I don't write much about my personal life here - you don't hear about my daily interactions with my family - although occasionally I intersperse my content here with things going on in my personal life. But I'm making an exception in this case, and this is mostly about my relationship with Tamara's daughter, Tess.
I got a card from Tess yesterday. In it, she doesn't call me stepdad... she calls me Dad, and in it she tells me how important our relationship is in her life.
I met Tess almost from the beginning of my relationship with Tamara - about five years ago. A beautiful girl, both inside and out, who is, like her two brothers, a bit tortured by the crazy-making behavior of her father. He's not a reasonable man, and using yesterday as an example, he used his phone call with her on Father's Day to berate her about some trivial matter and made her cry.
In short, he's a selfish jerk, and regrettably, he's a selfish jerk repeatedly.
Fatherhood is many things. A dad is protector, guide, provider, sea-calmer, wife-adorer, etc. The role of "Dad" is chiefly about about lovingly being near your kids and helping them become the best adult they can become. Sometimes, you have to grab their attention to help them prevent hurt to themselves or to others... but you never leave them sitting alone wondering if they're okay with you.
It's a privilege to know my kids. I let them know that often. My family is my favorite people. I tell my children that I love being their dad and that I'm glad they're mine. Sometimes I have to tell them difficult things. Sometimes I have to let them skin their knees in life because only life is able to teach them the lesson that they need to learn. Hard to watch when that happens - even though it's necessary for that growth that they need - but they know how much I love them.
It bothers me that the selfish jerk who is her father doesn't think twice about hurting her and her brothers. I want to stand between him and them and keep them safe. I can't, so the best I can do is let them know that for me, as a man, I adore them and love them. I treat them as though I have always been their father. The function is always more important than the title. But when you earn the title, it's awfully special.
Reading Tess' card yesterday was a powerful moment for me. And I'll tell ya - it's a privilege to be her dad.