In 1988 when I was 21, my dad died in a car accident. I had been married two years. John and I had a baby, 6 month old Amanda. My mom still had 7 children at home. It was a desolating, devastating shock.
Three years later in 1991 when my mom started dating her high school sweetheart, I was less than pleased. It seemed too sudden. I was still grieving my dad. And Ron was different from my dad in a dozen jarring ways. (It would be years before I would realize their key, core similarities, the things that made my mother love them both.)
I resisted the idea of their relationship. Tried to talk my mom out of it. Ignored his overtures at friendship. Was rude and unhappy in every way I could be while still maintaining a bare veneer of civility.
Six months later, I stood at their wedding, an 8-months-pregnant reluctant maid of honor, there only to honor my mother.
But Ron kept trying.
Reaching out in a hundred big and little ways.
Invited us to dinner.
Fixed our cars.
Helped us add a bedroom on to our house.
Helped John pour cement for a shop.
Fixed our dryer and our washer and our cars.
Came for kids’ birthday parties and plays and choir concerts.
Invested in our lives, unfailingly and unflinchingly, even when it was inconvenient.
And if that wasn’t clear enough, he came right out and told me he loved me dozens of times, even during years and years when the words stuck in my throat and I wouldn’t – couldn’t- say it back.
Somehow him marrying my mom got all tangled up in the loss of my dad. It felt like accepting him would somehow be releasing my father, letting him go for good. And so I resisted. And resisted. And resisted.
All my siblings, it seemed, took to him. Accepted him. But still I resisted, awkwardly stuck in my private little tangle of grief over the loss of my father.
It got gradually better. I got so I could tell Ron I loved him when he said it to me. But for years there was this tiny core of resistance, stubbornly thinking that only one person could really be my dad.
Bitterly ironic, since here I was, neck-deep in mothering 6 children to whom I am a second mom, children whom I long to accept me simply as mom.
But emotions…oh, they are tricky things.
The other day the car that I was driving died at a gas station. My husband was at work, so I called Ron. To tell the truth, I thought to call him even before it came into my head to call my husband. That’s how acclimated I am to his support, especially when it comes to car repair. He asked where I was and told me he’d be there soon.
My daughter had dance practice 2 blocks away, so I walked her to her practice. I was wondering how I would get her home, and also how I would pick up my 4 other kids, who were practicing at another location 5 miles away. But Ron was on the job, and I didn’t have to be anywhere for a couple hours, so I figured things would work out.
Sure enough, within half an hour Ron was there with his mechanic– and a minivan that he left for me to drive. They took the dead car, and left me the keys to the replacement vehicle, a plush ride that was nicer than what I usually drive. I went on my merry way in the borrowed car, my plans barely ruffled.
The next day Ron returned the car to us, repaired. When he brought it back, I thanked him, very conscious that the previous day could have gone so much worse than it actually had.
He said, “That’s what daddies do.” and “I love you.”
And I said “I love you” back.
And for the first time there was not an iota of hesitation or of resentment at the fact that he had called himself my daddy.
It only took me 17 years.
It only took him 17 years.
Stubborn cusses, both of us.