Whether you’re a fan of pop country or not (I’m generally not), I strongly suggest you check out a song called “Didn’t Have To Be” by Brad Paisley. An ode to his stepfather, it may be one of the most original and touching songs to have come out that year.
My friend Tony and his ex and future wife Lara are apparently going to buy a house. It was something they always talked about in their first marriage but things were always too turbulent. Now that they’re together again, I guess they believe new beginning warrant taking chances. They’re probably right.
The website he showed me that had pictures of the house also had pictures of his family at the Colossal Kingdom amusement park. I had never met the kids before and never seen him with them. It was extremely odd to see my friend, younger than I, as being the Dad. He’s one of only two of my friends to have kids so far. His are the only ones out of diapers. But there was no mistaking it in the pictures.
They were an odd combination. Tony was 19 and barely a year out of high school. Lara was a nearly thirty year old divorced mother of three living in a welfare complex. I never learned much about the father(s) of Lara’s children, but I gathered that (t)he(y) was/were never a significant part of the kids’ lives. At 19, Tony was a father with two sons and a daughter not five years younger than he. It was difficult to wrap my hands around then and it’s still difficult now.
There was no mistaking it in the Colossal Kingdom pictures. Biological or not, he was Dad. From what I understand, Lara was pretty directionless when they met. She was on welfare with little likelihood of getting off any time soon. She was overwhelmed by her children — particularly their problematic daughter. He stepped into a tempest and managed to keep it all together for a couple years. Unfortunately, it was the conflict about their oldest that drove the wedge that cracked their marriage wide open. Having gotten this family all at once, I think that made it all the more harder to let go of when that time would come.
My coworker Simon is also a step-dad in all but marriage-license. He was relating to me the other day how disturbed he was about the family finances. Family. Finances. Like Tony, Simon also stepped into a relationship and immediately became a father. In some ways I think he has had a more difficult task than Tony did. Paige was apparently pretty clueless on how to take care of her kids and it was Simon, who’d been a dad for all of a couple months, who actually came up with a disciplining regimen. Prior to that, Paige was rewarding whichever son it was that hadn’t done something wrong. The oldest son would talk back, the youngest son would get ice cream. This lead to endless tattling and even more acrimony than is usual between brothers.
Things were apparently so bad that Paige told me a while back that she was considering giving the oldest one up to the state. A couple years later and they’re now stable, relatively speaking.
As I contemplate whether or not to embark on fatherhood and consider all of the challenges therein, I can’t help but admire those around me that not only stepped right into fatherhood, but into unstable situations and made the most of it.
Several years ago I was at a party where I met two young ladies. They had apparently graduated high school, moved out to Hollywood to become actresses and instead came back mothers. I was mildly interested in one of them for a little while. At some point, however, it donned on me as she was talking about her kid, I realized how much the kid was at best an ornament and at worst a chore. And I saw how she insisted on not letting the kid hinder her ability to enjoy her youth. It wasn’t what she said as much as how she said it… as though the ability to go out with friends and get drunk were a civil right and the baby was a little John Ashcroft trying to trample on it.
It was a bizarre realization that left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. I lost interest almost immediately thereafter. As envious as I may be of Tony’s role as Dad to two strappin’ young boys and as admiring as I am of Simon’s work with Paige’s kids, I determined then that wasn’t a role that I really wanted to be in. Had I fallen in love with a woman with a woman that had kids my views might be different. But the thought of parenthood is scary enough. The thought of step-parenthood or unplanned parenthood is even worse.
So hat’s off to all those that became the parents they didn’t have to — or didn’t want to — be.