Warmest regards: In praise of good stepparents
By Pattie Mihalik
Anyone who knows me or follows my column knows how much I loved and revered my father.
And it was pretty obvious my father felt the same way about me because he wanted me with him wherever he went.
He took me fishing, crabbing, hiking in the mountains and even took me with him when he went to the fire company to socialize with his buddies.
I remember one time his friends weren’t so thrilled when my dad took me along to a football game with his buddies.
One friend spoke out and asked my dad why he took me everywhere.
“Because she’s my daughter and I like to have her with me,” dad said.
At home, we often read together, with Dad reading magazines like Field and Stream while I read the comic books he bought me.
Because we were so close, it was especially hard on both of us when my parents divorced. While I thought I would literally die of a broken heart when he moved far away, even at the age of 10 I realized that he was the world’s best dad but he was a terrible husband.
Eventually both my mother and father remarried when I was 14, putting something in my life I never thought I would have: Stepparents.
But I was incredibly lucky because both my stepmother and stepfather were good people and both were good to me.
The first Christmas after my mom and Ziggy were married, he told her he wanted to pick out a Christmas present for me and my brother.
He gave Richard a toy firetruck and gave me a corduroy raincoat the color of mud.
I never said a word out loud but I wondered why he would think a teenage girl would like that. Mom said he didn’t know much about teenage girls but he was trying.
Ziggy brought some things to our home and family that we didn’t have before. In his quiet way he brought peace and stability to our home.
I wish I could say I told him I appreciated him, but a 14-year-old adolescent who missed her dad wasn’t mature enough recognize his kindness.
Instead, I recall a time when I told him I didn’t have to listen to him because he “wasn’t my real dad.”
Ziggy never said a word to that. He just continued being nice to me.
He was actually more understanding than my strict mother.
If I asked Mom if I could use the car, she said no. If I asked Ziggy, he said here are the keys.
One summer afternoon while I was driving home from swimming during a thunderstorm, my mother’s fears were realized.
One of the worst moments of my young life was having to tell Ziggy I cracked up his beautiful new car. My mother was hysterical, but all Ziggy said was, “Was anyone hurt?” No recriminations, even though I deserved it.
But dumb kid that I was, I never realized he truly loved me until I was rushed to the hospital with spinal meningitis.
My fever was raging and I wasn’t aware of much as I was carried into the ambulance.
But I was aware of Ziggy, the gentle giant my mother married, crying his heart out as they carried me from the house.
Those tears changed me. I realized Ziggy was good to me not because he had to be, but because he was a good person who loved us all.
When I was planning my wedding, my mother said Ziggy should be the one to walk me down the aisle and give me away. “He’s the one who raised you and gave you a stable life,” she said.
Just as I was about to protest, Ziggy spoke up. “Her father should be the one to walk her down aisle. I’ll be the one sitting there in the second pew beaming with pride,” he said. And he was.
Our relationship was on a different footing after that. When Ziggy came down with prostate cancer I was the one who helped take care of him, just as he always took care of us.
My mother knew she married a good man. She just didn’t know how good.
We found that out when Mom got Alzheimer’s disease.
It’s an ugly, cruel disease, stealing someone away a little at a time. Every day was a new trauma, but Ziggy lovingly cared for her at home.
In the final stages when she needed a nursing home, Ziggy went there every single day to stay with her.
When I went to visit one day I found him stroking Mom’s face, telling her she was still beautiful.
When he got Parkinson’s and needed to go into assisted living, I was there for him just as he was there for my mom.
My father was right when he told me I was incredibly blessed to have two dads to love me. I didn’t appreciate that as an adolescent but I sure did later in life.
The wicked stepparent image in Cinderella needs an update. There are plenty of good stepparents trying during tough circumstances to make a family unit work.
As we observe Father’s Day, I’m honoring the memory of the good man and stepdad who blessed my life.
Contact Pattie Mihalik at email@example.com.