This Sunday is Father’s Day. I’ve been fatherless since 2004. I’ve been a stepfather since 2008. It sort of makes Father’s Day bittersweet for me.
When I think back on my dad, I realize who it was who gave me the tools to turn my life around. In the mid-1990’s, I was broke with no prospects, having dropped out of college with a ton of student loans to pay back. Then I realized my dad worked 60 hour weeks from the time he was 28 to let my mom stay at home with us kids. I always wished my father was around more, but I never resented him for it. When I hit my lowest point, it occurred to me that I could work 60 hours a week to turn things around if my dad did.
It was that mentality that got me out of debt. It was how I became a writer, went back to school, and even how I ended up marrying Nita. I used to worry that I didn’t measure up to my dad, whom my cousins all remember as being the nice uncle. Then I realized that any success I’ve had in life has had a lot to do with what he showed me.
One of my last memories of my dad was the first Father’s Day after we lost mom. We all missed mom badly, and my brother had us all up for the weekend. So on a sunny Father’s Day afternoon in 2003, my dad, my brothers, and my nephew sat around watching Porky‘s. Yeah. Porky’s, the same movie mom and dad swore we would never watch. And we laughed our fool heads off. We missed mom, but you could tell she was not around anymore when dad sat down with his sons and grandson to watch an R-rated teen comedy.
A few years after he died, I met Nita. I was single once again and, at 42, knew most of the women I would date would have children. Some, not all. I accepted this. I actually welcomed it. I had no children of my own, so if a new partner’s child or children accepted me on some level, I could have some of that experience.
Nita is extremely close to AJ. Even before her divorce, AJ stuck by his mother. The divorce hurt him, and having seen my nieces and nephews deal with such splits, I knew I’d be dealing with a lot of anger. But Nita made it very clear on our first date that they were a package deal. He was 13 at the time. I decided that, since he was five years (really less than that) from being an adult, I’d just treat him like one. I remember when I popped the question to Nita, I ended up begging AJ to let me marry his mom. (BTW, he thoroughly enjoyed watching us squirm while I blubbered like an idiot.)
I never insisted that I be treated as a father, but I treated AJ like he was my own. A lot of times, it’s left us figuring out what that means. I’ve never tried to insert myself between him and his father (whom none of us have heard from for years now). I’ve deferred to Nita on most parental decisions since I came about late in the game. Treating him as an adult seemed the best option. But AJ early on made it clear I was more than “Dude Who Married Mom,” which I would have been happy with.
This year, I’ve been informed I’m to do no yard work or housework this weekend. (Sounds like what we did for Nita on Mother’s Day.) And this year, for once, I’m comfortable with Father’s Day again.