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I Used To Be A Stepfather
June 14, 2006
by Tony Zizza

For myself and many Georgians, the arrival of Father's Day brings with it a mixed bag of emotions. Emotions are something we're told men don't feel or won't show in a meaningful way, but that's nonsense. Most men wish things could be different. Most men wish when it comes around to that time called Father's Day, it was a day to reflect happily upon.

Truth is, it's still hard in our dynamic culture for both married and divorced/stepfathers to honestly feel completely valued. Just think about this for a minute. Put on your thinking cap and say out loud: "Okay - time to think deeply. Quiet, please."

How many times do you hear, even on Father's Day, that fathers are not doing what they promised, or that they're just morons? We don't know what we're doing in the kitchen. We don't do enough household chores, though I guess the yard and repairs don't count, right? We actually have the opportunity to spend unlimited time with our children, but we prefer to watch ESPN 24/7.

Believe this all you want. However, it doesn't resemble what the majority of what fathers want. Or what they're thinking. When is the last time you heard a father say they have so much time to be a father, that they need a break? Not very often. It's more like: I wish I had more time to be a father. Not less.

I used to be a stepfather. It feels very strange to type the word stepfather into a sentence where I also have to type the word "used." Just because my marriage ended, it doesn't mean that I don't think on a regular basis of what it meant to be a stepfather. I think of all the things that could have been. Lately, I'm starting to rethink things. I'm rethinking things in a way that will allow me one day to be a "father" again.

You see, stepfathers have it tough. No matter what we do as a stepfather, it often is not enough or is too much. Don't even ask to be called "a Dad." Or, it all can end just like that. Thanks for the - years. Stepfathers are portrayed as monsters in our culture. What good does this do anyone?

In fact, even when the media attempts to do big stories on "blended families", it seems to be all sizzle and no steak. A lot of posturing and pandering. And even more statistical nonsense that is very hard to wrap your head or heart around.

For example, Diane Sawyer recently did a huge story on blended families. She deserves kudos for this. As an aside, she also deserves credit for her work regarding foster children. Far too many foster children are being drugged in our foster care facilities nationwide.

Going back to statistical nonsense, the experts tell us it takes four years for a "stepfamily" to truly come together. I think this is not only a negative way to look at what it means to enter and work as a stepfamily, it also sets up everyone for failure. I mean, talk about lousy and low expectations! Ask yourself: who came up with this four year figure?

Reality tells us that there is one major reason why stepfamilies fail, and why stepfathers and stepmothers are subsequently ejected from their families. No back up from the biological parent in the house. If the children know they do not have to listen to a "step", what makes you think they will ever "step up" to the other adult in the house who has lived a lot longer than them, and can provide time tested guidance?

Granted, the last thing we need in our culture is a bunch of whining men on Father's Day. There is truth to the saying, "suck it up", despite what the pharmaceutical companies tell us. There is incredible strength in dealing with family hardship and hurt. Time still heals all wounds.

However, when I think about how I used to be a stepfather, I know that I sure signed up to be a key part of the family. Fathers of every stripe need to put in 110 percent, but sometimes what you have to offer children falls on deaf ears and a sense of resentment.

This Father's Day, let us get rid of all the tired stereotypes that surround fathers. Deadbeat dads. Mean stepfathers. Morons in the kitchen. Addicted to ESPN. Unwilling to play with the children. Many of our fathers these days are our heroes in war. They, and fathers in general, deserve respect, opportunity, and love.

If stepfathers can one day take a crack at being in a family again, even a new one, perhaps there's no reason why on Father's Day we can't look at fatherhood for the appropriate honor it deserves. And for what it is about fatherhood that all of our children will always need.

Zizza is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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