Stepparents may be the villains in fairy tales, but my step-dad is one of the best men I know.
Your biological parents are the luck of the draw, but when it comes to birth fathers I drew a particularly bad card. Some stories aren’t only mine to tell, but suffice it to say that my early childhood was tumultuous, and my parents divorced when I was 8 years old. My biological dad made the odd cameo in my life for the next few years and has popped up randomly since then, but his brief appearances left a lasting impression.
There was the time he told me I needed to wear more makeup, because my acne was disgusting, the time he told me that my status as an honors student was pathetic and I needed to go to the beach more and the memorable moment when he told me the only thing I’d be good at in life was performing oral sex (I was 12 at the time).
Luckily, that last zinger happened right around the time that my mom started dating Ed.* There had been the odd boyfriend here or there, and while they were always very nice to me, it was clear their main objective was dating my mother, not getting to know my sister or I. Ed was different. From the beginning, he actually listened to what we had to say, cared about our interests and wanted to make us happy because he cared about us, not just because it was a way to get in good with our mother.
Within a couple years we moved in with Ed, and soon after that he and my mother got married. Ed didn’t have any kids of his own, but my sister and I definitely took the opportunity to show him the parenting ropes. He had a full head of dark hair (and a killer ’90s mustache) when we met him, but after raising two teenagers Ed had the salt and pepper coif only seen on men who have shared a single bathroom with three women and lived to tell the tale.
Ed was the one who picked me up from school to take me to the doctor when I was sick. He would yell at my friends and I to keep it down when we stayed up playing music during a sleepover. He built us a pool. He taught me how to drive and how to check my car’s oil. He terrified my suitors when they called the house too late and angered my mom forever when he gave me a curfew of dawn on prom night. He was my dad in every sense of the word, so much that my friends got used to me referring to my parents as “my mom and my Ed.”
My mom was amazing at being a single parent, but I think my self-esteem and sense of self-worth would have been dramatically different if Ed wasn’t in my life. It would have been really easy for me to internalize the way my biological father treated me, and I shudder to think what my adult romantic relationships might have looked like if that was my only male role model.
When I got married there was no question that Ed was the person I wanted to walk me down the aisle, and if the air conditioner is making a strange noise or there’s a leak in the bathroom, he’s the first person I call. But even though Ed knows how much I love him and our extended family never makes a distinction between father and stepfather, introductions with coworkers and people we didn’t see often were always a bit stilted. We would all muddle the words “stepdad” and “stepdaughters” around in our mouths. Those were the right words to describe our situation, but they didn’t accurately reflect how our family felt or functioned.
There were times through the years when Ed would comment how he wished he had adopted my sister and I back when we were kids, but since we all knew getting our biological father’s permission to do so would be impossible, that idea remained on the shelf gathering dust with our family application to be on Trading Spaces.
Until one day, when I decided to change that.
Ed’s birthday falls right around Father’s Day, and although he always claims to love the sports memorabilia or clothes we pick out for him, my sister and I struggle to come up with good gift ideas. The summer I was pregnant with twins I was even sappier than usual, and I found myself strangely jealous that my children would get to call Ed “Grandpa.” He was still my stepdad, but my kids would give him a title without qualifiers, something no one would raise an eyebrow at, a name he deserved. So why shouldn’t my sister and I do the same?
I did some research and found out that in our state, once a person turns 18 they can be adopted by another adult without the need for permission or notification to their birth parents. By then I was 28. So my sister and I formulated a plan to schedule an adult adoption ceremony and surprise Ed with the date. It wasn’t easy.
We wanted it to be as big of a surprise as possible, so we had to get Ed to sign the adoption application forms without really knowing what he was signing. We managed that by hiding his reading glasses, distracting him with mindless chatter and having our mom slide him “these insurance forms to sign.”
The day we actually told Ed we wanted him to adopt us was one of the best of my life. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him cry, but when we told him we had scheduled an adult adoption so he would officially be our father, he burst into tears. Less than five minutes later, he and my sister were bickering over cell phone carriers like any father and daughter, which only proved to me that we did the right thing.
Arranging an adult adoption for my stepfather to become my legal father was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s just a piece of paper, but means so much more than that to our family.
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