That’s AJ to the left there, looking large and in charge with his percussion group from high school. Who is AJ, you ask? He’s my stepson, and today he turns 18. He’s also the main reason why I was allowed to marry his mother.
When I first found myself single again, I knew most of the women I’d go out with would have children. This was a plus, actually. I’d always wanted to be a parent, so if things worked out with a single mom, I’d be more than happy to be, at the very least, That Dude Mom Married.
I’ve talked a lot of times here about dating Nita and how rapid our romance blossomed. Nita told me on our first date that any man she dated had to meet with AJ’s approval. Since her divorce, when he was ten years old, he had stepped up to be the man of the house. I admired that. So on our second date, she introduced us. She later told me about the lead up to our first date.
AJ would be turning 14 that year, and Nita had just gotten comfortable leaving him by himself for extended periods – never overnight but for an evening or a few hours during the day. As our date approached, she worried AJ might resent her not spending time with him. He told her to go, that he had not seen her that happy in a long time. So we were already getting off to a good start, and I hadn’t even left to meet her yet.
As I started to spend more and more time at Nita’s house, one of my rituals was to spend about half an hour playing on the Wii with AJ. His father wasn’t much of a video game player, so this was new for him. Well, not really. A couple of Nita’s more serious boyfriends would play, and I absolutely sucked at it. I think he enjoyed kicking my ass. The three of us also played Rock Band together a lot. I did vocals most of the time. AJ did drums. One day, I noticed he wasn’t playing to rock band when I walked in. He had music blaring on his computer and was playing to that instead. Little did I know he would soon be playing drums in his high school marching band.
The night I proposed to his mother, it just sort of overtook us in the span of about five minutes, starting with Nita asking me to come to Gatlinburg with her and AJ for an already planned vacation and ending with me dropping to one knee and asking her to marry me. Only, I didn’t ask one person for her hand in marriage.
We called AJ into the room and told him what we planned. He ran into his room, and we were panicking. Did we scare him? Would I have to leave? We followed him into his room to make sure we hadn’t upset him. I pleaded with him to let me marry his mother and was fairly blubbering like an idiot. AJ just looked at me with that thousand-yard stare of his that can be a bit unsettling at times and slowly gave me a double thumbs-up.
AJ is a very smart kid. Like a lot of kids that smart, he knows it, which occasionally gets him into trouble. But isn’t that what being a teen all about? Nonetheless, even though I’ve only been in his life for four years now, I’m still very proud of him. AJ was an object lesson too many people who marry into families never learn: You don’t claim the title of stepparent. You have to earn it.
I’m very pleased AJ has let me be his stepdad instead of just Dude Mom Married. I can’t wait to see what he makes of his life now that he’s reached the starting line.