On my wedding day, I became a husband and an instant member of a special club: stepfathers. My stepdaughter, Mel, was 8 years old at the time.
Folks, being a stepfather isn’t easy. And to soon-to-be stepfathers, you better hitch up your big-boy britches because the ride can be tough.
If being a stepfather didn’t have its issues, about a year after getting married, my wife and I had a son together. With that came an emotionally sensitive bargain of being a “regular” father and a stepfather.
You have to deal with the possibility of jealousy by the stepchild. I had to be concerned that she would feel left out and there was no real way to keep her from feeling that. It is a tough balancing act.
But, I knew I was in good shape on that point when one day I spanked — yes spanked, no spare the rod here — my son. Afterward, neither my wife nor my stepdaughter spoke to me for the rest of the day.
Adding to the mix was that my daughter’s biological father also was part of the picture.
Stepfathers, where there is also a biological father, have a unique set of circumstances. On the one hand, you want the stepchild — in my case a stepdaughter — to love you as if you are the biological father. On the other hand, you have to root like hell that the biological father remains a strong and valuable part of your stepchild’s life.
As a stepfather, you want the biological father to be there for all major events in the stepchild’s life. And, you want the father to provide advice and to be someone your stepchild can count on in tough moments.
But that’s sometimes tough on the stepfather because, try as you might, you will never have the relationship that a great biological father has with either your stepson or stepdaughter.
You can’t afford to show signs of jealousy. It’s best that you step graciously into the shadows and accept your role as the second-best man.
Once, a friend of my stepdaughter said in a conversation that included me and others, “No, I’m talking about her real father.” I knew she didn’t mean it the way it sounded. It stung for a second because I felt as real as a dad could who did not donate his DNA to a child. But, in reality, the girl’s comment was correct.
Interestingly, I discovered that my stepdaughter found out what had been said and chastised her friend for making the comment.
And, there was the time I heard about an innuendo-loaded comment from a family member: “Well you know what they say that stepfathers and stepdaughters do.”
Because of that kind of foolishness, sometimes I would be hesitant to express public exhibitions of affection to Mel. Sometimes, when I wanted to hold her hand or express myself with a big hug, I didn’t. And, that’s sad on my part and a loss for her.
But over time, things changed.
A few years ago, Mel was giving her dissertation for her doctoral degree. I was sitting there and so was her biological father. We chatted and were as happy for Mel as any two men could be for their “daughter.” That was a great day.
I am extremely lucky because my Mel and I have a great relationship. She introduces me to her friends as her dad, and with no malice to her biological father. On occasion, she will say that she has two great dads.
Yes, we do hug and peck cheeks in public. We also get angry at each other. That is allowed, too.
All of you stepdads out there who are doing the right thing and working hard to maintain your families, I tip my hat to you. I wish you are as lucky as I have been to have a stepdaughter who gets it.
Happy Father’s Day to all of my brothers in stepfatherhood. I hope you have someone as special as my stepdaughter to share this day with.
Edward Pratt, a former Advocate editor, is assistant to the chancellor for media relations at Southern University. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.