Thirty-one years ago today the 28 year old boy from Mississippi with no prior experience with kids married the 31 year old single mom with two half grown sons. And so their story began.
If he could have seen the life that lay ahead for him, the hardships and the heartaches, the sacrifices he would be called upon to make, he might have turned around and headed the other way the day he walked into the office and the young woman asked him what he wanted in his coffee.
But he came to love her with the kind of love that charges head-on into the fray. The kind of love that runs deep beneath the surface. The kind of love that sticks.
There were challenges from the start as with most blended families. The boys were past the age where the man raising them could have complete influence on the men they would grow up to be. He faced the usual resentment of a person that is put into a position of being a parent to kids who don’t think they need another parent. He started off trying to be a father and learned as time went by that he would have to create a new position in their lives for himself. He would not be accepted as “the father”. He would have to become “the step-father”. This acceptance hit him hard but he was always one to face reality and so he tried to rewrite what being a step-father meant and he learned on the job.
He made mistakes as he went and he grieved over them. As he grew older he wished, as most parents do, that he had done this different, or that different. But there were many things outside his control as any step-parent knows. He is in a position of responsibility with not much power. Sort of like a Vice-President.
Financially, things were hard. Overnight the young man was supporting a family of four, soon to be five. There was very little financial support from the boys’ father. He sent enough each month to feed them for two weeks. Everything else, including a home, furniture, clothes, school supplies, and out of pocket medical expenses were paid for by the step-father. He took on the role of father without the title of father.
He worked in the oilfield. Oil prices hit rock bottom and the oilfield collapsed. One after another job was lost as companies closed. He always found another job. He faced stress over financial worries that he kept from the kids as much as he could. Sometimes they had to move and it wasn’t always an easy move or one they wanted. But he did what he had to do to support the family. He bore the burden of knowing he had to make some moves that were not popular among the kids. He felt at times that he had failed them.
A baby daughter was soon born to the struggling young couple. She was a lot like her father and a lot like her mother. He taught her to be strong and to speak up and say what she thought. He taught her to pick herself up after a fall; that there is nothing you can’t recover from; that sometimes you have to be your own hero. He taught her to think for herself and to question established beliefs. They often argued over things and the mother was the only one that realized they did this because they were so alike. When the daughter grew up and was on her own he knew the pride in how strong she had become and admitted to her that he could not have done all she did at the age she was; that he would have given up.
The boys grew up and left home almost as soon as they graduated high school. They faced challenges of their own. Through it all they were responsible and worked hard for their families. The step-father was proud of them and all they accomplished. Like him, they are family men and this guides them in all they do.
Time went by and the young man, now older, knew the love of grandchildren. The unique relationship that skips a generation and that relies more on love than responsibility. The joy of seeing a 5 year old grin with delight at pulling a carrot out of the grandfather’s garden and declare to him that she wants to be a farmer when she grows up. The lunch date with a grown-up granddaughter to celebrate her birthday and to see how the baby girl he had read to had grown up to be strong and independent. Taking a grandson hunting and teaching him about wildlife and a person’s responsibility toward it and working on the ranch with him and sitting around the campfire. Teaching young grandsons the Texas tradition of washer pitching and hearing about the technical things they do without understanding always what they are talking about but marveling at it all the same. Talking with a young great-grandson and seeing how strong and responsible the grandson is that is raising him. Holding a new baby grandson in his arms and seeing some of his and his daughter’s face reflected back at him. Hosting family gatherings with his famous fajitas and leading everyone on a shopping trip across the border and a tube float down a clear Texas river.
He taught the young mom he married to always stand up for herself and that she had much to be proud of in herself. He could look at her, a bandana keeping her hair from her face as she gardens and works outside, with dirt on her hands and knees, and see a beautiful person. He taught her that being strong and independent was to be valued more than lipstick and nice shoes. He taught her that people will not always like her, maybe not even her own children at times, but that she can only control herself, not everyone else, not even those she loves most. He taught her she has value and no matter if she stands all alone in this life, she can stand with pride in the person she is and the life she has led.
This Mississippi boy is my husband and this family is mine. Thank you for these 31 years, Rickie, and for the life we live. Happy Anniversary. I love you.