The Unassuming Other Father
How many fathers do you know who are neglected? Forgotten? Ignored?
Today, like every year on Father’s Day, the internet, blogosphere, newspapers, and of course, the greeting card racks are full of declarations of love and appreciation for fathers. We also see stories about people who lost their real fathers at an early age and were raised by a brother, an uncle, or a godfather, even with the help of a friend of the family. Stories about dads who were absent for some other reason. Stories about mothers who struggled to fill the role of both parents when the biological father failed miserably at his parental responsibilities, or who simply opted out of the role. There is one person we see little mention of, let alone appreciation for, on Father’s Day, though: the stepfather. And it seems that often when we do hear about step-parents, the biological and step-parent are not present in the same story. A mother remarries after the father of her children dies, or a man whose wife left him and the kids eventually remarries. If we do see both in the same story, it is most likely not without tension or serious conflict.
My mom got remarried when I was sixteen, to Bill, who was in many ways a stark contrast to my father. Dad was the literary type, Bill political. Dad was passion, Bill was reason. Dad was an English teacher, a freelance writer, Bill was an FBI agent. Dad was a democrat. Bill is republican. (‘Nuff said.) In my baby book, my mother wrote of me that at a very early age “She already knows how to turn on the tears and melt Daddy.” Yeah. I knew from the minute I heard “FBI” that wouldn’t work with Bill.
Despite their different interests, they were very similar in character. Honest, good men. Men of their word. Loyal. Devoted. They had some heated political debates, but other than that, their differences weren’t an issue. Both were there whenever my brothers or I had a problem – even when one of us actually was the problem. Bill has always done whatever he can to help any of us, has always had good advice to give (even though I didn’t always necessarily want it), and has been a second father to each of us in one way or another.
My parents dissolved their marriage without conflict, and always remained close. This did not change when my mom got remarried. My father and his significant other were more often than not over at my mom’s with the rest of us on holidays and at other family gatherings. Over the years many people have commented on how unusual that is. Not every man would be willing to have the spouse’s ex over for Christmas. Not every man would be alright with his wife remaining so close with her ex, getting together with him regularly, and so on. This is true. When my dad’s health deteriorated to the point that my siblings and I worked out different shifts so that one of us would always be with him and taking care of him, my mother was there taking care of him too – and Bill was there helping all of us in whatever we he could. He didn’t have to be that patient. He didn’t have to even try to understand their relationship. And he didn’t have to do whatever he could so that she could be there for Dad and for us. But he did.
He did everything he could for all of us. Because we are family. Because that’s what fathers do. Dad and I talked about this before he died. He told me more than once how grateful he was to Bill for all he did and does for all of us, and especially for that. I am also grateful to Bill, though I don’t always find it easy to say so.
Like most people, I’m thinking of my father today, the memories that bring a smile to my lips and warm me with love now accompanied by a bottomless longing, since he died three and a half years ago. And I am also thinking of Bill, my step-father, who also means so much to me, and to whom I am more grateful than he may know.
So I wish you a Happy Father’s Day, Bill, with love.