I learned how to be a stepparent from having one of the best. I first met my stepdad, who I always called “Dad”, when I was four-years-old. My mom brought him to our home to meet me. I was playing upstairs in my room when I heard cheerful whistling coming from the downstairs. I asked her if she has brought us a pet bird, to which she smiled and told me she had someone for me to meet.
For the rest of my childhood, our home was filled with the sounds of his whistling and silly songs that he made up for me. He taught me to ride my bike, invested countless hours in helping me with math homework, and he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. I can hardly conjure a memory from childhood that doesn’t include him, and I have so much to thank him for!
My dad put into action the philosophy that family is not only composed of blood. He chose to love me and always treated me as his own. He was willing to take every step to make me feel wanted and included, even legally sharing his name with me when I was sixteen.
His attitude of inclusion prepared my heart to accept four children who aren’t biologically mine but love as though they are. I would like to think that I would have been as open-minded, patient, tolerant, and accepting even without his example to follow; but, I know that I benefitted from the many examples he provided on how to be a good person. My dad put into action the philosophy that family is not only composed of blood.
My dad put into action the philosophy that family is not only composed of blood.
My dad passed away on November 1st. We all know we will eventually lose the people we love; but, nothing can truly prepare us for when it finally happens. It’s hard to imagine a world without his gentle guidance, red-faced laugh, and quiet wisdom. Sadly, I don’t think that we ever fully appreciate what someone means to us until there is no longer a way to tell them. I can never express to him how much I love him or how grateful I am to him for sharing himself with me; so, I can only hope that he always felt my love over years, miles, and even the scourge of Alzheimer’s.
The best way that I can honor his legacy as a truly remarkable stepparent is to carry on with my own stepsons and stepdaughter by loving, being available, exercising patience, laughing, making memories, and always accepting. Now, wearing adult shoes and the responsibilities of a parent, I recognize that his accomplishment was not as simple as he made it appear. Kids are not easy, and children of divorce, in particular, have so much more baggage to carry.
It is no easy task to help a developing human learn to become independent, productive, and decent all the while mourning the absence of a parent and the end of their original family. He managed the perfect balance of involving himself and making himself available in concert with my needs and the boundaries established between himself and my mom.
My dad is gone, yet he will live on through his stories, his famous Thanksgiving stuffing, and my promise to live his example of gracious stepparenting. His dignified manner in giving me his all, while teaching me infinite essential skills of adulthood, challenges me to aspire to up my stepmom game. I regret that I have not been as unconditional, tolerant, or composed as I would always like to be, or as he would have been.
Thankfully, I can imagine his peaceful reassurance encouraging me to persist because what I do as a stepparent is significant! I can’t just give up when it becomes too much because these kids are counting on me! I can’t blow my top when they push all my buttons because I have the opportunity to show them a better way to handle their emotions. I can’t turn my back on them every time they make me feel rejected because they need to understand that someone will always love and forgive – them!
I still have a lot to learn about stepparenting, even though I’ve been at it for seven years. I suspect that even in my eighties, as he was, that life, and stepparenting, will still have lessons to teach me. I feel truly blessed that I had such a great teacher to inspire and lead the way for me!
Thank you, Dad, for always being there for me, always loving me, and setting one of the most important examples I would ever need!
In memory of Richard Elliott Watters Smith, September 6, 1934 – November 1, 2017
Audrey Cade, author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision, is a matriarch of a stepfamily of six children and an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, stepparenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage. She is a featured blogger for DivorcedMoms, contributor for DivorceForce, Worthy Living and has been published in The Divorce Magazine, The Good Men Project, StepMom Magazine, and others. Her professional experience is a case manager social worker for developmentally-disabled children, and she holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. Follow Audrey on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Listen each Wednesday to her weekly Divorce Warrior Dialog podcast on her website.