A stepdad success story

Guest post by Susan Peters

The author and her step-dad.
One particular evening when I was very young, my mom asked me and my sister to come into the living room. She waited there with her then-boyfriend (now husband). Hidden underneath a blanket we found a large wooden toy box. The handmade box looked like a bench when closed, and opened to reveal two tiny dolls, one with a blue dress for me and a pink dress for my baby sister. I glanced at my mother. She wanted us to like his gifts. She wanted us to like him. I was feeling unsure at the time, but I mustered a reassuring smile and thanked him kindly for the gifts. I had been through so many changes, and I was afraid that my life was going to change again.

My life did change, and little by little, so did my relationship with the man I now call my dad. I knew that he loved my mother — he’s always worn his heart on his sleeve for her — but I needed convincing that he also loved me. We were both initially leery of one another. I was suspicious of his intentions. Did he plan to stick around? Would I still feel important to this family? The change wasn’t immediate, but little by little we forged a relationship. I was scared, but I let him in. I grew to know him as my father.

Now in his sixties, my father expresses his love outright. Time has softened him, and he warmly embraces me and my children when we drive up to the farmhouse. When I was a child he was not one to state his love, but he showed me. He demonstrated it throughout my childhood:

He drove me from our farm to the nearby small town in the wee hours of the morning countless times so that I could catch the bus to volleyball practice. He attended almost every game, every concert, every play.

He put me to work. I spent my youth throwing bales and helping to care for our farm. I’m not afraid of hard work because of him.

He taught me to drive, and remained patient through three failed driving tests.

He grounded me more times than I care to remember. He’d laugh with me about my escapades a week later.

He warned me of “certain boys” and was quietly watchful when I brought home a new boyfriend.

His voice trembled when he called me one day at college. “Well, Susan, it looks like I’ve got a little cancer.” He calmed me as I burst into hysterics.

He held my hand as I cried at the attorney’s office on the day I filed for divorce from my ex-husband.

Five years later, he gave a sly grin and whispered, “I think we’ve got it right this time” before he placed my hand in my husband’s on our wedding day.

My children don’t share his genes, but you’d never know by watching my dad interact with my two-year-old daughter. He holds her with tender arms and listens to her stories with the contentment of a proud and happy grandfather. The two of them share a unique bond. This bond is unhesitating and unwavering. She knows nothing of genes or biology, only that this is her grandpa. I’m at peace when I observe their interactions. Regardless of genetics, I’m part of this man and he’s part of me. I’m a better person for knowing him. The term “step-father” seems ill-fitting for this man. I prefer to just call him “Dad”.

Comments on A stepdad success story

  1. I cried…at work…dammit! But as a “step” parent to two grown boys, (one in the air force, and the other just out of college and getting ready to go in)this really meant a lot to me. I’ve done everything I could for them, and loved them more than they will ever know. I hope that the time has meant as much to them as it has to me.

  2. This is so well written and beautiful. I don’t have any step-parents, but my step-grandparents and my step-cousins have always been dear to me. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. I love this! My grandfather was also a “step-dad” but to me, he was just Papa. He was a wonderful man who raise and loved my mom and her brother and sisters. Your article makes me think of him. What a lucky lady you are to have such a great dad!

  4. This is beautiful, and it’s exactly how I feel about my stepfather (although we skip the “step”). I remember him giving me an ice cream cone and then getting down on his knee to ask for my permission to marry my mother. (Bribe? Absolutely.) I like to think that our relationship is extra special because he chose to be part of our lives (in contrast with my birth father, who chose to leave). I think I should give dad a call today…

  5. Another crier here. My future husband has full custody of his four year-old girl. I am adopting her soon and have gotten so many comments (mostly from my family…funny as I am adopted) that I’ll never be her “real” mother. Despite this, she has started trying out calling me “Mommy” of her own accord and every time she does it, it makes my heart melt. I am glad to see other people have had such wonderful experiences with “step” parents.

    • You will be the “realest” mother they have. I know, I’ve walked this walk. I was the one who brought the forgotten gym clothes to school, and went to every sports event, and cooked every meal, fixed every snack, bandaged every boo-boo, made every halloween costume and so on and so forth. Yeah, there is a woman out there who pushed them out of her vagina. She’s not any more real than I am. I loved them and nurtured them, and busted their asses to make them good men. If that doesn’t make me a “real” mother, the person doing the labeling can stick it!

    • I’m “step” mom to my husband’s 4 year old daughter (full custody as well) and I know how much it stings when people ask me what her “real mom” thinks about her calling me Mama. You know…the one who shows up for a half hour visit on her birthday once a year. She has a birth mom & a mom who raises her. I just wish I could adopt her too for legal & personal reasons!

  6. This is awesome! I hope my daughters feel this much love as adults towards their step-dad. They have a dad who is still part of their life thanks to joint custody, and they have a stepdad who is also a loving caring father to them. He has officially been a step parent for only a few months but he loves them as much as if they were biologically his, and they love him as well. It’s so sweet to see how involved he is and what a great parent he is. I’ve got lucky kids that’s for sure.

  7. Just had a rough weekend with my boyfriend and his 50% custody 4-year-old. I really needed to read this today. It’s so hard to hang in there when you feel like it’s never going to be good enough. Much better to believe there’s enough love to go around.

    • AJ, whatever you do is more than that little person would have had without you. It’s enough, trust me. I’ve watched my two grow up and turn out to be people they could not have been without my influence, and I feel so great that I was able to be there and do that for them.

  8. This was just like reading my own thoughts… I feel the same exact way about my dad (stepfather). My mom did a cross stitch for my grandfather when she was a girl that fits this perfectly, “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.” Thanks for the good cry. 🙂

  9. My dad’s mom remarried when I was a bun in the oven. Apparently, I was about 4 or 5 when my grandparents and my parents were out furniture shopping with me, and somehow it became relevant that my grandpa wasn’t my dad’s dad (I knew my dad’s dad! But somehow it had clicked and I asked a question and my dad had to explain…).

    Anyway I guess I ran SOBBING cross the entire parking lot full of tents and furniture to tell my grandpa that I didn’t care WHAT anyone said, he’s my really real grandpa. And he was. He was my biggest cheerleader and he taught me how to play cards and we had awesome conversations about anything and everything, and he always pulled all the orange gummy bears out of a package and saved them for me before giving the package to my cousins to share because the orange ones were my favorite.

    When he had a stroke and couldn’t remember me anymore, it crushed me, and it was worse but a relief when he died 7 years later. I wouldn’t trade anything for the 16 years we had together, but I’d trade darn near anything for him to meet my kids someday. Because whatever anyone said, he was my really real grandpa.

  10. This story had me bawling! Thank you so much for sharing it. I could definitely relate as the proud daughter of a daddy who became a parent through marrying my mom when I was a teen. My son only knows him as his Pap.

  11. Ooooh I am bawling like a baby. My Dad married my mom when I was 5. Oddly enough I don’t even remember my sperm donor. My dad too was a man who rarely said “love” when I was growing up but he showed it. He is an amazing grandpa to my 3 kids and the biggest hugger “I love you” guy out there now. My husband is also a “step” dad and has just adopted my 4 yr old daughter. He came into our life when she was almost 1 so he is all she knows. Step dads deserve extra love.

    P.S. The cancer bit put me into the ugly cry.

  12. Susan,
    Thanks for sharing that. Guys who marry single moms have a tough time. We have to walk a thin line between parenting and showing affection, without over-stepping. We second-guess everything we do and wonder if it’s working. Your dad sounds like a great man who really got it right. Your story is the kind of fuel Stepdads run on. Thanks so much for sharing it.

    Let me know if you’d be open to letting us re-print it on our website, Stepdadding.com.

  13. I come from a family full of “steps” and this story really meant a lot to me.

    I was raised by my stepfather, too (although he’ll always be the one I call dad). My grandfather was a stepdad to my aunt and uncles. I have/had a total of four stepgrandparents (my stepdad’s parents and the second spouses of both my biodad’s parents). And now I’m acting as stepmom to my boyfriend’s three amazing kids.

    Family isn’t determined by genes or paperwork. Whether by choice or by blood, family are the people who love you unconditionally for who you are.

  14. My mother’s husband adopted me when I was four – a year after they were married, and exactly one year (to the day!) before my sister was born. I was calling him daddy before they were married. I never knew any other father. Maybe because of that, I always hear things about stepfathers or about people who never knew their bio fathers and I appreciate their stories, but it takes me a minute every time to realize I’m in the same boat. This was beautiful, but it took me a minute to realize it means more to me because I can relate. Donating sperm does not a father make. It’s in the details.

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