When I decided to remarry, I was in a different place in my life; a widow with an elementary school age child. I didn’t know what the protocol for such things were. But I figured that I owed it to the kid to let her in on what the new dynamics would mean.
For a child that young, who had experienced what having a loving doting relationship with a father was, and then having lost him at such a young age, it was tricky to explain how similar or different the new relationship with a stepparent would be. I didn’t know what to expect, I knew what I had hoped for though, and that was what I presented to her.
I told her this person was going to be a father figure and would represent everything a father would, which means he would have the compassion, empathy, love and pride in her as her father did. He will love her and have her back always and he will also exhibit the same authority and have a say in raising her as her father did. To her, it was all yada, yada, yada, all good. She wanted to know if she would change her last name if she has a new dad (What kid ever thinks of that?!!! Mine did. Still thinks very ‘old’ for certain matters….but I digress.) I told her yes, but only if he legally adopts her and then I had to explain to her what that meant. She asked if I thought he might adopt her, I said “why not? If we are making a forever home, that will be the natural order of things?”
She was excited about that!
Shortly after I remarried, and we had somewhat settled down to a new life here. There was discussion about me taking on the last name of the spouse. The reasoning for that was that the spouse’s twin’s wife had taken on the name and it was only befitting that I did too “to keep the twin competition thing going”, which to be honest, I didn’t understand, plus I didn’t think it was a good enough reason for me to change or modify my name, and that was when she asked, “So when am I going to get adopted? And then mum and I can change our last names together.” She really was looking forward to that. She had already decided that she would hyphenate and keep her bio dad’s last name and add this new one to it.
The spouse responded, “Slow down” and “what is the hurry in getting adopted? We have our whole lives ahead of us, we’ll get to that eventually.” Something about the callous way that response was belched out was very uncomfortable for me to hear. I could see the immediate disappointment in her eyes. Tears welled up and then she said
“If you don’t adopt me, then I cannot take your last name and then if my mum changes her name, I will be the only one with a different last name.” I saw my escape right there and that was when I interjected
“Nope, we all are keeping our names, you’ll keep yours; I will keep mine and he will keep his, that way we can confused the mail man with the different names that will come through this address.” That was my lame way of making light of the situation.
She gave a small laugh, but I could tell, there was a deeper question brewing underneath, although she didn’t venture further.
As time went by, and with the way their relationship evolved (not in a positive direction, sadly), she concluded that she was not adopted because she was not good enough and that did a number on her self-esteem. Through years of being a “single wife” and raising her the best I could, taking the role of both; Father’s Day became mine. One year, she wished me happy Father’s Day with card and gift and carried on the tradition each year; it was the only occasion that she had good wishes for me – I don’t even get a card on my birthday!!
This year on father’s day, she showed me this little pen knife that was given to her by ‘grandpa’. Grandpa passed away in September of 2018. She said to me on father’s day.
“I miss grandpa, it would have been nice to have someone to wish a happy Father’s day to.” To which I responded
“What about me? You still live under my roof and eat my food, and you will soon be driving my car so you better keep those father’s day wishes coming.”
“Of course! That goes without saying”, then as an after thought added “In retrospect, I am so glad I didn’t get adopted when I asked to be, it would have been horrible to be eternally linked to someone that can’t stand me and never liked me.” She left it at that and I know not to probe. It hurt to hear her say that. I know she meant no harm but when such thoughts cross her mind and she shares, I feel bad because I brought him into our lives and she had no choice but to partake in the mess that it became.
I didn’t sense a sadness in that statement, it was more like a coming to terms with reality and being OK with it. Whatever brought that thought about will come to light at the right time. But I will keep the tradition going and take that as an unsaid “Happy father’s day to me”…or maybe that was Happy Father’s day to grandpa?