Accepting a Stepdad
"Nothing will ever be the same."
"She'll love him more and take his side."
"I'm just an afterthought now."
Oh, the beliefs of a young teenager attempting to understand the changes in her life. Knowing nothing but a life of two, the entrance of a male, adult figure made three a crowd. These thoughts wrangled through my mind when Robert entered my life.
Robert, a lifetime bachelor, did not have any children and cautiously crept into unknown territory as well. Looking back, I wish I made an effort to see things from his perspective, but I was a young teenager with tunnel vision. I saw my world and how it changed drastically, oftentimes unfairly from my point of view.
Like many brooding teenagers, I committed to self-isolation. My mother tried to lure me from my bedroom, roughly requesting my presence for dinner or to watch television with her and Robert. I stood my desolate ground and stubbornly resisted. My jealousy toward this man and anger toward my mother overwhelmed any prowess of rational thinking I might have possessed.
The next two years proved difficult. Forced to change schools during the eighth grade, my feelings toward both adults in my house coarsely grated the emotions of all. Brief discussions occurred between my mother and Robert: Did they make the right decision? Will I ever adjust to this new environment? All I could think about was how I would get back to my friends at my previous school.
Time went on, and the hopes of returning to my school morphed into an old faded T-shirt thrown into the black hole of my closet. Grudgingly, I broke through the protective barrier of my bedroom and ventured outside my kingdom of solitude for dinners and evenings together. However, I viewed him as Robert, nothing more; my uncompromising attitude refused to give an inch. Robert and I simply learned to tolerate one another during that period.
At 15, a pivotal moment in our relationship occurred. To this day, I view my actions as deplorable, but in that instant, I felt completely in the right. That day after school, Robert displayed his frustrations to me for the first time. I received "the look" and "the tone," as I called them, accompanied by him slamming my bedroom door seven or eight times after I slammed it first. Then, he grabbed his keys and left.
I still feel the tears that welled up in my eyes as I perched precariously on the edge of my bed with a can of soda shaking in my hand. What just happened? I called my mother at work and frantically floundered my words as I tried to explain. Before the familiarity of cell phones in every person's hand, we had no way to find him. I can't say what my mother felt, but I became overwhelmed with fearful aftershocks: Would they break up? Would he move out? Would he even come back? The most shocking revelation surfaced when I realized I didn't want him to leave. I didn't want my world to change again.
Late that evening, he returned. With my decision made, I tepidly walked into the kitchen where he sat at the table. He didn't utter a word. He didn't even look at me. With eyes red and swollen from hours of crying, I apologized for my behavior. "You're the only father figure in my life," I whispered, gasping for air between each word. The revelation surprised both of us.
Throughout my remaining high school years, our relationship grew stronger and more stable. We still had our moments, but it took my first steps into adulthood to realize I did have a father in my life.
My first semester away at college, I fell victim to the plague of homesickness. Constantly, I called home to talk with my mother or Robert, usually crying. Without a car of my own, they would pick me up each Friday afternoon and drive me back the following Sunday evening. My mother wanted to give it more time, but after two months of this exhausting routine, Robert ultimately decided it was time for me to come home. After completing my first semester of college, I obliged.
Back home, attending a local college, Robert and I realized we did in fact have a father-daughter relationship. I loved him as a father, and he loved me as a daughter. I couldn't imagine my world without him. Soon, Robert officially adopted me as his own, even though I was chronologically considered an adult. His name now read on my birth certificate. I took his last name, and I knew I had two loving parents and the family I always longed for.
In reality, I had my family long before I understood – before both of us understood. I do not believe I possessed the ability to understand during my teen years. Our relationship took time, battles, wounds and scars, but it is the healed scars I cherish most. Without the scars, I believe a bottomless void would encompass half of me, and that thought makes me say thank you every day for the father I have today.