Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Praise of the Men Who Choose Their Children

I have a father. That is, I have a man who contributed to my birthing process. A nameless, faceless stranger who would, in Law and Order fashion, share 50 percent of my DNA. This man is much less a part of me than the average person I pass on the street, for I may at least have a slight recollection of the individual on the street. This man, through very little fault of his own, will never know his grandchildren, never see their sweet little faces, never know what he is missing.

I have a DAD- a man that chose to marry my mother, not in spite of me, but BECAUSE of me. A man that looked at me, as a small child, and wanted to protect me. He had no idea the ride that would take him on, and I often wonder if he'd known what a nutcase she was, if he would have made the same decision. I like to think he would have. I like to think that he looks at his other children, the wonderful products of that disastrous union, and has no regrets. I really hope so...

My Dad has always been amazing. He's always been a constant, I usually know what he's going to say before he says it, because he doesn't change. He's right 99.9% of the time, and it took me 32 years to admit that. He taught me the value of a dollar, and of a penny, and how to work hard and keep a job. I have many wonderful childhood memories, many good thoughts and happy places, and this is largely because of the man that married my mother, and her stepfather.

Every year for Valentine's Day, my Dad would place a box of chocolates on my bed. In those days, a box of chocolate was a full pound of goodness, none of this 12 ounce nonsense you see now. My mother would complain that I was getting fat (I wasn't) and that he shouldn't do this. Every year, like clockwork, the box would appear on my bed after he got home from work, and I would try to contain myself from running in as soon as he slipped off. I was so upset the year I had braces, sure I wasn't going to get my gift. That year, I found a box of "all soft centers" on my bed. Perfect.

Every year at Christmas, we got special stockings from my dad. An orange, an apple, and a box of lifesavers that looked like a storybook. Constant.

He took me to Disneyland. He got up with me at night when I was sick, even on vacation when I had an allergic reaction to rice (who's allergic to rice???), and put up with my random year long disappearances when I got so involved with my career I had time for little else. In short, he's amazing.

He's in good company. My father-in-law has an equally amazing relationship with his stepdaughter. I remember how my heart caught in my throat when my sister in law told me how he always got her chocolate covered strawberries for Valentine's Day. The story was so...familiar. Their relationship is as bittersweet as any father daughter pair.

My husband and I have a markedly similar story. It was not his love for me, but his love for my daughter that drew us (and kept us) together. Regardless of the situation, watching him with MissTweenAngel has always melted my heart. "We've" gotten pretty good in the process, too. The two of them, they did it naturally.

All of this makes me think of these great men, the men who tuck other men's children into their lives as their own, forever condemned to live slightly in the shadow of another man whose crowning achievement is the ability to procreate, and my heart aches slightly at the bitterness of it. For it isn't in the sweet times of youth, or in the midst of teenage angst when you realize their contribution, when it would be sweet and endearing. It's in the aging process, the hair graying, child rearing hecticness of adulthood that you begin to wonder how they did it. How they managed to deal with the thanklessness and bitterness of a youth that didn't even belong to them.

I'm not sure how they do it. But I'm so grateful that they do. Today, on Father's Day, I'm ever so much more thankful for the men who aren't accidental parents, for the man that chose me, and the man that chose my daughter.

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