Get out there and hit a home run today!
He flashes me a big smile–an obvious sparkle of sincerity can be seen in his eyes.
It’s a figure of speech I have grown to dread. I roll my eyes, shrug my shoulders and slam the car door shut without saying a word. Then I skip off to school and meet my friends on the play ground.
Every morning it’s exactly the same.
He asks me all kinds of questions about life, about school, about my friends and my feelings and my hopes and my dreams. I ignore him or give one word answers. Then we pull up to the curb of my elementary school and he attempts his final words of encouragement, yet again: Get out there and hit a home run!
Just like the day before, and every day before that…I blow him off.
Because I’m 7 years old and he’s my stepdad.
And stepdads aren’t supposed to drop you off at school in the morning. Or cheer on the sidelines of your soccer games. Or take you to pick out a Christmas tree. Or teach you to ride a bike. Or go to your parent teacher conferences…
Stepdads aren’t supposed to care. It’s not their job. That’s what real dads are for. And because this is what I had convinced my little 7 year old brain, I resented my stepdad for all the efforts he made on behalf of a father who didn’t show up. My own father’s shortcomings became my stepdad’s burden to bear.
He never treated me like I was a package deal–something or someone he would have to accept if he wanted my mom in his life. I wasn’t a burden in his eyes, I was a bonus. And as difficult as I made it for him, he never held it against me. I think he knew it was a fragile time–he pushed just enough so I would know that I was loved. Now that I’m an adult, the magnitude of what he brought to my life is in full focus.
How easy it would have been for him to have ignored me and used my indifference toward him as an excuse to write me off–I know this because I had a second stepdad who made that icky choice. But this stepdad didn’t. He stepped up. He made a decision that will effect generations to come. In so many ways, I’m striving to raise my children the way he modeled. And because of him, I chose a man who is capable of unconditional love for his wife and children and who will always show up. HE set that bar. His influence modeled the choices I make for my own children today…and I hope he knows this. I hope he knows that what he taught me about life and family and tradition mattered–it all meant something.
I remember he would have us pray before every meal. Saying grace, he would call it. These simple prayers would be my introduction to a God I had known little about.
He bought me a new journal each Christmas with a letter of encouragement and life lessons on the opening page.
He got me my first pocket knife and slingshot and taught me to appreciate and love the outdoors.
Holidays were his favorite and he had a gift for making them memorable. Like the time a kid at school told me there was no such thing as Santa and I came home crying uncontrollably. He promised me Santa was real…and when a jolly, bearded figure stood in my doorway on Christmas Eve and woke me up with a loud Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas in a voice that vaguely resembled my step fathers…he taught me to believe in magic again.
He cried in sad movies, sang the National Anthem daily, left words of affirmation around the house on post it notes, told ghost stories on Halloween, wouldn’t let me watch rated R movies, got me a pet chicken named Scruffy and built a tree house in our backyard. He pushed me on the swings, took me to doctors appointments and spoke on career day to my 1st grade class. He always introduced me as his daughter and even though it made me wince a little bit on the outside, inside it made me feel wanted.
My mom and him were married for 9 years. It wasn’t perfect. And I’m not sure they were ever quite right for each other. However, looking back, I have no doubt that the Lord knew he was just what I needed at that time of my life.
But I never told him that.
I also don’t think I said thank you.
And I can’t readily recall a time I told him I loved him.
It was a thankless job–being the stepdad of a child filled with so much resentment and confusion. And it took the most special kind of person to love another man’s child as his very own.
Something interesting starts to happen after we grow up and become parents ourselves. We begin to look back on the adults who helped to shape our childhood. We start to remember things. We start to see things for what they actually were. Details and circumstances begin to make more sense as we put the pieces together about decisions that were made on our behalf. Intentions, efforts and sacrifices become evident as we look back on the words and actions of the adults from our past. Role models reveal themselves in unlikely places and some of those who we admired most show their true colors. Suddenly we see our parents as real people, with real problems and real worries–and we know this because we see ourselves in their faces when we remember them the way they were when we were children. Only now can we understand how many sleepless nights they must have had–how many hurt feelings, and how many hours of worry. Maybe we would have done things differently from them. Maybe not. But that isn’t the point. The point is, now we get it. Now we know.
And I know he had a choice.
He chose to make himself vulnerable knowing full well that the chances of heartbreak were much higher for a “stepdad”.
He didn’t have to make my worries and fears and hopes and dreams his very own–but he did.
He didn’t have to stay up all night to help me win the science fair with the world’s most awesome solar system–but he did.
He didn’t have to know the names of my teachers and my favorite foods and about the boy at school I had a crush on–but he did.
He didn’t have to love me–but he did.
And while “kid Ashley” acted indifferent and annoyed, “adult Ashley” is filled with tears of gratitude and appreciation.
His choice will never be lost on me.
You made a difference in my life. I love you and thank you–truly.
From all the step parents out here, thank you!! A beautiful way to say what we all hope our own “bonus” children will feel one day. Bruce sounds like a wonderful man and every tear he’s shed and every worry and concern he’s felt for his beautiful “bonus” child has now been worth it. In the end, we really want the same thing for our beautiful children, to know they are loved to the moon and back. **hugs** sweet Ashley .
Kristin @ The Gold Project
Now, I know we need to be friends. I have followed your blog since I started my blog in 2011 and each time you open up about something in your life, I feel I know you even more. So many things that you mention has happened to me too. And, this post hit home all too well. My father has been out of my life for most of my life. It is a daily struggle I face and one that bothers me because he doesn’t care about being in my kids’ lives. He knows my phone number and knows where I live, but still chooses not to communicate with me. But, I have been blessed to have a stepdad that loves my kids like his own grandkids and is always there when I need him. So, for that, I am grateful.
Thank you so much for this post! You truly are a special person in my life even though I have never met you. XOXO
this brought tears to my eyes. i haven’t personally experienced step parents in my life, but my husband has/does. and i think he had a step dad along the way (no longer his step-dad, but always kind of is, right?) that was to him like your bruce 🙂 i’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times, and i’ve grown to appreciate him as well. thanks for this post, i absolutely loved it.
Wow. This is powerful and I truly needed to read it. Thank you for sharing your heart with us (and Bruce). 🙂
With all of my heart I want to say thank you for posting this. My children are young & just now understanding how tough it must be on dad on a daily basis. The day my oldest daughter yelled at him “you aren’t my dad & never will be so stop telling me what to do” I saw how bad it hurt him to hear it. Reading this from someone that went through this gives me hope that my kids will look back on these times & see just how lucky they are to have this dad that cares about your homework getting done, that takes you to endless soccer practices & games & drill team shows, that picks up your favorite ice cream flavor on the way home just because, that sits in on every single parent teacher conference, that ridiculously cheers you on as you massacre hot cross buns on the recorder for the umpteenth time on a wednesday, that proudly introduces you to anyone & everyone as his kid.
This left me in tears Ash. I can so relate… its a bond I will forever share with you. Miss you and wish I could see you more. xo
You have just described my “step dad” or dad as I call him to a tee. I too have seen the difference in my life between types of step dad’s. I wish I could say that both were mine, but sadly the later, indifferent step dad is my husband of 10 years. I hate what this does to my daughter, but we have two children together too. my dad raised the bar so high, that I expect this from all the step parents in the world.
I remember seeing Bruce at all the Rancho Vista award nights and Holiday programs, hugely supporting AYSO, and just being a larger-than-life presence in our little community. (Still chuckle at those cowboy silhouettes on his office!) Publicly, you hid your resentment pretty well, or maybe it was just blocked out by obvious pride on BOTH your parent’s faces! Beautiful post….better late than never to acknowledge those who’ve contributed to shaping you into the remarkable woman you are today.
So glad to be able to understand this post thanks to a great step dad of my own. Beautiful words! 🙂
I forwarded this to everyone I know who has a step dad or is a step dad or knows a step dad. This was so great to read. Thank you for sharing!
Really spoke volumes to me.
Living the Dream
I love this and relate to it on several levels. Your words have just re-lit hope in my mother-heart. Thank you for opening your heart’s lessons to fellow bloggers. Stumbling onto a post like this is exactly what I love about blogging. Thank goodness for the aging process, where if we’re lucky, we get to see life through a set of new and improved lens called wisdom. This is one of the sweetest tributes I’ve ever read.
How lucky to have had someone like him in your life and how the adult ashley gets it. As children it is hardly ever easy when there is a “new” parent around and thankfully he understood, like you said, how fragile that time was. That is how parents are suppose to be, unconditionally loving! Great post! xoxo
I am step-mom of three and I love them as if they are my own. They are the best children and they say I love you all the time. Problem is they live in Florida and I don’t get to see them very often and have 7 great step children and 1 great grandson. They are all so loved and get along with their mother which helps. I have 2 birth children, so my life is full.
I hope Bruce reads this:)
Or how he always answered the phone “hello and good morning to ya!” Whenever your friends called : ) I’ll never forget that. Love this Ash, so sweet!
Ashley, don’t know if it’s appropriate to write this out in the open rather than to you personally first, but since i read this today, i’ve wept 100 tears. Helping to raise you from the first grade into high school was an incredibly wonderful experience, and when i lost your mother, you were so much of the heartbreak, loosing you, my lil’ Ash. With the new stepdad, it was no longer my place. And i had no idea. I have missed you, and have so proudly watched you from afar, and have been in awe seeing the woman you’ve become. I have longed to meet your children… and hope to cross paths with you and your family some day soon. I love you too lil’ Ash, always have and always will. Thank you for your love and appreciation, and for remembering.
Love you guys!
Amber Collinsbruce b.
Weeping over here! just beautiful!
I read through this and though I never had a step-dad, I completely know what you mean by being a parent now and looking back at life through a child’s eyes. Oh how things are different now.
I just read your step-dad’s response and my heart broke. I couldn’t imaging loving a child like your own, only to have them not in your life again.
You have been blessed beyond measure to have people like this love you throughout your life despite the circumstances and difficulties.
Thank you for sharing your heart, yet again.
Love that Bruce responded 🙂 Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing this here!
Oh Ash! I don’t know which teared me up more – your post or Bruce’s response! I have always liked the term bonus rather than step. My step dad experience was no where near as positive as the one you had with Bruce. Instead mine was both verbally and physically abusive. Thankfully he came into my mother’s life a year after I left home and he waited until my brother left home before the physical abuse started but i will NEVER forget getting the call from the hospital telling me that they had my mother and needed my permission to start putting her head back together – 27 staples! I pray that if I am ever in the situation to be a bonus mom that I will be the kind that Bruce was and the I will be strong enough to work past the rebukes and just love, the pure love, the Christlike love that Bruce granted you! Thank you so much for sharing! I hope that you and Bruce are able to reconnect in person soon so he can meet those two sweet blessings who are so blessed to have you in thier lives.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes… i also had a step dad, when i was 5 until 18. Unfortunately i don´t have those beautiful memories you have with yours. My step dad was a cold man, always remembered him ungry about something, don´t remember words of love, interest about my life or something like that. He did take me to school every day, and pick me up, but that was it. I don´t have hard feelings, i don´t blame him, i think it was just his personality, the way he was raised… I´m divorced, and now my oldest daugther, who is 15, has a stepdad… and i´m glad this 6 years we´ve been living together, he is nothing like my step dad was. He es fun, and caring and we spend really good times together as a family, and it all was so natural for us. I´m blessed.
I´m from Chile and i´ve been following your blog for a while, thanks for everything you share with us.
What a beautiful post! My stepdad came into my life at 5 and is still here. There were times that he drove me nuts and I wanted to tell him he wasn’t my father but when I reached middle school and he picked up a second job so my brother, sister and all could all continue playing competitive travels sports as well as being at every match he could I dropped any negative feelings I had! Stepdads have a very difficult role and it takes a special kind of man to step up to the job. God Bless you and your stepdad! And thank you for sharing.
You know this touched my heart in a special way! Such a beautiful post Ash.
i hope you’re still in touch with your step dad or that he can at least read this! you are my favorite blogger because of posts like these. so honest and open and thought provoking! i love that i get a mix of personal posts along with fashion, decor, diy and everything else! ps i’m not using capitalization because i’m holding a 4 month old in my other hand 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes 🙁
As a step mother, thank you. <3
I am a single mom struggling with the idea of allowing an amazing man into my children lives. This has changed my complete outlook on the situation and made me more available to let my protective wall down. I thank you so much for sharing this story it has changed the path of my complete plan you are definitely a prayer answered. God bless you and your amazing stepdad. Lord I thank you for leading me to the site.
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