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Jewish World Review
April 24, 2013/ 14 Iyar, 5773
I promised myself he'd never have a stepdad
I never wanted my children to have a stepfather. My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother soon remarried. My stepfather was a good man, but he wasn't my daddy. I blamed him unreasonably for that.
I recall in third grade the day the teacher asked aloud in front of everyone -- God and all his angels and 30 pairs of perked-up ears -- why my mother's last name was different from mine.
I rose slowly from my seat and swallowed hard.
"Because," I said, "she never listens to me. She divorced my daddy and married my stepdad against my advice. And now I have to explain to people why we have different names."
In the '50s, in the South, divorce was a rarity. I might as well have said, "Because my mother is from Earth, and I am from Mars, on a mission to enlighten ignorant teachers."
Twenty years later, my first child came home from kindergarten to ask, "Mom, do I have a stepdad?"
"Of course not," I said. "Why in the world would you ask that?"
He shrugged. "All the other kids have stepdads."
I promised him that day he would never have a stepdad. It was not a promise I would keep.
He and his sister and brother were in their late teens to early 20s when we lost their dad to cancer. Years later, when I decided to remarry, it was in part because I saw the kind of father my intended was to his two boys, and I knew he'd be a good stepdad to my children.
The kids liked him from the start. They especially liked that he made me happy. If he made Mom happy, they were happy. If he didn't, God help him.
Nobody starts out in life aspiring to be a good "step." It's a default role, a second-class citizen, a substitute teacher, a giant "step" from the real thing.
My children loved their father. No one could take his place.
My new husband knew this. He wouldn't want it any other way. He just tried to be the best stepdad he could be. Mostly, he tried by not trying. He never pushed, never assumed, just stayed in the background and let the kids come to him.
Imagine my delight (and his) when my kids sent him birthday cards and Father's Day cards and bought Christmas presents especially for him.
The icing on the cake -- the real seal of approval -- came when my daughter asked him to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.
I wish you could've seen them.
None of this surprised me, really. I knew he'd be a great stepdad. What never occurred to me then -- before my children had children -- was what kind of step-grandpa he would be.
My grandsons -- Randy, 2 and a half; Henry, 1 and a half; and 4-month-old Wiley -- will never know my late husband, their grandfather. They will hear countless stories of who he was, things he did, all the ways they are like him. They will know how much he loves them.
But they will never play catch with him, or beat him at hoops, or ask him to buy them a car.
Lucky for them, they will have "Papa Mark," who is not their real grandpa, but acts like one, and loves them just the same.
One evening, Randy and Papa Mark were sitting on the floor playing with model cars.
"Randy," I said, glancing at the clock, "would you like Nana to read you a story before bed?"
"No, 'shank' you, Nana," he said. "I want to play with Papa Mark. I like him better."
Then, as if to clarify, he added, "I 'yuv' you, Papa Mark."
Long ago, I learned this about love: You can never have too much of it. I could love my stepfather and still love my dad. One love doesn't diminish another or compete in any way. Love begets love -- especially in the heart of a child.
I believe that absolutely.
But the next time Randy comes to visit, I'm going to buy myself a fleet of model cars.
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