The transition from one house to the other was smoother than I had expected. Tom and Nancy had carried mortgage insurance as well as a rather substantial amount of life insurance with double indemnity for accidental death. Their house was paid for and bigger than mine. They also had a pool with a board-on-board privacy fence. It was also the only two story house in their neighborhood. I put my house on the market, moved my entertainment center and a few other things to their house, sold everything that my daughter didn't want, and moved in with the boys. It certainly was a lot less disruptive for me to move than it would have been for the boys.
Meals, schools, athletic schedules... none of these things posed any significant problems. Everything but meals was already in place. All I had to do was get accustomed to their eating habits and their athletic schedules and introduce them to some of my culinary specialties. Yeah. I cook. Me and Steven Segal. Two of a kind.
Generally speaking, the discipline that Tom and Nancy had instilled in the boys served all of us well. Flair ups were always caused by their grief, not their inherent behavior or personality. And the resolutions of such difficulties usually ended up bringing us all closer together. There were the expected arguments over whether I could tell them what to do, discipline them, impose limits and restrictions. The inevitable assertion that I wasn't their dad so I couldn't make them do things. That one always hurt, but on those few occasions when that particular monster raised its ugly head, I simply reminded them as gently as I could that I was their choice. If they ever changed their minds, we could always truck down to the child welfare office and apply for somebody new. Maybe they perceived that threat to be real enough that it kept this particular argument to a minimum.
The way each boy reacted to these little spats told a lot about them. Following any fight about parental rights and responsibilities, Mitchell would eventually come to me in a very mature manner and we'd sit down and talk about it. He'd say he was sorry, and I could tell he meant it. Mitchell was quite intelligent and used his mental capacities wisely. He was also more mature than most boys his age, emotionally if not physically. As far as showing signs of affection were concerned, he enjoyed my arm around his shoulder, or my hand rubbing his neck, that sort of contact. But he wasn't into hugging very much.
Jason, on the other hand, would usually come out of his room after a period of sulking and pouting, crawl up in my lap and cry. He was a very emotional boy and didn't seem to mind showing his emotions, be it anger, joy or sorrow. After a period of whimpers or sobs, depending on the intensity of our argument, I would offer him a tissue. He'd blow his nose and then kiss me on the cheek. Usually he'd sit there for another 15 or 20 minutes, just to enjoy the company, I guess.
My reactions, quite naturally I suppose, mirrored the boys' actions and attitudes. With Mitchell, it was easy to be adult and thoughtful. I rarely got emotional over his apologies and his obvious affection and respect. But with Jason? Well, I usually ended up crying with him. And I was always glad that he stayed those 15 or 20 minutes extra, giving me the opportunity to enjoy the emotional warmth of his love and his presence.
I loved the boys equally, but differently. I expressed my love for Mitchell by showing him a lot of respect and admiration, by recognizing his intelligence and allowing him to participate in decisions that quite naturally were mine to make. But by seeking out his participation, I was able to help him use his mind and grow in the process. Quite honestly, it was harder with Mitchell, because I had to be very careful not to treat him as an adult. He deserved the right to mature at a natural pace. I also had to be careful to help him reach what I felt were the correct decisions, but do so in ways that were not deceitful or disrespectful.
Mitchell was a thinker and not so emotion driven as Jason and I were. He was also a vegetarian because he was uncomfortable with the idea of raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them to eat. And in this, he was a bit of a dichotomy, a contradiction. His father had been captain of the police S.W.A.T. team, and Mitchell had expressed some interest in following that career path himself. When I pointed out that he might have to kill someone, he shocked me by answering that he was a pretty good shot, even at long range. I never asked him how he could so easily consider killing a human being while being so against killing other animals.
As I said, Jason and I were emotional. It amazed me that we seemed to have that in common as well as our looks. We could each cry at the drop of a hat, and the subject of love frequently caused that particular reaction. (Not dropping hats dummies! Crying! Geez!) He had a soft heart for all animals and was always bringing home a cat or a dog or any other animal that was injured. Invariably we had to truck them up to the humane society for proper care. His friends know that Jason will always be there for them. I think he would make a great minister or junior high school counselor if he can just get his emotional side under control.
As I said, I really worked hard to show each boy an equal amount of love and affection, but there was just something about Jason that made it so easy to love him. He was an extremely affectionate boy at 11 years of age and this didn't change as he turned 12. He always had loads of boys ready and willing to come over to play games or go swimming. Mitchell was always more quiet, almost aloof. He often seemed to prefer reading to socializing. He started to show an interest in girls by the time he turned 15, and we frequently had a complement of kids his age, both boys and girls, around the house.
But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. There were two things the boys and I had addressed at the very beginning. As soon as I moved into their house, we sat down at the dinner table and talked about what they would call me. We also discussed our household dress code.
"Guys, I suspect neither of you is going to be comfortable calling me dad, and that's to be expected. But you have to call me something, and Dan is not acceptable. I will not be addressed by my first name by two boys who I now consider my sons. And Mr. Bedinger is also out of the question. So what do you think?"
They were silent for several minutes as each thought of various alternatives.
"Do we have to call you the same thing?"
"Well, Jason, I guess it doesn't have to be that way, but I think I'd prefer that you did."
"I guess we could always call you Uncle Dan."
As the boys giggled at that suggestion, I just looked at them.
"No, Mitchell, I think not. My daughter's closest friends still call me that from several years ago. How about D, or DB, or Dad Dan, or Pop?"
"I like Pop, Jason, how about you?"
"Sure. That's OK with me. Is it really OK with you? Pop?"
"Well boys, as long as you said it with love and respect, I guess shithead would be OK. But seriously, yes, Pop is fine."
"Kewl. May we go watch TV now?"
"Nope. One other issue needs to be addressed right away, before there are any embarrassments."
The boys looked at me with blank but expectant expressions on their faces.
"Two years ago we had a new board-on-board privacy fence installed, just like you have here. Once it was up I swore I'd never wear another pair of trunks to go swimming. I don't intend to change now."
Jason's eyes lit up like a candle. Mitchell's brow kind of furrowed with doubt.
"Now don't jump to any conclusions. I won't expect you to adopt that dress code, and I certainly won't come out naked when your friends are here. But if I'm here alone when you get home from school, you are most likely to find me swimming in the nude. If that makes you uncomfortable, I'll slip into something. For a few weeks anyway. Until you get used to it. But there might be times when we're the only ones here and I don't bother putting a suit on. You can join me in the pool, with or without a suit on, or leave me alone, but that's the way I'm going to swim."
Their responses were decidedly different. Jason's was effusive and cheerful, unreserved. Mitchell's was doubtful, more bashful, hesitant. I suspect it all had something to do with their ages. You know, the puberty thing.
"Kewl Pop. I'm gonna swim naked like you!"
"Geez, pop, I don't know. We never saw dad naked. I'm not sure how I'll feel about it."
"Well, let's see how things go when the time comes. Just don't hesitate to come and talk to me about it."
"Can my friends swim naked too?" Jason asked. It seemed that the more he thought about it the more excited he became.
"I guess so. But I probably won't join you without a suit. You'll have to talk to me before you bring it up to your friends, and then you'll have to explain to them ahead of time that I will always be present to serve as lifeguard and pool supervisor. They might not be comfortable with that."
"Kewl. Now can we go watch TV?"
"Is your homework done?"
"No. Not all of it."
"Finish it first, then we'll see what's on."
But a well turned out human body is a joy to observe, male or female. And these kids were just gosh awful cute. Mitchell and Jason both wrestled which kept their bodies toned quite well. Jason was so small I was surprised he could even compete. But he not only competed, he won. Often. Quite often. A lot. Was I proud of him? Nah! Not too much.
Mitchell was just as wiry, but at 14 he was bigger, so I wasn't so surprised at his performance. And perhaps I didn't watch him as intently as I did Jason. As I said earlier, Jason tended to grab my attention because he reminded me of myself at his age. He was very loving and affectionate and often worked his way into my lap or sat close beside me on the couch when we were reading or watching TV. He was also much less self conscious about his body. Was it his age or his personality?
What did the kids look like? I guess I did neglect to include that at the beginning. When I was first blessed with them as pseudo sons, Mitchell was 14, stood just a couple of inches shorter than me, about 5'8." He had black hair with dark eyebrows, brown eyes, was very thin and weighed maybe 120 to 125. As I said before, just like my brother at that age. Jason was 11, had light brown hair like mine, hazel eyes like mine, a very high voice (as I did at that age), was about 4 ½ feet tall and couldn't have weighed more than 90 to 95 pounds. A little kid, but wiry and strong. He was always doing isometric exercises to strengthen his arms and legs. The boys were in much better shape than I was, but shoot, I was OLD, remember?
Both of the boys preferred briefs to boxers and we soon made a habit of buying different brands to make it easy to know what went into which drawer. It was easy enough to identify whose was whose by their sizes as they were being folded, but once folded, the mark of identification became the waist band. I wore Penney's, Mitchell wore Hanes, and Jason wore FOL's.
Whatever it was, Jason took to nudity around the house right away. And he especially loved to swim in the nude. Mitchell soon became comfortable swimming naked when it was just the three of us, but always wore his skivvies in the house. I was surprised by Mitchell's lack of body hair the first time he slipped out of his swim trunks to join Jason and me in the pool au naturale. With as much black hair as he had on his head, I had just assumed he would already have a thick bush of pubes and hair in his armpits. And for some reason I had assumed he would already be fairly large in the genital area. I don't why. I guess since his dad was a SWAT team leader on the police force I jumped to a stupid conclusion about macho men and the size of their equipment.
But he didn't have a lot of hair, and he wasn't very big down there. Bigger than Jason, of course, but smaller than I had expected. He had the cutest thin bush of black hair just above his penis (2 ½ or 3 inches soft) and that was it. Nothing from there up or down. Nada. Zip. Zero. Nil. Zilch. Get the point? I was so surprised I ended up digging out some old photos of myself to see if I was as hairless at that age. Sure enough I was. Well, I didn't have any naked pictures, but I did have some in swim trunks and there wasn't any hair anywhere else, so I guess I was about the same as him elsewhere. His dick was cute, and I guess his nuts were average size for a 14 year old. Both of the boys were circumcised, which pleased me because I am too.
But enough of that. Let me just say that they were the nicest, cutest boys in town, with or without clothes. And I enjoyed having them around, both ways.
It just made my day, I'll tell you. It reminded me of how my daughter used to come into our bedroom early in the morning. She always seemed to climb in on my side of the bed, snuggle back against me and fall asleep. For years after my son died, I wept at the loss of him doing the same thing. Now I had a son who was fulfilling that dream. I loved it. But it meant I had to start sleeping in pajamas instead of naked as I usually did.
After about the fourth time this happened, Jason stopped waiting for me to come to him. Instead, he did it on his own. If he woke up at night, he'd get out of bed, go into my bathroom and take a leak and then crawl into bed just as Tammy used to and fall asleep. The way he slept, though, sure made me glad I had a king size bed. Geez, that kid was all over the bed. You'd think he was wrestling his toughest opponent sometimes, ending up crossways with his legs laying across my stomach or upside down with them in my face. If it woke me up, I'd just manhandle him around into a normal position, scootch over next to him and wrap him in my arms. We'd usually wake up in that same position, enjoying a few minutes of father/son closeness.
We hardly ever talked about love, but the boys certainly knew that I loved them. I doubt that they realized just how much I loved them, however. I told them almost every day that I loved them, because I always felt kids couldn't hear that too often. Love is one of the most important aspects of growing up, knowing you are lovable and loved, knowing it's OK to love someone else, whether it's family or friends.
I wouldn't say that Mitchell was jealous of the time Jason spent with me, but there were times when he would take a seat on the couch on the side opposite Jason and snuggle up to me. I tried to consider his age, maturity and level of intelligence in dealing with him, just as I did with Jason. All those aspects of Mitchell led me to let him initiate most of our physical contact. So when he did initiate it like this, I would revel in it, having one son on either side of me, resting against me with my arms around their shoulders. Often times Jason would end up asleep with his head in my lap while Mitchell and I talked quietly about his day, his plans for the week and for the future. Mitchell was a deep thinker and 14 years old, a difficult age for boys and girls. I always felt very special indeed when he showed his affectionate side because it didn't happen as often as it did with Jason.
We were sitting like that one night, Jason asleep, Mitchell and me speaking softly.
"He's cute, isn't he, Pop? He's softer than me. You really need to spend more time with him than me."
"Why would you say that? I try to treat you equally."
"That's not what I meant. I'm older and I have more of my Dad in me. Jason's still little and he's more like Mom. He just needs more attention is what I mean. He's my brother, Pop, and I love him. It won't bother me if you pay more attention to him when he needs it. I know you're here when I need you, but Jason needs you right now. He really does, Pop. Please?"
My love for Mitchell soared to new heights that night.
"Nope. Just our jock straps. I mean, geez Pop, you've seen me naked. What's to hurt? They aren't that big yet." (Giggle)
"Well as often as I see you guys grabbing each other down there, how do you keep from getting hurt?"
"Geez, Pop. We're not grabbing each other's stuff. It just looks that way. Usually were grabbing a butt cheek or a leg."
Then he got this sly little grin on his face as he continued with a giggle.
"Sometimes a guy's hand will land in the wrong place, or right place depending on who you're wrestling (giggle), though."
"What do you mean, right place?"
"Well, like when Alex Stroh and I are wrestling? Sometimes we'll grab each other down there on purpose, just 'cause it feels good. It's fun touching him there. He always gets stiff when I do that."
At that statement, he actually blushed bright red.
"And does he grab you that way, too?"
"Yeah. It feels good."
"And, do you react the same way he does?"
"You mean do I get a stiffy? Yeah. Sure."
See? I told he you wasn't bashful about this stuff.
... to be continued
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