Sometimes it’s the people who you would never expect to surprise you that do just that. I’m sure I used the word never more than a few times in high school, during my self-focused adolescent furies. Mostly about my stepdad and how I thought we would never get along, much less like each other.
My stepdad entered my life in the early eighties. I was part of the package when he married my Mom – the youngest kid still at home, very bummed that big sis had moved on and left me there stranded. I think my stepdad and I both started counting down the days until my exit as soon as the vows were exchanged.
I wasn’t his biggest fan in those days and he certainly wasn’t mine (I shudder at the thought of what a jerk I probably was). For the most part, we managed to mutually exist in order to keep the peace for my Mom. I didn’t touch his stuff and he didn’t touch mine. My mother had to pay the price if we did. And I’m still convinced that my cat’s disappearance wasn’t as random as it was said to be. She had a way of throwing up on his bright white Buick Regal with a navy blue vinyl top at precisely the moment he finished waxing it and walked away. I would have high-fived her little white paw if I could have.
Those were not fun days. And luckily I ended up with a boyfriend who was equally as thrilled about his new step parent situation as I was. It was a perfect match at the time and it got us both through high school relatively unscathed.
As the years went on and my mother faced her own struggles in the face of losing my sister, my stepdad was there for her like no other. I gained a whole new level of respect for this man and for the size of his heart as he stood beside her. Over the years we became part of team Mom, working together instead of against each other in support of my fragile and hard to understand mother.
Her Alzheimer’s diagnosis many years later launched our improved relationship into overdrive, forming a strategic alliance with the strength of a small army. At my suggestion, we moved them closer to me so that I could help, and he has taken my lead on just about everything. I try not to let that thought keep me up at night as I don’t feel grown up enough yet myself to have someone look to me for so many decisions.
I never understood what my mom saw in him back in the day, but now it’s quite clear. I witness it every time I help out with my Mom. Just Friday I noticed he had to remove all of the knobs from the stove. He’s had to install all key locks on the doors. And he’s had to get good at hiding things he doesn’t want to disappear (we’ve learned the hard way). He has adjusted to their new life without a complaint.
This man — who had most likely never cooked meals before, never cleaned a house, never handled organizing doctor and vet appointments, probably never dressed or bathed his own kids — now does all of these things for my mother. I am in awe of his grace and strength. We have a silent, understood mutual appreciation for each other. We recognize each other’s capes and the irony of our new found closeness.
They say hard times can make people shine brighter than any star. And for this I am grateful.