The other day, Alison and I were having a conversation about her final project for college. She was writing a paper on her relationship with Rob. We talked a little bit about stepfathers and how our relationships with them shaped our lives and the women we are today.
Stepfather and real father were a term I used, up until a few years ago, to distinguish between my stepfather Ariel and my biological father, Jimmy and looking back now they seem like unfair labels. My relationship with Ariel and Jimmy was different from Ali’s stepfather vs. real father relationship, but there are significant parts that are the same. We both came to rely on our step-fathers heavily. With every important decision I was forced to make, Ariel was almost always the first person I would seek out for advice. It was the same for Ali. She will almost always call Rob first, whether it is about her car window, apartment hunting or just to tell him about the most amazing deal she got on peach rings.
My stepfather Ariel was very much my real father growing up. If you know me well, you know these stories. When I was certain geometry was a cruel and unusual form of torture, he would patiently sit at the kitchen table with me going over, and over and over, Acute and Obtuse Angles. He taught me how to bake. He was the one who would go with me every time I’d find a car in the paper I wanted to buy and helped me settle on my first car, a 1976 Toyota Corolla. He gave me away at my first wedding. Tried to talk me out of my second wedding and was happy and relieved with my third marriage. He was always there when I was crying, pulling out his handkerchief to wipe away my tears. When I would call, crying, telling him the marriages were over, he’d offer to break both ex-husband’s knees. He was there for every important milestone in my kid’s lives and “Is Grandpa coming?” is usually the first question they will ask. Ariel is my real father and to this day I feel I did him a great injustice calling him my stepfather.
For whatever reason, Jimmy was not a physical presence in my life growing up. Whether it was my mother’s fault, Jimmy’s fault or just a product of the 70’s, it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’ve learned to let go of the awkwardness of being the only person I knew at 12 to have divorced parents. A few years ago my sisters and I went to Long Island to see Jimmy. As nervous and afraid as we were driving there, it was a good thing, mostly. It was the first time we’ve seen Jimmy since we were kids, and it had stirred up all sorts of feelings for me and my sisters, very different opinions. An hour into the ride home from Long Island, we weren’t talking to each other, and we didn’t talk to each other for months after that trip. The argument was based on each individuals definition of step-father and real father and that, I learned, the hardest of ways, is a very personal thing.
Everyone has their memories, and they are often, very different from the person who grew up alongside you every day. They are different from your mother’s memories; they are different than your grandmother’s memories. No one memory is the truth, and no one memory is wrong, it’s just remembered differently. No matter how we remember things, our stepfathers are important male figures in our lives, and they have a large hand in shaping who we are as adult women.