October 30, 1997
It was my Confirmation Day and Grandma and Grandpa were nowhere in sight. We were about to head over to the church and they were two hours late. Their car finally pulled up to the curb at the last possible second, and Grandma was a complete wreck – even more than usual. Grandpa got off the expressway at the wrong exit and was cursing up and down in the car because “they moved the goddamn house!” That ended up being the first sign that something was wrong. He was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s shortly afterwards and they sold the car the following year.
Dad was probably wondering whether he was even going to come. Grandpa didn’t go to Shannon’s Confirmation. He was busy praying outside an abortion clinic somewhere. When Dad chewed him out afterwards, Grandpa told him, “some things are more important.” More important than your own family? Dad was incredulous. But over time he came to realize that Grandpa was right and he started to follow his example. Grandpa even partook in Operation Rescue, a movement during the 1980’s where protestors would chain themselves to doors or otherwise block access to abortion clinics. He landed himself in jail several times, and one of his cellmates was the infamous James Kopp. James Kopp, who ended up going off the reservation and murdering abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian. He shot him through his kitchen window from the woods in front of his house, was caught and eventually sentenced to life in prison.
I found out a year ago that Dad was not only in correspondence with James Kopp but had even gone to visit him. What the fuck. I asked him why and he told me, “that’s what you’re supposed to do… visit the sick… minister to the inmates…” Following Christ’s example, in other words. Unbelievable. He shits all over his own family, but takes the time to cut out newspaper comic strips and mail them to a convicted murderer.
Anyway. Patrick greeted Grandpa with a handshake, and when I went to give him a hug he shoved me away. “Men don’t hug,” Grandpa told me grumpily. “They shake hands.” In hindsight, that exchange told me worlds about Dad’s upbringing. But at the time I just shook his hand while Patrick laughed in an attempt to cover the awkward moment. Shannon was nowhere in sight. She was laying low because Grandma and Grandpa would have each had a stroke if they found out she was unmarried and pregnant.
My actual Confirmation was a quiet affair, except for the very beginning which caused quite a stir among the boys. A girl was sashaying down the aisle sporting a bare midriff and wearing some sort of headdress like a Greek goddess. And she was carrying what was literally a bowl of incense, holding it above her head. She added an occasional twirl as she walked towards the altar. Grandma was aghast and Dad was in a holy rage, especially since – according to him – the priest and bishop were sitting up on the altar with their hands folded in their laps and expressions of “well, isn’t this just lovely?” Grandpa would have been incensed as well had he not already fallen asleep in the pew.
However, Dad waited ten years before voicing his objections. Yes, ten years after the fact. He drove past the rectory and left a post-it note on the front door. A few days letter, the following letter arrived at the house:
I received your post-it note indicating “I’ll be back when I get an explanation for the dancing girl at the Confirmation in past years.” Since no explanation can be given regarding your complaint regarding a dancing girl at Confirmation since there never was one, I will remove your family’s name from our parish’s mailing list. In addition, the proper adult way of addressing a problem is to speak with the person involved. Post-it notes are not a helpful form of communication. Finally, I do encourage you to seek out a parish where your needs can be met, so you can experience the nurturing grace of the Sunday Eucharist.
A week after my Confirmation, Shannon went into the hospital and little Siobhan was born. Dad and I were home playing a board game when the phone rang. Dad answered it and it was Mom giving him the news. As soon as he got off the phone, Dad opened a bottle of wine. He poured himself a glass and another one of Coca-Cola for me and said we were toasting the addition of the latest member of our family. Then he sat back down to continue our board game. Okay. I guess we weren’t going to the hospital then.
Shannon and Siobhan arrived home a couple of days later. Shannon and her boyfriend had hurried and gotten a judge to perform a civil wedding, with a proper wedding to follow the next year. They moved into a new condo the month after Siobhan was born, but Siobhan mostly stayed with us for the next two years while my sister and her new husband worked around the clock to pay the bills. It was quite an adjustment to get used to the new reality of a baby around the house. And she did not take well to Dad. She screamed and cried anytime he went near her, sensing even as an infant that something wasn’t right about him.
Meanwhile, Dad was still convinced that Mom and Shannon had been hiding her pregnancy from him and they were lying about only finding out when she was seven months along. I myself thought it was odd, but after Shannon told me she was expecting I kept a close eye on her and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she really started showing. But Dad was growing more paranoid by the day.