My stepfather passed away one week ago today.

My first inclination was not to write about it at all. I don’t intend to go into much right now. Especially not the anger, not the recounting of what an asshole various of his doctors were, etc. Basically, not the stuff I spent the week talking about.

I think it’s been hard to define who he was to me. He was not my father. I have a father; it’s not the same. And this wasn’t a situation in which my father was gone and I needed a surrogate. My father was and is fully present in my life. In fact, he’s been fully present all week, at the funeral director’s office, at the wake, at the funeral, offering rides to various parties and making phone calls when needed. And, just as I have another father, he had another daughter. I knew I wasn’t the same to him as she was. But he was more than, like, my mom’s husband. She and he got married when I was five, and they dated for at least a year before that (I think). So he’s been in my life for all but the narrowest slice of my ability to remember anything at all, and not just in my life, but in my house, as a parent.

I’ve tried to explain it like, “He’s an uncle who lived with me.” That level of love, that level of authority. It’s not a bad explanation, but, you know, uncles come in different flavors. So to be more specific, he was like a really involved uncle who also lived with me. Whatever that means.

He did not come across to many as the warm and snuggly type. Well, apparently the priest who did the funeral thought he did. He described him as a man with “a kind word for everyone.” Afterwards, my sister and I sniggered at that. If he had them, we didn’t hear them. Sarcastic, funny words were more his style. But he was also capable of enormous caring and concern. He was the one who hugged me while I cried at my college graduation. And when my daughter was born, he was as tender and loving and protective as I’ve ever seen anyone. Her first Christmas, he kept walking us out to our car, hovering, with his arms sort of forming a bubble around me, just in case I slipped or she fell or something.

And he was a really good stepdad. My father was also a good stepdad to my stepsister, but in their situation, her father was pretty much absent from the daily parenting realm, so it wasn’t a tiptoe act. It’s not an easy balance to strike in a situation like mine, to be the parent in household but not the father of one of the children, to wield authority and to love and influence without stepping on the actual father’s toes. And to love his own daughter just a little bit more without making his stepdaughter feel unloved, left out or jealous. Whether by accident or intention, he struck the balance perfectly.

There are so many things to say about him because he was such an interesting person, but everyone knows the other things – his music, his trucks, his beer, his taste in movies and TV, his love of travel, his love of a greasy spoon, his adoration of and devotion to my mother. These are the things I know. These are the things I will always remember.


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