Dear Epic Stepdad

stepdad by name, epic dad in all the ways that matter

image one: parents on P’ti Bleu // image two: their wedding day

Thankfully, parental love and wisdom bestowed have no expiration date; we can replenish ourselves from this wellspring as needed. For some stepparents, their efforts aren’t acknowledged enough. Recently, the realization of how my stepdad’s commitment to unconditional love and communication influences me as a parent caught me by surprise. He taught me how to talk to my kids.

To all the dedicated stepdads who may feel unappreciated, take heart and carry on. Though it may seem that your guidance and compassion may not take root, please keep planting your heartfelt intentions. I can attest, most of them will bloom. Sometimes, the germination is swift, and other times, the seedlings need decades to emerge and fully bloom.

My “dad” story reads like a cautionary fairytale; this one’s too bitter, this one’s too corrupt, and this one is just right.

Best for last, right?

As a teen, I was over everything and everyone. The last thing I was interested in was a new person in my life telling me what to do. And then there was you, my epic stepdad.

Into our lives, you arrived, genuinely loving my Mom and treating me with kindness. It was simply too, too much. I fondly remember our first family meeting; it was dinner at Alfredo’s, my favorite restaurant on the island. Well played, sir. Once the conversation ensued, I was blown away. Not only did you ask me how I felt about you and Mom intensifying your relationship commitment, but you also listened to me.

What’s this? Talking and listening? Surely you jest. Guarded and skeptical, I resisted going merrily along into that light.

It couldn’t have been easy for you, stepping in as a stepparent to a cynical thirteen-year-old. But you endeavored and stayed the course with kindness and humor. Writing this, several witticisms come to mind, and let’s face it, I supplied lots of fodder for our family’s comedy mill. You had a distinct way of acknowledging the unavoidable humor of painfully awkward moments — like the first time I attempted to amend my facial hedges, known to most as eyebrows. Let’s just say things went a lil too far. Your one-liner, “Laura! You have the perpetual look of surprise,” still gives me belly laughs forty-two years later.

Nevertheless, you embodied respect in conversation and introduced me to the art of communication. No snarky agendas or scorecards, you showed up in our lives with your kindness, steadiness, and Billy Joel albums. I mean, really? Just one helluva genuine, big-hearted, and open-minded guy.

We talked about music, lyrics, and their meaning. Listening to The Stranger by Billy Joel, we discussed personas, character, and assumptions about other people. In conversations like this, you guided me through the wisdom of introspection.

You taught me how to drive, much to Mom’s chagrin — operating a vehicle in the V.I. is a white-knuckled experience, even to seasoned motorists. However, you were willing to take the time, to invest confidence and encouragement in my ability to learn.

Driving the funky blue Gurgel remains high on my list of favorite life moments. And, can we talk about the Gurgel for a moment? I’d never seen one before and not since — its unique design was ideal for island life. After Hurricane David, you needed to drive across the island and check the status of your business, the Petit Blue II. Industrious as ever, you wisely drilled holes in the fiberglass floor of the Gurgel so we could traverse flooded island roads. Keeping those holes in the floorboard clear while we drove through floods and runoff from the mountains, I felt super capable and appreciated. You trusted me. Your bandwidth of faith in me will always be cherished.

Later that year, with a haircut in our driveway, you supported my ability to think for myself and take ownership of my self-expression. It was a significant shift for me; in cutting five inches off, it was the first time I’d made a self-care choice on my own. Moreover, I’m grateful for the gift of your time to cut my hair and the space you held for my individuation.

The crown jewel of all the gifts you freely gave to me was the time I spent living with your Mom, Audrey. She was the first person I’d shared my writing with — her editorial encouragement helped lighten my self-doubt.

Sitting at the turquoise breakfast table in her kitchen, I’d read my school essays to her. I relished our discussions on self-expression and storytelling. Enlightened and outspoken, Audrey was a loving listener; her steadfast belief in my talent helped me develop my writing confidence. Thank you for grounding me in the home of your origins and sharing your extraordinary Mom with me.

Perhaps, there were times it seemed your words and wisdom missed their mark more often than not. Despite your ongoing commitment, I met your gifts with disdain and resistance. If I hurt your feelings or insulted your efforts, you never let on. Instead, you stayed the course, being true to your beliefs and my wellbeing.

Your care was not in vain. At that time, I could not fully appreciate and integrate everything you offered. My “troubled-kid” belief eclipsed my sense of worthiness; it was easier for me to fail than to fly.

Sometimes, even the most well-loved kids struggle to maintain a healthy sense of self-worth.

As a parent now, I understand more about both your intentions and my perceptions. The relational equilibrium between parent and child is intricate; compassionate communication is essential.

The healthiest aspects of my parenting habits with my kids are rooted in the heartfelt intentions you planted long ago — gentle listening, space for individuation, robust humor, and confidence in their expanding capabilities.

Although it took decades to emerge and fully bloom, your actions and words all those years ago have inspired a healthful way forward. Today, my kids continue to benefit from your unconditional parenting of me. Your wisdom and love are both timeless and boundless.

I’m grateful that you showed up in our lives with your goodness, sincerity, and Billy Joel albums. Stepdad by name, you’re always an epic dad to me.

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