April 16, 1999, my stepfather died of a massive heart attack. He’d been feeling kind of out of sorts lately according to my mother, sleeping more and saying he would go to the doctor if it got worse.
My stepdad, Big D, was a huge influence on my life. He made sure that I was exposed to music and culture that were different from the cartoons and Minnie Mouse Dance Party albums that kids my age were consuming.
Talking Heads, Thomas Dolby, Dire Straits, Crowded House – these were the tapes I listened to in the Walkman I used to shut out the other people who didn’t understand the crazy things I was saying. I’ve been listening to David Byrne’s music since I was 9 years old and it (and his philosophies on music, art and integrity) have shaped my tastes and interests in too many ways to count.
Other kids were watching Family Matters. I was watching Twin Peaks obsessively. We’re talking record the episodes off TV and watch every second of them until I had a better handle on the clues than most of the adults I knew. When I got the box set for my birthday last year, I still knew all the words. This led to a fascination with David Lynch and other surreal, artsy movies, though I will likely never watch Eraserhead again.
Okay, so maybe he didn’t talk me into liking this stuff. But when my mother was having one of her “episodes” and I was on the verge of nervous collapse because of it, Big D would whisk me away into his woodshop, give me a shot of Wild Turkey and wait until she disappeared to take me over to my dad’s house.
Interestingly enough, I think it was partly my exposure to alcohol in controlled amounts and situations that kept me from becoming an alcoholic like the rest of my family (no joke. My mom was one of six kids, and four – including her – are/were alcoholics, as was their father and his brothers.). Every now and then he gave me a sip of margarita or beer, and when my teenage friends were over we were allowed a Zima or two as long as we did not leave the house afterward for any reason. As such, alcohol to me isn’t a solution or an escape, it’s just a thing people do sometimes to relax or have fun.
Big D was honest, often telling me what I didn’t want to hear, but supportive and accepting. I went to him first about my interest in other girls and his response was to introduce me to real live lesbians, so I wouldn’t get any weird ideas from the media or church about gay relationships and lifestyles. It’s because of him that I’m not ashamed of who I am.
He wasn’t religious, but he encouraged me to visit different churches, synagogues, even tent revivals with my mother when I complained. He encouraged me to find my own path in life because he knew I would only be miserable if I was forced onto someone else’s. When I horrified my Christian family with the news I was Buddhist, he said he was proud of me for making my own decision. Humorously enough, I later found out that there was a famous Buddhist writer/priest who shared my stepdad’s first and last name.
Without my stepdad, I doubt I would be the person I am today. I still adore David Byrne, make it a point to watch weird shows and indie movies, and drink in moderation. I am open minded, liberal, pro-choice, feminist, sex positive and independent because he showed me how through his words and actions. I miss him always.
Love you, Big D. Always.