I was cleaning out my desktop and found an essay I wrote about my stepdad in high school. My senior year I framed it and gave it to him as a Christmas gift, partly because I am cheap, but also because my dad and I had never said ‘I love you’ to each other… Until the day after that Christmas…:
I wonder if he has freckles dotting the corners of his eyes, like I do… if his ring fingers are double-jointed, like mine are…if I interited my stubborn spirit and insatiable sweet tooth from him.
I’ve crafted him in my imagination as a cross between Superman and Old Saint Nick, the perfect combination of love and strength. He will sweep me up into his arms and hold me so close that I can smell his breath, a mixture of peppermint and tobacco, and the unfamiliar scent of the years he has missed. I will murmur words of comfort into his ear as he struggles to find words big enough to tell me how much he loves me.
I already know I will forgive him.
There’s only one flaw in my plan, though: my father left twelve years ago, and he hasn’t yet come looking for me.
I’m afraid I won’t recognize him, though, for I can only remember my father by the one photo I have of him. In it, he is squinting into the camera, shielding his eyes from the sun, a hint of a smile playing at the corners of his lips, his other arm wrapped tightly around me like a cocoon. I wonder if he knew, even then, that he wouldn’t see any of it: my preschool graduation, as I pranced across a makeshift podium; my first dance, Hawaiian-themed, as I returned home with stars in my eyes, a wilted lei draped around my neck; or my first varsity tennis match, where I marched off the court with my head held high, saving the tears until I fell into my mother’s warm embrace.
But despite his mistakes, and all the memories he missed, I always wanted him back. When I was younger, I would clasp my hands and squeeze my eyes tight, afraid that if I peeked, God wouldn’t bring him back. I asked for a daddy who would help me with my homework every night, a dad who would skip his football game to help me learn to rollerblade. Someone who would love me more than love itself, who couldn’t be dragged from me come heaven or hell. Someone who would give up his life if I couldn’t be a part of it.
Someone like the man my stepfather has been for nine years.
It’s funny how, oftentimes, you don’t realize what’s right in front of you because you’ve been looking back for so long. I sought love, acceptance, and comfort from the man who left me willingly, never realizing that I had it all in another father ready to step in — A father unrelated by blood, but bound by something a thousand times stronger.