Everyone talking about Father's Day got me thinking about my stepdad. My parents were divorced in 1987 and my own father died in April of this year. I had no contact with him over the past 6-8 years, so I don't really have a special place in my heart for Father's Day.
My stepfather (Eddie) introduced my parents when they were young, back in the age of the dinosaurs. Ten years later after they were both divorced with 2 kids they fell back into each other. A couple years later he moved in with us...along with all of his Miami Dolphins paraphernalia. It was a slow transition; at first my mother and he would go out to dinner, or to a movie...no big deal. Then he would stay over at our house once a week or so...over the course of about 6 months 'once a week' turned into 'all the time'. I think because it was such a slow process that my sister and I hardly noticed until I woke up one morning and found an enormous orange and turquoise Dolphins throw across a chair in the family room.
Even when our parents were still married, they were close couples, so we were already friends with his 2 children. It was heaven when they starting taking their every-other-weekend visits at our house. Well, heaven for us...I'm sure it was hell for my Mom and Eddie having 4 kids running around the house for 2 days. Things adjusted pretty well...we got used to having a short person around, he got used to living with kids again. Eddie is only about 5'7", so even my sister had gotten taller than him by the time she was 10 or so. No one in our family is shorter than 5'10"...he took the jokes well. The biggest adjustment was for me having a man in the house.
Eddie had always been a part of my life. He was in the delivery room when I was born -- not as a Lamaze coach, but because my father was drunk and passed out at home. He took me Christmas shopping for my mom -- not only because he was taking his kids, but because my father was drunk and passed out at home. He took me to ball games -- not only because he thought I would have fun or wanted to spend time with me, but because [everyone, now] my father was drunk and passed out at home. It was a hard adjustment for me to make. I was used to having my mother as the only responsible adult in my life. If I had a problem that I ABSOLUTELY needed adult input for she was the only one I could go to. This new MALE INFLUENCE was not always welcome. It's not that he pushed his way into parenting us...but now there were TWO OF THEM...we had never had 2 'parents' before.
He usually stayed out of things. I still remember the first time he ever raised his voice at me. I had done or said something (undoubtedly) horrible to my mother and she yelled at me and left the room. (That's how my family works...scream about it for a few minutes, leave, come back and pretend it never happened.) I went to my bedroom and a few minutes later heard a knock at my door. I thought it was my mother and said, "I am not ready to talk to you." Slowly the door eased open and it was Eddie. He walked in and asked if he could sit down. (He rarely came into my room except when he wanted to play a video game we had rented for the weekend.) I said he could and asked what was up? Did he want to play Nintendo?, cause I was kinda not in the mood. He said that was not why he had come in, he had something he wanted to ask me. OK, shoot.
"Do you know what your mother is doing right now?" "No clue, making dinner?" was my best guess. "No, she is in her room crying because you hurt her feelings and I think it would be nice if you went to talk to her...apologize, even." I had the TV movie moment right here. "You can't make me. You're not even my father!" His reply was so full of truth and emotion that it has changed the rest of my life. "No," he said, "I am not your father. You never had one and I am sorry about that. But, that is your mother and she is feeling horribly right now. I know you love her and I LOVE HER."
WOAH. Wait a minute. He LOVED my mother? He almost yelled it...in my family that means you really mean something. It was nothing that I ever heard my parents say to or about each other.
I, literally, took a step back and said, "What do you mean you love her? I need to sit down." He came and sat beside me and put his hand on my knee. "I will never replace your father. You never really had one to replace so I couldn't if I tried. I'll be as much of a father as you need and will let me be. But, I do love your mother, and I think she loves me. More importantly, though, right now she needs to know that YOU love her."
This was pretty much the most words I had ever heard come out of his mouth at one time so I knew he meant business. I, of course, went to apologize to my mother -- and Eddie and I now had a secret...He loved my mom.
We fell into the same family patterns every family has. I started high school and we moved into a bigger house. Years passed. A couple years later I got the inkling that Eddie was going to ask my mother to marry him. I knew that my mother had vowed (lol) to never remarry, and told him so. He would not be put off it, though...and he proposed on Christmas that year. He made a big scene out of it in front of all us kids early Christmas morning.
After all the gifts were opened he jumped up and said he had forgotten something for my mom. After he left the room my mom shot me a look and I shrugged...I didn't know what he was up to, it had been months since our conversation. He came back with the little black box and got on one knee. "Kim, we've known each other for 20 years, and been together for almost 10. Would you marry me? Let's make this thing official."
The silence was unbearable.
OOF. She actually said no. No one was expecting that. It's one thing to swear off marriage after a bad one...but to actually say no to a good one...that takes commitment.
He didn't give up. He proposed on Valentine's Day, her birthday, 4th of July, His birthday, Christmas...FINALLY the next Valentine's day she said yes. (The joke was that the ring had finally gotten big enough.) She had two rules, though. 1) It had to be cheap. 2) It had to be fast. She had the big wedding before and didn't want another one. Fast it certainly was. They were engaged on 2-14-96 and married by the end of April. Dressed were ordered, suits were bought...his parents had the reception at their house on the river with an honest-to-god hog roasting in a pit. The beer flowed, the music blared...it was a huge party.
Late in the evening we sat down for the first time as an 'official' family for dinner...Mom, Eddie, Me, Elizabeth (my sister), Misty, and Joey. Towards the end of the meal my mother asked Eddie why he had been so persistent with his proposals. His answer, again, changed my life. "I know our love is real, but I couldn't face the thought of dying without you having been my wife."
It was so honest and truthful that it brought tears to my eyes.
Too soon, though, we would all be in tears. In January of 1997 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and on February 14th she had surgery to remove both breasts and lymph nodes. Exactly one year to the day after she accepted his proposal and we were all facing the mortal truth that she may actually die.
She undertook chemo and actually went into remission in the fall of that year, when I was starting my senior year in high school. The next summer, though, she had a bad relapse...I spent my first semester in college trying to juggle a full-time job, full load of classes and a dying mother. And through it all, Eddie was there for all of us...more than I ever expected.
My mother wished to spend one last Christmas with her family, and she did in 1998. The radio in the kitchen was on and they played 'Angel' by Sarah McLachlan. I went to the rocking chair my mother was sitting in and told her that this was going to be our song. The Sunday after Christmas she entered the hospital where she stayed for the last 9 days of her life. We spent New Years Eve in the hospital room drinking sparkling grape juice and laughing loud enough to keep the nurses coming in to join the fun. I never left the hospital in those 9 days until the night of January 3rd. I spent the night at home alone in our house. I looked at old photo albums and fell asleep on the sofa late in the night. We were in the middle of the blizzard, and traffic was prohibitted. My uncle is a local police officer so we had Humvees taking us back and forth to the hospital. When I got a call at 11:15 on Monday, January 4th, 1999 from Eddie's sister saying the Humvee was on it's way I knew what had happened. At 11:11 am my mother had struggled to take her last breath and passed away. When I got to the hospital and walked through the green double steel doors that seperated the Extended Care wing from the rest of the hospital, 'Angel' played on the radio at the nurses station. I sat on the floor in the hallway against the wall and cried for the first time since I had heard the news.
I sobbed for minutes and minutes before someone heard me and collected me off the floor. The rest of that day and week is a blur. I started back to classes at Purdue the following Monday and didn't tell anyone what had happened until the end of February. My friends were angry that I hadn't told them, but I didn't know how. How do you tell your 18 year old friends that your mother is dead? It didn't seem real. It made it so much worse living at home that semester. Seeing my step-father every day. He was hurt more than I was, it seemed. I saw what true love looks like when it it ends. An incredible, crushing, finality.
I moved out of our house that May. When I left Eddie stopped me and sat me down on a sofa in the living room. "I didn't marry your mother just because I loved her and couldn't imagine her not being my wife." "I married her because I love you and your sister, too -- And I couldn't imagine you not being my kids."
He was a man of (very) few words...but what he said, he meant. I don't have much contact with him now that I am on my own...but I love my dad. Long ago he became more than a stepfather...I don't even know what that word is supposed to mean, anymore. Eddie started out as a friend of the family and worked his way into my heart. So, on this father's day, I honor him. The ACTUAL father in my life.
*****This entry was not supposed to be so long. I am not usually good at writing extended pieces because they end up garbled and not making sense, but I tried really hard. Please leave comments, I would love to hear from you about your fathers...whoever they may be.*****