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"I Used To Be A Stepfather" , by Tony Zizza

For millions of men around this time of year, the arrival of Father's Day brings a mixed bag of emotions. Emotions are something we're told men don't feel or won't show in a meaningful way, but this is just nonsense. Most men to my way of thinking wish things could be different, wish they could be more understood, and wish that when it comes around to that time called Father's Day, it truly was a day to celebrate and reflect happily upon.

Truth is, it's still hard in our dynamic culture for both married fathers and divorced/stepfathers to honestly feel like they are truly valued as a whole. Just think about this for a minute. Put on your thinking cap and say out loud and say to yourself, "Ok - time to think deeply." Quiet, please.

How many times do you hear, even around and on Father's Day, that fathers are not doing what they need to do or they're just goof balls? Supposedly, we don't know what we're doing in the kitchen. Supposedly, we don't do enough chores in the household, though I guess the yard and repairs don't count, right? Supposedley, we have the opportunity to spend an unlimited time with our children and stepchildren, it's just that we choose not to. We're only concerned 24/7 by four words that spell: ESPN.

Believe this all you want, but it does not really resemble what the majority of fathers in our culture want or are thinking. How many times have you heard a father say that they wish they had more time to be a father, rather than they have so much time to be a father, that they need a break?

I used to be a stepfather. It sounds very strange to type the word stepfather in a sentence where I also have to utilize the word "used." Just because my marriage ended, it doesn't mean that I don't think on a regular basis of what it means to be a stepfather, and think of all the things that could have been. Lately, I'm starting to rethink things. Rethink things in a positive way that will allow me once again to one day be a stepfather or a father again.

Stepfathers really have it tough in our culture. I say this because no matter what we do as a stepfather, it often is not enough in some people's eyes to ever be "called Dad". Or, it all can end just like that. Stepfathers are portrayed as monsters in our culture or worse. What good does this do anyone?

In fact, even when the media attempts to do big stories on what I guess are called "blended families", it still seems the story is all sizzle and no steak. A lot of posturing and pandering. A lot of whimsical thinking. And even more statistical nonsense that is very hard to wrap your head or heart around.

For example, Diane Sawyer recently did a huge story on blended families. She is to be given credit for this. She also deserves kudos for her work regarding foster children. Far too many children as young as one years old are being drugged in our foster care facilities throughout the country.

But what I can't seem to forget is statistical nonsense that goes something like this. It takes four years for a stepfamily to truly come together. I think this is not only a negative way to look at what it means to enter and work as a stepfamily, it also sets up everyone for failure. I mean, talk about lousy and low expectations? Then ask yourself: who came up with this four year figure? Again, isn't it something of either a cop out or prescription for failure?

You see, there is one major reason why stepfamilies fail, and why both stepfathers and stepmothers are ejected from their families. No back up from the biological parent in the house. If the children in the house know they don't have to listen to a "s tep", what makes you think they will ever "step up" to the other adult in the house who has lived a lot longer than them and can provide time tested love and guidance?

The last thing we need in our culture is a bunch of whining men, whether they are married, divorced or stepfathers. There is truth to the saying "suck it up", despite what the pharmaceutical companies tell you. There is strength in dealing honestly with family hardship and hurt. The cliche time heals all wounds is still true and workable.

However, when I think about how I used to be a stepfather, I think that while there were things I wish I did differently, I know that I sure was there waiting and willing to be a key part of the family. Fathers of every stripe have to put in 100 percent, but sometimes what you have to offer your children falls on deaf ears and emotion all around.

This Father's Day, let us get rid of all the tired stereotypes surrounding fathers. Deadbeat dads. Mean stepfathers. Morons in the kitchen. Addicted to ESPN. Unwilling to play with the children. Many of our fathers these days are our heroes in war. They, and fathers in general, deserve respect, opportunity and love.

If stepfathers can one day take a crack at being in a family again, even a new one, perhaps there's no reason why on Father's Day and forever on end we can't look at fatherhood for the appropriate honor it deserves. And for what it is about fatherhood all of our children will always need.



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