My post today isn’t so much about death or grief, as much as it is about fathers. Like so many, I come from a “broken home” and had a stepdad. It was tough, for sure. He was a great man, but I was an awful teenager. We pushed him, we crossed boundaries, we tested him, we fought with him. I guess in some ways to see how much he could take. What was his breaking point? When would he leave too? He ended up not volunteering to go anywhere. He loved my mom. And with that love came a deep rooted commitment to her children, no matter how difficult we were. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I recognized that for what it was, and a lesson I would appreciate throughout my life. He died when I was 27, and at his funeral, one of his friends told me that his motto in life was, and always had been, “You don’t have to be part of the same blood line to be family.” And, boy did he prove that, time and time again.
He was funny. We made up words to songs. He was so nice to my friends. He had a cool car. He made our house a home. He showed up to our events, vacations, camping, dinner, and especially when I had my own children. He loved them, cared for them and babysat them from time to time. I remember coming home once to one of them with their diaper on backwards and all three of them were passed out on the bed from an obviously rough night. But, it didn’t deter him from being the best he could be and trying and trying again. I remember he built my daughter an off road red wagon, complete with an umbrella to shade her fair skin. He took her to Home Depot to play with the light switches because as a 2-year-old, that’s all she wanted to do – to flip switches. While my own dad was around, my bonus dad stepped in every time I needed him and sometimes when I didn’t. He was always there, loving us, backing up my mom and being an important part of our lives. And, he taught me how to ride a motorcycle.
What do we think about when we think about the word, “family”? We think about our tribe. The people who have our back. The people who will step up and show up in our good times, and our bad. We think about commitment. About honesty. About an undeniable bond between human beings. We think about holidays, about events, about struggles and good news. The term “family” is all encompassing for “support.” And sometimes, that support, and that family – is not related by blood.
My generation and the generations after me have moved away from saying that family is only those people who you were born into. We have recognized that so many other people can be family, in so many other ways. Our friends, our co-workers, our friends’ kids. Maybe it’s because so many of us had stepparents, which led to step siblings, which led to step families, I don’t know, but I hope that our experiences will continue to lead us as we experience our own family dynamics.
It’s Father’s Day today, and I’m angry that I don’t have a dad anymore. I am angry that my dad, my stepdad and my husband are gone. I am angry that my kids don’t have their dad today. I am angry that so many other families are missing somebody at the celebration dinner.
But, at the same time, I am thankful and grateful for all the stepdads that stepped up. I am thankful for my own, but I am especially thankful for Chad. And here’s why.
When we got married, I brought with me two children from a previous marriage who’s dad was not super involved. Chad had a son, and together, we had our daughter. The epitome of a blended family. We were both in our early 30s and practically still kids ourselves. Chad walked a fine line between respecting their dad’s role and his own and over the years, he became masterful at it.
Almost immediately, he volunteered to coach my son’s t-ball team. I remember thinking he was a saint as he stood in center field holding his hand so my son would stop picking the grass and be aware when he needed to go try to find the ball. I remember laughing when he cleaned out that same son’s locker and brought out a pound of papers after my son couldn’t find any of his schoolwork. I remember when my son decided to explore the attic and fell through the ceiling, and thought maybe I was so mad he had to move out – it was Chad who reassured him he would live, and since he found one of his missing tools up there, it really was ok. I remember my son following him around like a shadow, always waiting and wondering what he was going to do next. I remember my daughter was pretty quiet and didn’t say much, but sometimes, I would find them sitting on the couch at 2 a.m. watching TV on a weekend night. I asked Chad once what they were talking about and his response was perfect. “Nothing.” He said. And, it didn’t matter because he knew how to enjoy silent moments. He knew how to take in the beauty of sitting there with her, talking about nothing, and listening to the lull of a “Saturday Night Live” rerun.
I remember that same daughter debating things with him like politics and current events, and Chad being gracious, even if they didn’t agree. I remember when, as a 4.3 student, she decided to go to a study group one Saturday night with her backpack full of textbooks. Because he was the consummate cop, he did what any other bonus-cop-dad would do and searched her bag, with a silly grin on his face. I remember the night she got pulled over and came home and outed herself and gave him her keys and cell phone. When he asked her what she was doing, she said, “I’m giving you these things until you think I have learned my lesson.” He simply responded with, “Well, they will be right there on the counter and when YOU think you’ve learned your lesson, you can take them back.” No judgement. No lecture. No lines drawn in the sand. I remember him coming up with new and inventive ways to survive the teenage years, none of which included yelling or losing his patience. I remember he would cook for them at midnight, and take them places and show up when they needed him.
It wasn’t grandiose. It wasn’t over the top. It wasn’t some crazy idea he saw online. It was just real. It was pure. It was raw. It was family.
He went from being a single man to a family man overnight and he excelled in it. He didn’t read a book on it, he didn’t go to counseling, he didn’t research it. He did exactly what came naturally, and that was being a dad. Not a stepdad. Just a dad. A bonus.
So many men out there are stepping up to this now and setting the bar high. So many men are coming into women’s lives and saying, like he did, “Hey, let’s be an instant family.” So many men are loving those kids like they are their own, and so many of them are finding the balance, standing in the outfields and sitting in beautiful silence.
It’s right to honor dads today. And it’s also right to honor the bonus dads. Without Chad, I don’t know who my children would be today. He sent two off to the military and one off to one of the most prestigious, major private colleges in the country. It was his morals, his values and his commitment to them that did that. It was his compass in all things right that did that. It was the lessons he gave them that did that. It was his integrity, generosity and kindness that did that.
It is my greatest hope that your bonus dad does that for you, or your children. There is a special place in our hearts for those men who stand up and step in. Let’s show them. Let’s tell them. Let’s be their champions. I’ve told you about mine. Who is yours?
This story was written for Love What Matters by Diana Register, 45, of Meridian, Idaho. She is the founder of iam149.org, and is in the process of writing of a book about her journey with grief after her husband’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Read more of her work below:
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