My wife’s family is small and big at the same time.   She only has a few aunts and uncles, but she has a million cousins, 2nd cousins, Aunts who are really 3rd cousins…  It is actually a little confusing from the outside.  But, they are really close.  The labels might be screwed up, but because my mother in law basically calls here cousins her sisters, the lines are blurry.  By now you are as confused as I am, and I have been involved with these crazies for 20 years.

When I came into the picture as a teenager my wife’s parents were awesome.   Very open and trusting of their daughter.  She was a really good kid, so they had no reason to not trust her.  They actually taught me a lot about raising my girls.  They gave trust.  They asked for honesty in return, but they treated you like an adult until you would prove them wrong.

My wife’s Dad has always been one of my favorite people on the planet.  But, back when I was a 17 year old I hadn’t done anything to earn his respect, but he gave it to me anyway.  He let me into his family pretty quickly.  Maybe he saw someday I would be alright, maybe my wife’s Mom had something to do with it.  I don’t know, but what I do know is that her Dad’s best friend Charlie was NOT as understanding.

See, I think he tried to be the asshole that my father in law couldn’t be.  I think my wife would have lost it on him if he pushed me.  But, Charlie was a different story.  Charlie was married to my mother in laws best friend, Jacquie.  Jacquie was my wife’s Aunt (well, really her 2nd cousin, see IT IS CONFUSING)…

One night many many years ago I got a flat tire outside of my wife’s house.  Now, I had only had my license for 6 months or so, and I didn’t know a thing about cars.  So, I walked in the house to ask to borrow the AAA card to get my tire changed.  Charlie was over as he was frequently back then and he was having a few Budweiser’s.  He almost fell on the floor when I asked for help.  I’m paraphrasing here a little, but I think his words were “You don’t know how to change a FUCKING tire?  You are one sorry excuse for a man”.  So, he convinced my father in law to grab a few drinks and head outside to watch me try and change the tire.  They drank and made fun of me as I sweat trying to figure out what the hell a lug nut was.   They absolutely crushed me.

But, really from then on I was good.  Charlie would take every chance he could to bust my balls.  Each time I saw him after that we shook hands, he called me a fucking idiot and we would have a few beers together.  If he had enough beers and there was someone who I didn’t know he would tell them about the time he taught me how to change a tire, about how I wasn’t really a man and how much of an wimp he thought I was.

This would continue on for years.  I got to join them on a few family trips.  On one of those trips he set a bunch of us on a little canoe trip in New Hampshire, only they forgot to tell us where we were supposed to stop.  So, a bunch of us ended up canoeing way further than we were supposed to, almost making it to a waterfall.  He felt bad about it, so that was my leverage against him for a few years.   A few drinks and I would call him an asshole and tell whoever was around about the time he tried to kill us on a river.

But, what I really love about Charlie is that he was my in with the family.  My wife’s Mother let me in pretty early, along with most of the aunts, which I think is probably pretty standard when it comes to dating the daughter.  The woman, in my experience anyway, let you in.   The men I think are a bit different.  While I think my wife’s father was awesome to me growing up, I think Charlie made that a little easier for him.  Charlie would test me whenever he could, never letting me get away with anything.  And I earned my way into the family through him.  Once they saw I could take from him, they knew I was here to stay.

Charlie was also a really good guy with a huge heart.  I wonder if having daughters does that to you.  Softens you up no matter how tough you try to be.  While we would sit and have a few beers he always had an eye on his wife making sure she was taken care of.   He treated his wife life she walked on water when I was around.  Even if I didn’t know it or use this lesson until way later in my life, he was one of the best examples I had of what being a husband was supposed to look like. So, along with my wife’s Dad, I had two really great guys to learn from. Both would really help shape me even to this day.

Around this time about 11 years ago Charlie was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  It was super aggressive.  He lost his fastball pretty quickly and died shortly thereafter.    It was incredibly sad, as it always is when someone is taken way before they deserved to go.  We had many, many more Budweiser’s to drink.   We had many more Thanksgiving football games to fall asleep watching.  I had lots of years left that I was going to be make fun of him for getting old and shit, but I didn’t get the opportunity.

Once a year they have a mass for Charlie.   You know the one where they just say the person’s name and we say a quick little prayer for them.    I don’t go to church anymore as it is not something I truly believe in, but I will never miss that mass.   He let me in on this crazy family and for that I will forever owe him for it.

And I know for sure he is up in Heaven smoking a cigarette, drinking a beer and calling me a pussy for crying while I type this.

Love ya Charlie

Categories: Family, Growing Up

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