by Dale Ricky
A Father's Day Essay, Entered in Annette's Parenting Contest.
|Susan was five years old when she and I met. Shortly before her mother and I married. Whom I love dearly. That was over 35 years ago, and I honestly have to say there were some awkward moments early on in our instant family. Her Mom and I are still married, but this is about Susan.|
Back then, like today, she has a relationship with her biological father. Meaning, she always knew I was not her daddy. I never let her call me Dad or Daddy, Though she tried. I did not want her to confuse the roles these two men played in her life. Nor did I want her relationship with her father to be blurred by our relationship. I thought it was important she knew I was someone different. So, she referred to me by name, which was good enough for a while.
Over the years, I was unbelievably blessed to get to know this little person. I am blessed in ways a real father could not be. I mean, she never had to like me or accept me. I was the guy that took her Mom from her Dad. In the eyes of a five-year-old, all the adult stuff does not make sense. I did not steal her Mom. That relationship separated a year before we met. But, to a child, I do not think that matters.
No, the blessings came in small doses. We found an old bicycle at a garage sale. I fixed it up and taught her to ride. When I replaced the alternator in the car. She handed me tools and watched. She was fascinated with the process and idea a car is fixable. At school events, she would smile when she saw her Mom in the crowd. I did not realize, at the time, that those smiles were for me too.
One day after school, she was in the fourth or fifth grade. While showing me her grade card. She said, "Pop, look at this." I did not say anything. I am sure I had a split-second reaction on my face. I played it cool and carried on as if nothing had happened. She did not ask permission to use the moniker. Instead, she looked at me with determined eyes, daring me to contradict her. The second passed. She smiled, then handed me the paper.
Since that day, I have not heard her refer me any other way. She always introduces me. "This is my Pop." No further explanations. Never uses the word stepdad. So I became her, Pop. We both knew I was not her Dad. Yet, we also realized a bond had formed.
I was there the evening she came home with a broken heart. She cried on my shoulder. I wish I would have saved that tear-soaked makeup-smeared shirt. I was there when she changed her first flat tire. Well, I changed the flat, she helped. But, I have heard she has changed one or two herself.
The Father's Day cards changed. They have a line through the word Father and POP is written above in her distinctive hand. Don't get me wrong. This is about her, not me. But, I will admit I have become a proud Pop.
When she was in college. Her boyfriend invited me to lunch one day. He asked for my permission (my permission!) to "ask for her hand in marriage." He has become an outstanding son-in-law and father in his own right.
Her Dad and I are civil when in the same room. However, her Pop (ME) walked her down the aisle. We have long agreed it was right not to call me daddy. So I am happy to be called Pop.
I am not sure I can say I love her as a daughter. Never fathering a daughter, how could I know? I never treated her as anything less than my own child. But, I think our relationship is different. She never had to like me. She chose to. We never had to love each other. We grew too. Today, I could not be more proud of the woman she has become.