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Blood doesn't always make family

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Maybe He knew. Maybe Dale Gribble knew about Nancy and John Redcorn. Maybe not at first. Maybe not for a while. Maybe it started out as a small suspicion. And, as time went on, he grew more suspicious.

Maybe he hated himself for it. Maybe he thought himself a horrible husband to think his wife was unfaithful. Hated how much he had to deny the possibly. (But there was so much that could be evidence! All he had to do was snoop a little. Just a little and he'd have his proof. Come home earlier, pay attention to the looks being exchanged. He doesn't; refuses to even try.)

And then Nancy gets pregnant. He pushes the traitorous thoughts to the back of his mind. Because he's going to be a father. His wife is having HIS child. So he helps get a nursery going. He works longer shifts to afford every thing; takes more jobs, kills more bugs and rodents. He's reading the parenting books; he's taking courses with his wife. He's putting all this work in. He goes to every doctor's appointment. And then he finds out it's a boy; He's having a baby boy.

And then the time comes; his little boy is ready to join his family. Dale's not allowed in the room while Nancy is pushing. (Something about him being too fidgety and jumpy, the nurses say. They'd be too if it was their child being born.)
He finally gets to see his pride and joy. But...from the first glance, he knows. Reality comes crashing down on him like a wave on the sand. This is not his child. This baby, less than a few minutes old, is living proof of his wife's infidelity. He should be screaming. He should be calling his wife out on her cheating. Should be demanding a divorce.....
Dale Gribble is a lot of things: he's shifty, untrusting to the government, faithful...and sometimes, sometimes he has moments of clarity and wisdom. So while he knows he could easily leave his wife and this bastard child, he doesn't.
It's not the chil- it's not Joseph's fault that Nancy cheated. It's not his fault his biological father is not Dale Gribble, but instead John Redcorn... John Redcorn....

John Redcorn is a lot of things...but he's not ready to be a father. He's not ready to be tied down with a child. He'd freak out, deny Joseph and leave. Nancy will be all alone...with a new-born... Nancy is not the kind of woman to be able to raise a child by herself, not right now. It'll be too much stress for her and she'll crack...and where does that leave Joseph?
Having to grow up with a not-there-dad and a mom so stressed out that she either yells or ignores him, that's where.
Joseph is not even ten minutes old and his future already looks bleak.

Dale Gribble is pale, as pale as the moon on a clear night. His hair is as brown as the dirt he has to crawl in underneath houses as he exterminates pests and rodents. He's weak physically, cowardly, and childish. This child before him is brown. Brown as the skin of his forefathers, of his biological father. His hair is as black as the midnight sky. He will be as brave, as strong, and as childish as Dale. Because Dale cannot, and will not, let him live the life planned out without him.
So when the nurse hands him over, when Joseph is secure in his arms, he makes a silent vow. That no matter what, Dale will always be there for him. Even if he isn't biologically, he will be his father.

He lets Nancy claim that Joseph was brown because of a great-grandma (or was it aunt? It really doesn't matter, lies are lies.) on his side of the family.

Maybe, while Joseph is growing up, Dale plays ignorant. He "doesn't notice" how often John Redcorn is over "treating Nancy's migraines". He's too busy staying up nights trying to get Joseph to sleep. Too busy rubbing his back when he gets sick. Too busy listening to his son babble;too busy chasing after his son when Joseph learns to walk;too busy worrying about Joseph's first day of school. He's too busy helping Joseph with his homework;too busy helping him with bullies;too busy watching him and Bobby on their play-dates. He's too busy being the father he promised he'd be.

He acts like he can't hear the other parents whispering, can't hear his friends talking behind his back. Admitting the truth is admitting defeat, and Dale hates losing.

 

There are days where Dale hates his life. When it's late and he's in the basement alone, he lets this hatred fester on the surface. He's sitting in his chair watching his show-turtles, fuming at the fact that John Redcorn is in his wife's bed with her. Holding HIS Nancy in his arms. It's aggravating and all he wants to do is go barging in and attack. He lets the image of a bloody John Redcorn rest in his mind's eye for a while. A great, limp form of a broken man, slowly bleeding out. A noise knocks him from his imagination.
He notices the footsteps before anything else. They're too light to be either Nancy's or John Redcorn's. He's halfway up the stairs to the door when he hears the knock at the door. Opening the door just slowly enough to not startle the child, he gazes down at a terrified Joseph hugging his teddy.
"Kinda late to be up. What's wrong son?" His voice is low and full of concern. Joseph shifts his weight from one foot to the other. His eyes refuse to leave the carpet. He is the vision of a scared child; his pajama's sleeves a little too long, his toes barely visible from the hem of the pants. He clutches his teddy bear like a lifeline. It's enough to break a stubborn man's resolve...Dale isn't stubborn, and so the image is even more powerful.
Sighing softly, Dale squats down to his son's level. "Did you have a bad dream, Joseph?"
All he gets in response is a timid nod. Joseph once again shifts his weight, almost like he's embarrassed.
"Do you want me to tuck you in again?" Joseph nods silently. Dale grabs one of his son's hands, and slowly guides him back to his room.
After Joseph is tucked in, his closet and under-the-bed checked for monsters, and his teddy secure in his arms, Dale gets up to leave. A small hand on his elbow stops him, leaving him slightly crouched over. The silent plea he sees in Joseph's eyes makes him reposition himself so he's lying right next to Joseph. Joseph wastes no time in snuggling up next to his dad's side.
As he listens to his son's soft snoring, Dale is silently thanking every deity he can think of for this moment. He takes comfort in the fact that Joseph went to him and not Nancy or John Redcorn.

 

When Peggy found out about Nancy and John Redcorn, he prays she doesn't mention it to him. Doesn't tells him the truth about his son and his wife. Because Joseph is too young to know, Nancy too guilty to admit it. So when she says nothing, he's glad. Thankful, even.

 

Maybe when he heard about Hank's free meal for four at That's Amore, he decides to win his wife back. Because it's one thing to promise to be a father to Joseph, but he promised to be a husband to his wife. He's finally ready to start. It works fine, this plan of his to woo his wife again....but he worries that she might be better off with Redcorn. So he offers to mend things between them. (When Nancy chooses him, he's filled with relief and joy. But plays it off and asks about Redcorn's sexuality to cover any tracks.)

When Joseph came back from summer camp at least a full foot taller than he left, Dale is proud. His son is slowly becoming a man-his heart twinges painfully, and Dale finds himself wistful of the days long gone when he towered over his son- but this is just the beginning of a tough road ahead of them. Dale is aware that teenagers were difficult to raise, that hormones wreaked havoc throughout their bodies. Joseph is not a little boy anymore, and this new terrain is throwing them both for a loop, and Dale finds himself flailing like a fish out of water. He's not the best father in the whole world- he was afraid of his own son at one point, for Pete's sake- but he tries. He tries his absolute best, and occasionally managing to do a decent job.

When John Redcorn admits to having an affair with Hank's best friend's wife, Dale hates him. Only for a short moment, before he responds that everyone slept with Lenore. That she was a skank, a whore. Because he's not ready to admit that Joseph is not his; he's not ready for the truth to come about and for Joseph to feel lost. He thinks back at that moment later on, when he's alone with his thoughts late at night. He finds himself hating John Redcorn again. He tries not to, but he can't help the burning anger boiling his blood at the thought of Joseph finding out before he was ready. (Whether the "he" was Dale or Joseph, he couldn't tell)

 

Maybe, when Joseph is around fifteen/sixteen and while Bug is visiting, maybe some kind of party, someone starts an argument. This argument starts pulling all kinds of issues to light. In a moment of rage and boiling blood, John Redcorn admits to cheating. Admits to being Joseph's biological father. That Joseph is His and not Dale's.
Everyone waits with baited breath. Nancy looks on in horror, Joseph in fear. Because he knew, knew that Dale wasn't his father. But Dale was always there, so he said nothing.
Dale looks around the room, at people who knew. Who he knew had known for a while, but said nothing for his sake. He looks as his wife, who's nearly in tears. He looks at his son, his little boy. He looks back at John Redcorn and says quietly, "I know."
Two words he's wanted to say since the beginning, wanted to say every time Nancy left or John Redcorn came over. Two very heavy words he finally gets to say out loud. He feels lighter than ever before.
The room is silent until Joseph whispers, "you knew?" He sounds so heart-broken, so confused. Just the way Dale always knew he would.
"I-I've known since you were born. I've known all along," he responds, voice cracking slightly.
"Why didn't you say something?" At this point, Dale is only looking at Joseph so he's not sure who asked. He answers anyway.
"The moment I saw you for the first time, I was hooked. There would be nothing that could keep me from loving you. You were my son, even if I wasn't your real father. You will always be my son."
He won't admit to the tears in his eyes when Joseph rushes forward into his arms. Joseph doesn't run FROM him, but TO him. His biological father is in the same room as them, but Joseph goes to the only father he has ever known. That means more to Dale than he's willing to admit.

For the next few days, Nancy can't face him. Can't face her husband who has stayed because of a son who isn't even his. Because as guilty as she feels, she is also insecure. Because Dale stayed for Joseph, not her. And he could easily just leave with him, leave her for all of her lies. Any court would see him as the legitimate parent in all this mess.
Dale corners her in the hallway, while Joseph is outside burning ants with Bobby and Connie. After a long talk, he reassures her that he loves her, that as much as it hurt to, he has never stopped loving her. That he will never leave his family.
Nancy will admit to the tears in her eyes when her husband lovingly holds her in his arms.

Life goes on, Joseph grows up, moves away. He meets a nice girl, brings her back to meet his parents.
She asks quietly to Dale as they sit on the couch( Nancy and Joseph are in the kitchen getting some snacks) why Dale was so willing to raise another man's son.
He raises his glasses so he can get a better look at her and says firmly, "Joseph is my son, and has been since he was born." The silence in the room solidifies Dale's words in her mind.
She leaves with a better understanding and a newfound respect for him that day. A little ways down the line, when she births Joseph's child, she'll let Dale meet them first.
When the little one starts talking, she makes sure they call Dale, "Grampa". (John Redcorn can be "Grandfather" because he's the Father, but he's not the Dad.)
Dale has always been Joseph's dad, and that's all the really matters.