Notes from a stepdaughter — my stepfather, Bob, passed away this week. He’d been a part of my life for almost 40 years. He started dating my mom when I was 10 and married her when I was 12. I was not an easy teenager. I’d grown up an only child with lots of instability, passed back and forth between my parents. My dad’s second wife, who he married when I was two, was the kind of woman they created the evil stepmother characters on in fairy tales.
She made it very clear I was not wanted. When I was six, she asked me to call her “mom” so my half brother wouldn’t be confused. She told me my mother didn’t love me. She burned cigarettes on me. She’d humiliated me. She told me I was stupid and would never amount to anything. She told lies about me to isolate me from my father. Thankfully my father wised up and they divorced. I saw her once — at my half brother’s wedding. Seeing her for the first time 15 years later made me sick to my stomach. The adult me wanted to stand up for the little girl she’d mistreated and say everything I’d been storing up. I wanted her to know she’d been responsible for a lot of the therapy I needed to be able to move on and feel worthy of love. I wanted to ask her why she’d abused me. Quite frankly, I wanted to beat the shit out of her.
At the same time, my stepfather showed me love, acceptance and patience.
The first couple of years were rocky. I tested my stepfather. How could he love and want me when so much of my life I’d felt unloved and unwanted? When I wasn’t testing him, I walked on unsteady legs worried the marriage would end and my family would go away. I was partially right. After 10 years and shortly after my college graduation, the marriage did end.
There must have been conversations about our relationship and what would happen but quite frankly, I don’t remember them. We just remained a family.
Maybe because he’d had also had a stepfather who raised him from the age of 12 or maybe because he was just a really good person who did the right thing. Whatever his reason, Bob took on the responsibility of loving and raising someone else’s child like an adoption long after he and my mother’s divorce.
Growing up, he tutored me in Algebra, taught me to drive, paid for my braces and college.
As I grew up, got married and had my own children, he was a part of all my major life events. My ex husband asked for his permission to marry me. He and my father walked me down the aisle and shared the father/daughter dance. “Zeide Bob” as my kids knew him, was at the hospital for all three of their births, at their shows, birthday parties and was part of the torah ceremony at their bat mitzvahs when the torah is handed down from generation to generation.
I believe he waited to pass away. He’d been sick for some time and anticipating him not making it and believing he was unconscious and would not wake up, I said my goodbyes over the phone, my sister holding the phone up to his ear.
When he came out of the deep sleep and they were able to remove him from the ventilator, my sister told me it would be a good idea for me to come. I was on a plane from California to Florida the next day and was told he knew I’d be coming and they’d made a decision to lower his medications so he’d be aware of my visit.
Arriving that afternoon, I was not prepared to see Bob so weak and sick. He’d always been a big, strong source of comfort for me. He never said a word but I held his hand, he smirked and lifted his fingers to respond to me. He let me scratch his back and put lotion on him. And I knew he knew I was there. The next day, I spent the day with my siblings reminiscing by his bedside. He died that evening shortly after we all left for the day and I hope comforted that he’d done a good job raising all three of us and that the family he’d created would remain. For me, waiting for my arrival to pass was another example of Bob knowing how “wanted” his waiting would make me feel.
Bob taught so much to me. He brought Judaism into my life. He taught me to do the right thing. He showed me I was lovable.
I’m a rare person who “wants” to be a stepparent. I want to do for someone else what he did for me. Regardless, I hope these words will inspire other stepparents to “step up” and “step in” for children who need and deserve love and stability.
- When you commit to love and honor a spouse with a child, decide what your commitment will be to love and honor their child as a separate person. Remember, this child has likely been through a lot and is probably looking for a safe place to land.
- Make sure when you take on the part of stepparent, you enlist your family. A child knows when they aren’t being treated the same.
- Your step child may or may not have a relationship with the other parent — support that relationship and encourage them to maintain it. It’s really not an either/or. My father and I were estranged for several years. It was at my stepfather’s encouragement that I reached out to repair the relationship.
- If you divorce, or it’s clear the relationship is not working, talk to them about what a relationship looks like. Do you love each other enough to want to stay in each other’s lives? Remember, you are the adult. They will take their lead from you.
- Make time to connect with your stepchild/stepchildren a part from the rest of the family. Get to know who they are as individuals.
I dated a man who’d grown up with the typical nuclear family. One of the reasons the relationship ended was that he just couldn’t see himself and more importantly, his kids, as part of a blended family.
For me though, my blended family and my stepfather was one of the best things that could have happened to me.