My Stepfather, Our Complicated Relationship and the Impact it Had on My Life

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This is my mother Lulu and my stepfather Frank, just a few years before they passed away. My mom died first and then my stepfather died about 18 months later.  Lots of irony because she took care of him for years after a stroke and then he outlived her. He actually came on to a mourner at her funeral. They had one of those on again, off again, mostly on again, relationships; it lasted over 40 years. I didn’t much care for Frank. He was an alcoholic who stopped drinking at a certain point, I don’t recall when. He married my mother with seven children, but he was selfish, crass and a racist. The conflict between us began the day they returned from their quickie marriage in Mexico. She divorced my father and married Frank on the same day. I still don’t know if that’s even possible; they might have been lying to me. Truthfully, I didn’t care.

I was eight years old when they married and my mother walked through the door first. She was in a festive mood and introduced her new husband; my stepfather.

Mom said, “Kids, this is your new father Frank,”

and he said, “You kids can call me dad.”

I thought to myself, “I don’t want to call this man dad, I have a dad,” but he insisted.

I knew of course that my mother had been sleeping with this cretin for a while; a long while. I knew that my father found out about their affair and threw my mother out on the street. She took us all to a Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, hotel that night and none of us got any sleep or at least I didn’t. Frank (not yet my stepfather) picked us up the next morning and I stared him down in the hotel elevator and point-blank asked him,

“Are you sleeping with my mother?”

I already knew the answer, but of course he denied it. One of the many reasons I hated the pig. It wasn’t long after this incident that they were married or at least said they were married. I admit I was a precocious child. I was super observant (still am) and I didn’t like what I saw. I felt that I was being forced into a situation I didn’t want to be in and I felt shame. Lots happened that seems almost fictional when I think about it today. Like the time we were camping in the woods and my mother pulled a rifle on Frank and we, my brothers and sisters, were certain she was going to kill him. I would have preferred to have Frank out of our lives, but I didn’t want to see my mother in prison. There were always lots of rifles around, Frank was a deer and rabbit hunter. He went hunting one time and my mother was in a panic because she hadn’t heard from him for days. I secretly wished him dead. A couple of days later he brought home a buck and we had to eat venison for a month. He often boasted about his kill and the number rifles he owned.

His rifles didn’t scare me, he scared me. There was a time when they were having a huge brawl in their locked bedroom. My mother was screaming my name and begging for help, but I couldn’t open their locked door. I called 911. When the police arrived they asked if there were any weapons in the room and I replied,

“No, just my stepfather’s hunting rifles.”

I remember the look the two police officers gave me. This was the chaos I lived in; sad to say, it all seemed very normal to me. I learned to be independent and resilient. I stayed away from home a lot and never told my mother where I was  and she didn’t ask. When it was just my mom and I, she would discuss her marriage with me. I liked being her confidant. I didn’t offer much in the way of advice; I hardly knew what to say. I  hoped she should leave him and she did leave him several times. Each time she’d call my father or her first husband Joe and allow them back into her life for a brief moment. Frank was always who she wanted to be with and she’d take him back in short order. As a child I believed that all marriages worked this way.

I viewed my own marriage as inevitable; everyone married didn’t they? My father had a gay son from a previous marriage and when I would ask why he wasn’t married, my father would say,

“He’s different.”

I certainly did not want to be different; therefore, despite my orientation, I started thinking about a wife and family. When I was nineteen years old and a college student in North Carolina, I was set up on a blind date with Lisa (not her name). Lisa was beautiful, smart, funny and perfect in just about every way and I knew almost instantly that I wanted her to be the mother of my children. Did I know I was gay? I knew that I had an attraction to men, but it was very easy to tuck that away into the far corners of my troubled mind. What I wanted more than anything else was a “normal” life. Of course I regret having pulled Lisa into this dishonest vortex, but that story is for another time.

Lisa and I were engaged about a year after we met and decided to marry after completing our undergraduate degrees. I can only tell you how it was for me; I was excited to have found someone exceptional to spend my life with. We spent all of our time away from university, together. My mother was thrilled to have a family Thanksgiving dinner that included Lisa and her twin sister. We were all excited about the day as we awaited its arrival. However, as with my holidays in our house, this one too would be filled with drama — I should have known better.

On Thanksgiving eve, 1979, my mother and stepfather had a big argument. My mother called me when I was in my dorm room preparing to return home for the holiday (I was about 35 minutes from home and I had a car). My mom asked me to come home right away. She said that my stepfather had “come after her” while they were arguing and that she was hemorrhaging badly. I said,

“Mom, shouldn’t you call 911?” and she replied,

“I’d rather wait for you to get here.”

I was home in 30 minutes, having gone way over the speed limit, to once again, rescue my mother. We sat in the emergency room for four hours until she was finally admitted. She kept repeating,

“I feel so badly that Thanksgiving is ruined.”

I, of course, assured her that we would find a way to make it happen and we did. My mother was released Thanksgiving morning and I agreed to do all of the cooking. The only dish I was unsure of was her stuffing recipe and my mom said she’d walk me through it. The whole time I was cooking, I was concerned that my stepfather would return home. At one point I heard him enter his camper in the backyard. My mother assured me that we didn’t have to worry about him. She said that he’d just stay in his camper and get drunk. She also shared that he was very angry that I brought her to the hospital. He felt that even though he had argued with her, it was his place, as her husband, to care for her. This was the mother/son, husband/wife, tug of war we battled throughout their entire marriage. What happened that Thanksgiving day is forever etched in my mind.

I cooked all day preparing for a 4:00 p.m. dinner. Lisa and her sister arrived at around 3:00 p.m. They sat with my mom and I was happy to hear laughter coming from the living room. I began thinking that I might be able to pull this off. My younger sister set the table and we called everyone to dinner; there were seven or eight of us. We were in middle of expressing our gratitude, about what I’m not sure, and my stepfather walked into the dining room, obviously intoxicated. He had come into the house to get a jug of wine. I couldn’t even look at him. Odd that this is almost 40 years ago, but I can see and hear it as it were yesterday. Frank glanced around the table, showed his teeth and said,

“I hope you all choke on your food.”

I admittedly have never been able to remain quiet and so I spoke up,

“Maybe you’ll choke on that wine.”

Then, all hell broke loose. He lunged for my throat and most of what was on the table ended up on the floor. There was lots of screaming and Frank’s hands were squeezing harder. I could not breathe. My younger brother grabbed him from behind, but Frank threw him off; my mother pleaded with him to let me go. I don’t actually remember what I was feeling while he was choking me. I do remember thinking that this was the way I was going to die. Frank must have had a moment of clarity and he finally let me go. I gasped for air and surveyed the dining room. Dishes, glass and food were everywhere; not a morsel was edible. Lisa and her sister were holding each other and crying. My brother Leo was talking Frank down and my mother was weeping in the corner of the room. The turkey was upside down on the floor next to the table.

I walked over to Lisa and her sister and said,

“Come on, we’re getting the hell out of here.”

We went to Lisa’s house so that we could calm down and process what had happened. My neck had huge welts and two large handprints. My mother called me and begged me not to involve the police. I told her that I wouldn’t call the police and that I never wanted to see or speak to my stepfather again. She said she understood and that she would be throwing him out and divorcing him.

Lisa’s family prayed and asked me to join them; I pretended to talk to God. What I did instead, was to tell myself that I would never again subject myself or anyone else I loved, to such abhorrent abuse.

I did eventually forgive my stepfather. I also stopped calling him dad.




My intention is not to hurt anyone by dredging up the past. My parents (all of them) are deceased and my siblings have moved on. It’s more about sorting it out in my own mind; giving myself permission to be truthful with myself and others. I believe it helps for friends and family to know why I married and why I often react the way I do, in certain situations. Why I often seem insecure and why I fight certain causes; why honesty in relationships is so important to me.


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This is me with friends on our 66th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I’m the kid on the top far left. I always hid behind others; I lacked confidence. I didn’t like to be in photos then and I don’t like it now. The kid with the bat was my best friend Joey. He had enough confidence for all of us. I followed him everywhere and kept my mouth shut. Joey’s parents were my self-appointed God parents and they knew all about what was happening at home. It was so bad for me at one point, they crossed the street and calmly spoke to my mother. They asked her if it might be easier on her if I lived with them for a while. They told her I’d be close by and could see her everyday. My mother threw them out and I was grounded for a week. Myrna and Joe were the best kind of people. They raised me up and empowered me. The two of them and Myrna’s mother Anne, taught me the power of education and hope. We all have a story and our stories sum up who we are.


'I was 17 years old'

Dad and I at one of our weekly dinners @1976. Notice how I was hunched over and looking away from the camera.

I Couldn’t Save My Mother

But I Can Share My Story . . .


It was the middle of the night and a timid five-year old boy lied awake listening to his parents argue. They’d argued before; many times before. Their voices were raised and his six brothers and sisters who were all sleeping nearby, didn’t seem to hear them. Conflicted, he loved his parents, but he wished they’d stop. His mother seemed to be making his father angry and he didn’t understand why she was doing it; why she was cursing at him; why she was being so mean. In his head he just kept repeating,

“Mom, why don’t you just leave Daddy alone.”

But his mother was his entire world and he couldn’t be angry with her. And if his mother was his world, his father was his universe.

Scared and afraid to wake his siblings, he crawled out of bed to a dark corner of the bedroom he shared with his younger brother. It was a safe corner where he could become invisible. Nobody ever noticed him there. And there he sat, curled up in a blanket, listening and wondering what he had done this time; was he the cause of their argument? He didn’t know or understand that things happen in the world that he had nothing to do with. He was never told that he was not to blame. And so he sat in the corner and cried and wished it would stop. It never stopped and it wasn’t going to stop on that scarring night.

Just when he’d thought his parents might have gone to bed, he heard his mother scream. He was frightened, but his mother needed his help. He ran to the kitchen where the voices were loud and the language biting. As he entered the hallway facing the kitchen he could see his mother yelling at his father and then suddenly a coffee cup hit her head and blood spattered on the wall behind her. His mother slid down the wall and her tears fell to the cold tile floor. The boy ran to console her, but she was inconsolable.

His father ordered him to go back to bed; instead, he crawled under the kitchen table. Then his father grabbed his sobbing mother’s arms and began to throw her against the wall. The boy dared not leave his hiding place. He’d never seen his father this angry; he feared for his mother’s life; he didn’t know what to do. If he ran to try to find help, his father might  beat him as well. He waited, shivering and watching for his father’s next move.

His father raised his fist and was about to strike his mother again; she begged him to stop and he hesitated. He mumbled something about how she drove him to this point — she would never leave him alone. He turned and walked out of the kitchen. His mother spotted him under the table and placed her finger up to her mouth. The boy dared not move. The front doors slammed and they waited in silence. It seemed like hours before his mother pushed herself up off of the floor and grabbed a rag from the sink. She placed the rag up to her head to stop the bleeding and silently wept.

The boy tentatively moved toward his mother and she opened her arms to embrace him. He told himself to be strong for her, but he wanted to cry and knew he could not. He kept hearing voices from everywhere telling him that boys didn’t cry. He didn’t cry, he whispered,

“Mom, I won’t let him hurt you.”

The boy’s mother appeared broken and exhausted. She slowly retreated to her bedroom and collapsed onto her bed. He followed her and listened for the front door. She motioned for him to sit on the edge of the bed. Her movements were slow and she seemed to be in a great deal of pain. He didn’t know what to do; how to help her. He watched her eyes flutter as she fought sleep. She reached over, grabbed his forearm and said,

“Watch for daddy, if he comes home wake me,” and then she slept.

The boy knew that if his father returned home, it would be bad. His thoughts went from terror to relief; relieved that his mother was still alive, but terrified his father would soon come home. He knew that if his father came home, he wouldn’t be able to protect his mother. All he could do was wait and warn her.

The boy stared into the darkness and listened for any sound. The boy was me.


Friends and relatives called me after reading my story. Most were supportive and wanted to show their love and support and some asked me why I wrote this now.

There are many reasons I wanted to put my experience out there, but I’ll share just a couple. First and foremost, the constant emotional abuse I experienced throughout my childhood followed me into adulthood and created problems for me in almost every relationship. Therapy and a good deal of soul-searching has been helpful. I want parents to be aware that exposure to domestic upheaval will cause a lifetime of pain for a child; their innocence and naiveté prevent them from understanding their role in the anger and pain around them. I believe one of the reasons I never had children, was the fear of putting a child through what I went through.

I also told my story because of my present life journey. To be blunt, I’ve had enough of carrying this shit around and it is time to shed it; writing about it is one way to accomplish that goal.

Coming soon:

Portimão, Portugal next weekend:  I’ll be sleeping on a sailboat and documenting the whole thing . . . well, almost the whole thing.

Catania, Sicily, October 1 to 8