Considering that Father’s Day is coming this weekend, it seemed fitting to talk about the fathers out there. Usually I would talk about my own dad, but this year there was another father, a father that I see everyday help shape the lives of 5 young men and boys and I don’t think he gets much recognition. He deserves his day.
For all the mothers and fathers out there, it’s probably an easy answer to the question, “What is the hardest job you’ve had?” Most reply, “Being a parent.” As a parent myself, I wouldn’t disagree with that answer, but there are others things that I think are harder than being a parent. One of them is being a stepparent.
While writing this essay, I did a little research to see if there was a recognized National Stepfather’s Day. Only thing I found for “steps” was a National Stepmother’s Day. It falls on the Sunday after Mother’s Day (which for me is an interesting hierarchy, but I won’t get into that here). But for Stepfather’s? There is no National Stepfather’s Day. The poor guys get completely dissed. I found something about a National Stepparent Day but it didn’t feel very recognized. And it all sounded silly anyway. I suppose it’s a tough day to recognize because who are stepparents anyway? This is who they are: They are the person that is cooking the kids dinner or taking them to soccer practice or helping them with their homework. And they are also the same person that has no legal protection, no authority over the kids’ well being, and no emotional expectation that you should get a thank you from the kids or the kids’ mother or father. Sometimes as a mother or father it’s easy to feel unappreciated; for stepparents, times that lack of appreciation by five and you will feel how Eric and I feel.
Wait a minute. Maybe we really need a recognized day after all.
OK, so since stepparenting is the hardest job ever, why do it? And it’s simple: because we fell in love with people with kids. It’s the same logic when we decide to have kids of our own – really, who in any universe would ever want to go through the hurt and pain that parenthood can be? And for the ones who marry someone with children, who would want to take care of children that aren’t even theirs?
THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY
After ten years into my own parenthood, I realized that it wasn’t just my own sense of invincibility that made me do my job well but that it was my own mother’s invincibility that helped me to guide my own road of motherhood, as mentioned in a previous post. So thanks to the invincibility one day I had the audacity to think I would embark on another tour of parenthood. But this time, it was something my mother couldn’t help me with. And there were no Dr. Spock books to help with it either. When I became a stepmother on January 28, 2012, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I said, Hey, I could do this, right? I’m already a mother of boys so what’s another 3 more?? Let’s just say, it turned out this next tour of parenthood was nothing like the one before, this tour was in a completely different country.
When I married Eric, he already had three sons of his own.
They were 14, 12 and 8. My sons were 10 and 6. Together they all mostly got along. Our blending was not like the Brady Bunch but we’ve never had to split up any fights between them. We were lucky that way. Probably because they are all boys and have similar interests. I have my sons all the time and Eric’s sons are with us a little more than 50% of the time so there’s lot of time as a blended family. I already knew how to be a mother of boys so this should be pretty much a piece of cake. And for Eric, as the stepfather, being a father of boys himself it should be a piece of cake for him, too. Right?
THE DARK, DARK WINTER
And for a while it actually was a piece of cake. There were rarely any issues with the boys, outside of regular growing up stuff. Most of the problems that Eric and I experienced in the early days of our marriage were all mostly issues originated from ourselves. We had horrible first and second years of marriage, a marriage fraught with his unemployment and the subsequent financial disasters that came with it and issues from his scorned ex that would take months to resolve, and then in the middle of it, of course, I was trying to recover from a stroke. A stroke. A stroke only 9 months after our wedding day. At the time, it was so easy for us to ask ourselves, “what kind of hell did we get ourselves into?!?” Somedays we literally looked at each other and wondered if we should just pack it all up and sell the house and he would move to his dad’s in San Diego and I would move to my mom’s in New Jersey.
And it really would’ve been easy for us to call it quits because the ink on the marriage license wasn’t even dry. It was a dark, dark winter in 2013. Very dark. In the subsequent years, I’ve talked about the dark time and what I was experiencing in the years of 2012-2013 with friends and family and strangers. But yet, something tells me there wasn’t enough talking about what Eric was thinking about. I don’t think I asked him enough. Certainly, the boys weren’t asking him.
When I think about it now, he had to have been a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown, but he didn’t break. He bent a little, but not once, even when I broke down myself, he kept it together. Thank God he kept it all together for us.
Eric by nature is not an open book kind of person. But when you get to know him, you know he has a heart of gold and he’s also a little goofy and a little silly.
A humble man admitting that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he loves music and beer, and loves his dad and his family and his wife and his cats. Sometimes he misses his kids so much when they are not at home that his heart breaks and sometimes he can find them too much to handle, all in the same time. And there is something that I’m certain about – the kids, all five of them, don’t know yet that he’s a hero.
HOW CAN THIS GUY MAKE ME LAUGH WHEN LIFE IS IN THE GUTTER??
Back to the dark winter and the rest of that horrible year of 2013, he continued to give everything his kids had expected – food, shelter, internet, good schools, Christmas gifts, entertainment, health insurance, love. I remember right before he was able to get a new job, I took Andrew to the indoor pool because it was cheap with a coupon I had. On the way home I picked up a $5 pizza from Little Caeser’s with the last of the $10 left in our bank account. (And I’m not exaggerating about the $10.) Eating the worst pizza ever, as we watched TV he made me laugh when the commercial came on about this guy named, Bernie Dancel, the owner of CareOne Debt Relief Services and the commercial starts with, “… maybe, like a lot of people across America, you have been hit by credit card bills, divorce or job loss … “. And every time that commercial would come on Eric would always make some funny remark that his life has turned into a commercial. “Wow! Bernie must know me!” And we would laugh and laugh and laugh and I thought, omg, why are we laughing?! How are you making me laugh?!? I thought to myself, My life is in the gutter and he’s making me laugh. And my kids would see their mother laugh and then they would laugh, too, and it would be moments like that to remind me why I married him. Not just because I loved him and his jokes, because he loves my kids, too.
With no hesitation, he gives the same things for my own sons that he gives to his own. My son has braces because of Eric, my sons still live in the house they grew up in because of Eric, my sons survived math homework because of Eric, my sons get to the doctor because of Eric. But all of that is not easy; somehow he makes stepparenting look easy, reminding me that it doesn’t have to be so complicated because admittedly, sometimes I can make it more complicated than it needs to be. Maybe it doesn’t have to be the hardest job ever. Maybe I need to laugh more that we are not doing it perfectly and not be worried about whether it’s hard or not. And that it’s OK that sometimes it’s messy and emotional and something tells me that he wouldn’t want his life any different than it is.
I ACTUALLY HAD A CRYSTAL BALL
You never have a crystal ball when we get married. Everyone can be starry-eyed on their wedding day and be optimistic that life is going to be great and that your spouse is going to be wonderful. And sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But there was one thing I was certain when I married him, I knew I was marrying a good stepfather. And this is not because I was looking for a man for my sons because they already have a father. But Eric is with them on a daily basis to see the ins and outs of life; to see school events, to see soccer games, to see the accomplishments, to see the disappointments. And for my own boys, they don’t know yet how important it is that they see their mom happy. But I hope one day, when all the boys are adults, that they look back with a smile about the days living with their stepfather, the stepfather that made them laugh, that helped them to be healthy, that helped them to be good, because truthfully he didn’t have to do any of that at all.
So Happy Father’s Day, Eric, and Happy Stepfather’s Day, too. I hope you have some good music and some good beer on your day. You deserve them both.