A few weeks ago, I stole my step-sister’s phrase for “step-mom” and blogged about how wonderful my bonus mom has been to me. It was the 31st anniversary of her wedding to my father, and it seemed only fitting to count the many blessings she has brought to my life. I figured I would have written several posts between that day and today, but as life would have it, things in this zoo got a little crazy. I’ll tell you about all those detours later, because I was saving today for a post about the other unsung hero in my life.
See, step parents just don’t get enough credit. No matter how hard they try, they pretty much get stuck in the shadows. Today, my mom and step-dad are celebrating 26 years of marriage, and I think it’s only fair to remember the many good things he brought into my life. I was slow to let my step-mom into my heart because I didn’t want her taking my dad’s attention away from me. On the flip side, I was slow to accept my step-dad because I didn’t want him to take my dad’s place. The reality is that they were both two people who tried to love and accept three little girls from a different marriage, and in their own way, they both helped us all move forward.
I could tell many funny stories about growing up with a Marine Corps drill instructor. Imagine, three little girls, full of frills and lace, lined up like recruits, shouting “Sir, yes, sir” without “eye-balling” anyone. We cleaned floors you could eat off of and made beds with tight hospital corners and were careful to stay in line at all times. He was hard on us, but it was only as an adult that I was able to see that he pushed me to do better.
My step-dad noticed right off the bat that if I could find a way to argue the point, I was going to do it. Instead of shutting me down all the time, he encouraged me to pursue that and make it into something useful. He talked me into joining the debate team in high school. I’ll never forget, the first time I wandered up the stairs at J. Frank Dobie High School, to the two little classrooms tucked above the band hall where Speech and Debate sat across from Theater Arts- I was scared too death. I was almost too shy to tell the Cheerleading sponsor / debate coach that I wanted to be a debator, but knowing I couldn’t go home and say I chickened out, I finally knocked on that door, and it truly changed my life.
I turned out to be pretty good at speech and debate. In fact, I was captain of the team my senior year, and went on to debate at the University of Houston when I went off to college. I spent many weekends of my life at those tournaments, arguing and gabbing, and reading the issues of Cosmo to my fellow debators… and that’s what growing up is all about. It’s about those crazy weekends when we learn who we were born to be. And I have my step-dad to thank for pushing me down that hallway.
And I also have him to thank for building his ginormous bar-be-que pits and dragging them around to cater to the marching band. I loved band, he loved bbq, perfect match! I remember him cooking 200 hamburgers in the freezing cold during marching competitions. I know he secretly wanted to change our mascot. No Aggie wants to be seen with 200 Longhorns, but he was a good sport anyway.
I guess everyone looks back on life, and thinks about the many struggles they had growing up, but in the end, we can’t change those things. We can only be grateful for the person they helped to shape. I’m glad he was so hard on me. I’m glad I was scared to sneak out of the house or get stoned after school. Who knows what path I might have taken if I hadn’t had that fear looming over my head. I’m glad I was scared to bring home some second rate report card. He pushed me to the limits of my intelligence, and thanks to that I know exactly what I am capable of. In fact, I wish I could scare my kids into making those kinds of grades every now and then.
I’m also glad he stuck around. I’m sure a house full of girls wasn’t always a picnic for a military man, but he stuck it out until we were all grown and gone. He and my mom moved all around from South Texas to Colorado to Dallas and then suddenly my mother was facing stage 4 breast cancer, and we saw just how strong he really was. He was strong enough to vacuum the floors and cook the dinners and take the phone calls, and hold her hand, and to be there for her even when I couldn’t find a way to be there myself.
Maybe step parents need a day of recognition all they’re own. They stand in the shadows, they take all the crap, and they give out their love anyway, and they don’t have that moment of “I made you” to make them want to do it. They just do it anyway…. Thank goodness for that!
To my mom and bonus dad:
I’m hoping you have just as many years ahead of you as you’ve put behind you, and may the best of times be what’s left!! I love you both.