My Father Named Me After The Woman He Loved
This person was not my mother.
I was brushing the hair of my doll named Debbie, and my mother told me that when she was a child she wanted a little girl named Debbie. It was 1968 and we lived on 56th Street in Long Beach, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Mom wore her hair in a beehive and dressed in pedal pushers and a short-sleeved blouse. I asked her why she didn’t name me Debbie when the doctor got me out of her belly.
She said, “Daddy doesn’t like the name Debbie and wanted to name you Sharon.” I felt sad for my mom but knew that she loved me regardless of my name. My parents had a nontraditional courtship. I’m a nonfiction writer and can’t make this stuff up. Dad completed four years in the Army and wanted to stay in California, where he was stationed. He started a full-time job as a civilian and met a coworker whose wife had a sister in Pennsylvania, also single and lonely.
The two started writing to each other. After a few months my dad sent my mom an airplane ticket and an engagement ring via the U.S. Postal Service. My mom, who never had left the state of Pennsylvania, flew to California to marry my dad. It’s the truth, and there are surviving relatives who can attest to this story.
I had no reason to grow up thinking that my parents were not in love, despite being practically strangers when they married. They grew to love each other, or that’s what I told myself. My dad worked a lot, and my mom stayed home to raise three girls. My mom was easy to please and didn’t ask for much. She had no friends — and preferred it that way. Her family was her life. The years passed, and when I was a senior in high school I worked part time for my dad at the electronics manufacturing company he owned.
Life as I knew it changed when he hired Linda. Either I was too naive to realize it or didn’t want to see it, but the way he treated Linda differentiated from the other employees to the point that it was almost sickening. She took breaks with him in his office instead of the break room with the rest of us. She was a single mom living on one income and needed a new car, so the business loaned her the money. I was ordered not to tell my mom.
For reasons unknown, I listened. I was also told not to tell my mom when my dad took me to Linda’s house for a turquoise party. Think Tupperware or Pampered Chef, but with turquoise jewelry sales. Turquoise was huge back in 1979. I am sure that Linda received a commission on the sales, because my dad spent more than anyone else there. I was told to lie and say that Dad bought the jewelry for me at our local discount store.
I kept the truth from my mom to spare her feelings, as I could sense tension anytime Linda’s name was brought up. My dad talked about her constantly. But there were never instances of my dad’s whereabouts being unknown, “working” late, or the other telltale signs of an affair. This was worse.
His behavior continued. Dad became angry when he found out that Linda was dating a man who lived in her neighborhood. She came to work on a Monday talking about her Saturday night date, and afterward my dad told me to never again engage in conversation with her about her dates. She gave me a photo album as a graduation gift when I graduated from high school, and my dad told me not to tell my mom from whom it came. I was so tired of the secrets.
I just wanted life to be like it was before Linda was hired. I wanted Linda gone and this new tension between my parents to end. Why did she have to walk in the front door at work looking for a job? We were fine without her. The day my world crumbled was when I came home to find my mother bawling at the dining room table.
She told me that my dad revealed he was in love with Linda. Although I knew this in my heart, I tried to convince myself otherwise. I got in my car and took a long drive up the Southern California coast to cry and think. I realized I would soon be a statistic: a child — albeit 19 years old — of divorce.
Evidently Mom let Dad know that she’d told me that he confessed his love for another because the next day he cornered me. He said that he had loved Linda from the moment he first saw her when she walked in the front door at work looking for a job. He also told me that he did not love my mom, and never did. Why was he telling me this?
But it gets worse. He divulged that at the time I was born he was still in love with a girl named Sharon from high school. “She is the only girl I ever loved at the time you were born. I even named you after her.” I felt the vomit come up my throat and swallowed. You bastard, I thought. You deprived Mom of her Debbie for someone who obviously did not love you back or she would be your wife.
My mother, who rarely asked for anything, wanted to name me Debbie, and my father insisted on naming me after a young woman he was still in love with. A woman who was not his wife. It was cruel and heartless for him to tell me about my namesake. But that’s OK — because in the end, he got what he deserved.
He divorced my mother, and when he bought an engagement ring and proposed to Linda (this proposal in person and not via the postal service), she turned him down. When he came running back to my mother, she thankfully stood her ground and would not let him move back into the house. Dad eventually married someone else named — you guessed it — Linda. That’s right. Remember, I am a nonfiction writer and can’t make this stuff up.