How to Break the Big News
Patti Pitcher remembers being “very nervous” about telling her new husband, Jim, that, at 47, he was going to become a father again. She was well aware that, after three years as a single man, “he had just gotten two small children (her daughters) in his life and now he was getting another.”
Jim was doing his Christmas baking--baking is his hobby--when she broke the news. “After it sank in,” he said, “I was really quite pleased.”
“God made that decision” for them, Patti said. “I’m glad I didn’t have to.”
That child, Adam, now a lively 4-year-old, was born with his father coaching the natural childbirth. For the father of an adult daughter born in the days when “the nurses kicked you out” of the labor room, it was an unforgettable experience.
Jim and Patti met in 1976 when she was a volunteer aide at Lincoln Junior High School in Santa Monica, where he has taught since 1961. When she returned to Lincoln as a paid special education aide two years later, she was in the process of dissolving her 10-year marriage. An attraction began to grow.
Both had had less-than-ideal first marriages. “One thing that attracted me to Patti, and Patti to me,” Jim said, “was a sincere desire to have a family that was happier than we had previously.”
Jim had been married for almost 20 years when, in 1976, his wife died after a long battle against multiple sclerosis. Partially because of her illness, he said, the marriage “really wasn’t the family unit that I wanted it to be.” He understands now, “I was very angry, angry at having a wife who was sick, angry at myself for not being able to communicate with her.”
The job of rearing their daughter fell largely to him but, because of job responsibilities, Army Reserve duties and work toward his master’s degree, their time together was limited to planned, structured activities such as competitive swimming and scouting.
‘Very Traumatic’ Childhood
He blames his “very traumatic” childhood, as well, for the unfilled expectations of that union. After his parents divorced when he was 11, he said, he “built up walls around myself to protect myself. I didn’t learn the tools of interrelationships. I never got the relationship with my father that I wanted.”
Therapy helped him to understand his feelings; marriage to Patti and becoming stepfather to her daughters, Lisa, 11, and Richelle, 13, has brought him the family he wanted. “I never felt the experience of love I have with Patti,” he said. “My therapist said, ‘You’re having your puppy love with her.’ ”
When he made a commitment to Patti, he said, it was also to her daughters. “I thought it was really neat to get a chance to go through it a second time. When I got remarried I realized it came with a package. I felt it would be unfair to marry her and say, well, the two kids come along and that’s her responsibility.”
Adam was simply a bonus.
It is painful to him that his own daughter, now 27, married and herself a mother, has never fully accepted his marriage or the children of that marriage.
No Half-Brother Stuff
Said Patti: “It’s been easier for my girls to accept all the changes because they were very small. They’ve lived with Jim and had him a part of their lives longer than they had their father. And they think of Adam completely as their brother, none of this half-brother stuff.”
The Pitchers live in the house in Sepulveda in which his own daughter grew up; Patti’s daughters had some of the same teachers at Balboa school that she had had. “The house is the remnant of the first marriage,” he said, “of another woman. It was hard for Patti originally. But I have a low mortgage (he bought the house in 1965). Living here means Patti does not have to work.
“We decided,” Jim added, “that it was more important that she be home than to have new furniture.” A full-time homemaker, she is involved in church, scouting and PTA.
Fancy trips and other luxuries are not in their scheme of things. “Our family’s more important than us,” Jim said. “Some people at 50 are beginning to think more of themselves.”
Patti’s divorce was, she said, “extremely traumatic” and she was a long time recovering, both physically and emotionally. During that period, she recognized, “a lot of insecurities were built up” in her daughters. “We’re willing to sacrifice a lot of things in our lives,” she said, for the children.
“Jim and I have learned from our mistakes,” Patti said. “I think our marriage and our children are getting the best of what we have. I know a lot more now what things really aren’t important.”
Still Gets Emotional
Sometimes she still gets “real emotional” about her daughters not being able to share the important milestones with their own father, who lives in San Diego with his new wife and their daughter. “Adam,” she said, “is getting the best of both worlds.”
Sometimes, Jim admitted, “Adam wears me out. But I get more tired at school. Teaching is so much more difficult now. Kids come to school with a lot more problems. There are broken homes. And they grow up sooner. There are all the social pressures.”
Because he is a junior high teacher, he thinks he may be able to deal better than some older fathers with the generation gap as Adam grows up.
“I don’t see myself as 50 years old,” he said. “Of course, when I get out in the yard and try to do the things I used to do I know I’ve reached a different age.”
He thinks “fathers today are really lucky that they are more involved with their children. I just hope every father (does) whatever’s comfortable for him. The relationship with your child starts at birth, not when he’s old enough to play football and you get interested.”
Jim takes it one day at a time, remembering always, “I have to give Adam those things to enable him to go ahead and live his life, whether I’m here or not, whether his mother’s here.”
A spirited Adam reappeared and settled himself in front of an Apple screen. Jim looked at him lovingly and said, “He doesn’t really know that fathers are supposed to be younger.”