Cambrian: Slice of Life

Don’t step on Father’s Day with contrived distinctions

Is Husband Richard a step grandpa to these two? Technically, yes. But that’s certainly not how they see him, and to him, they are beloved granddaughters. No step involved. Caitlyn, left, and Alyssa are seen with Richard in a photo taken May 26.
Is Husband Richard a step grandpa to these two? Technically, yes. But that’s certainly not how they see him, and to him, they are beloved granddaughters. No step involved. Caitlyn, left, and Alyssa are seen with Richard in a photo taken May 26. ktanner@thetribunenews.com

Stepfather cards for Father’s Day? Is that a backhanded compliment or what? If you have to stress the legal status, maybe you shouldn’t give a card at all.

If someone can have two grandfathers, six uncles and 11 male cousins, why not two fathers? In these days of same-sex unions, many family units have two dads, so is one of them considered a stepparent?

I’m confused.

As Neil Lyndon of The Telegraph wrote in 2015, “Father’s Day is all very well, but it’s stepfathers who deserve recognition. The role of stepparent comes with no security, no authority, no legal protection and little gratitude. So why don’t we appreciate stepdads (and stepmums) more?”

What I know is that a good dad is a good dad, with or without a step.

It’s sad, you know. “Stepfather’s Day” wouldn’t carry the same warm, fuzzy metaphors of bicycles, daddy-daughter dances, fishing poles and baseball mitts that Father’s Day does. That’s not fair, because most stepdads deserve good-father merit badges in spades.

Being appreciated and loved as a stepparent (or a stepchild, to be fair) can be an endless, and sometimes painfully fruitless, endeavor. Some steppers have to re-earn every day the love that most parents and children are given automatically.

Turning a stepfamily into a blended family is far from easy or simple, but when it works, it’s magical.

I know about steppers. My widowed grandmother married again, so my mother’s stepfather was the only grandfather I ever knew.

I had a stepdad for nearly two decades. He died suddenly when I was 33, the same painful year in which my biological father died. I grieved equally for each of them.

Husband Richard is stepdad to my two sons, as I am stepmom to his son and daughter … even though I’m closer to their ages than I am to his.

Our youngest son also is a stepfather.

All four of our now-adult kids and all their offspring are unquestionably “ours,” and have been for the past four decades. It’s one big, messy, far-flung family liberally laced with laughter. Our kids love and defend their siblings, and cousins adore cousins, no matter who their biological antecedents were.

Do the grands on my side of the family believe that Husband Richard’s nicknames of Grandpa/Grandpa Dick/G-pa/Papa/Grandpa by the Ocean should all have “step” in front of them?

Not a chance, Charlie.

Like many stepfathers, Husband Richard has earned his Father’s Day cards and calls and the love behind those gestures from all of the dozen sprouts on our shared family tree.

He’s the one they call when they have troubles with cameras/cars/tools/kids/or life in general. He’s the Rock of Gibraltar mixed with cotton candy and sriracha hot sass.

Our offspring learned from him in so many ways what it means to be caring, thoughtful, curious, funny, wise and responsible people.

He taught them, so much, including how to:

▪  Make bread, chocolate truffles and chicken tikotchibelli.

▪  Make the most of every minute.

▪  Make people happy.

▪  Make up after a fight, and that it’s better to not fight at all.

▪  Reach for the sky but have realistic expectations.

▪  Love and be loveable, do things wholeheartedly and know when to stop.

Husband Richard can sing “Old Man Tucker” 973 times to put a baby to sleep, or screech like a scrub jay to trigger giggle fits. He can always make them laugh, with a sly look or deadpan face, an impish grin, a snappy one-liner or a truly awful, 50-year-old, “Oooooh, Grandpa!” joke.

During a discussion about biological parents, our youngest son told Husband Richard, “He may be my father, but you’re my dad. You’re the one who has always been there for me.”

Sure ’nuf.

When my biological granddaughters come through the front door and spot Grandpa, and they can’t get to him fast enough, do they care that he doesn’t share genetics with their daddy? Are you nuts?

Husband Richard is their grandpa, because procreating and fathering are two distinctly different things. One takes an instant of lust, the other takes a lifetime of love.

So, Happy Father’s Day, darling Husband Richard and all you wonderful, devoted, darling dads, biological or step. Take your bows, accolades, hugs and adoration. You’ve earned ’em.

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