I am far from satisfied with my choices. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Stifflers and am grateful for everything they have sacrificed to bring me out of my troughs of depression as a teenager. There’s just a lot of struggle going on inside of me these days, and those struggles keep coming up with every step I try to take forward. Who can run when their legs are chained to the ground… to the past?
The Next Steps
When Marshall Mathers comes on the radio with his latest apology and forgiveness for the mom that he had despised for 20+ years, then talks about how that anger he had towards her made him miserable through all of his successes as The Real Slim Shady, it makes me wonder if I’ve been making the same wrong choices that he did. Shouldn’t I be forgiving and apologizing to these people for the memories of pain and failure that shower our past?
There’s a big part of me that believes I’ve conquered these demons by not being too concerned with my successes or failures, by putting aside my desires and will for the “greater good”, and that is mostly true. If all of my business ventures failed, and my friends left me, and Leah broke up with me, and the Stifflers said I was too much of an ungrateful hassle for them to deal with, I would not be so beat-down to want to kill myself again. I have enough faith in God now to know that there is a purpose for my life that I might not yet be able to see, but that will be realized some day, and it is for that unknown purpose that I keep going one day at a time.
But there’s another part of me that says I’m only telling myself that so I can have an excuse not to actually deal with my deeper issues. Issues of pride, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, and fear. In my last post I brought up how I know I need to learn to forgive John, the man that broke my leg and abused me and my sister, which resulted in us being taken into foster care. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and there may be a longer list of people to approach than I first realized. The Deans, the Stifflers, and everybody else that has been put in this story of life that I’m sharing.
Who we love, who we forgive, and who we fight for tomorrow is never determined by our emotions and surface-level feelings today. The future is determined by the position of our heart towards those people.
This story is still being told because recognizing the position of my heart towards the people of my life is proving to be incredibly hard. The more I write, the more I’m pulling back the curtain to see the reality of what I’m living for. That’s a good thing.
Actually, it’s a great thing. It means there’s hope. Not just hope that what I’m saying is true, but hope that I’m saying and living by true things.
The only way to know what that truth is, however, is by going back. Even if the words of my adopted mother ring ceaselessly in my ears, if my confident lies are waiting just behind my lips, I do still need to go back. Back to my family. Back to all of my families. Back to my roots. Back to those selfish, lazy, failed people of my life that taught me what it meant to lie and what it meant to be a lie. Back to people I love, and people that I should love. Back to what it means to be human. Back to my fathers. Back to my Father. Back to love. Back to the beginning.
Now, let us begin.
Photo used with permission by Sam Javanrouh.
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