In my experience, family is created by love more than biology. I don’t just mean the kind of intangible ideal or even the feeling. It’s my opinion that actions speak louder than words. You can love someone but parenting requires rolling up your sleeves and putting in the actual work.
I often feel a sort of impractical guilt that I wasn’t there when my children were small. During their infancy and early years when they could have used someone ready to roll up those proverbial sleeves and do the work. Mary sometimes expresses anger at me that I “wasn’t around,” when she was a baby. Either that or I wasn’t around to “adopt her bio-mom” and teach her coping skills.
Neither scenario is plausible. It doesn’t matter. I still ask myself if I can ever make up for what’s been lost? Is it even possible? When I look at Carl and Mary’s history I feel unsure. There is so much bad that overshadows the good. Did Luke and I show up too late in their lives? Is this sort of like subbing in new players during halftime?
By looking at my own life I think I have my answer. No way. It doesn’t matter when your family comes to you, so long as they come. So long as they are willing to do the hard work loving someone requires. So long as they are willing to be there.
How do I know this? I know because I have a great step-dad. He kind of showed up in the fourth quarter. He and my mom grew up together and reconnected at a high school reunion. I was in college when they married.
He’s “Papa” to my kids. To me, he’s just plain family, by any title you care to use. The father I was born to loved me in a sort of distant, hypothetical way. Roger never figured how to put in the hard work needed to raise me or be there for me.Roger loved me so long as it pertained to him. He tried.
Roger (my own biological father) never could develop an interest in my family. He saw them as extraneous factors that simply didn’t apply to him. Roger could talk a great game. He had many words to profess his love. He just never could back them up with actions. I loved Roger in my own way. I’m sure he loved me in the best way he was able to.
Papa is a sharp contrast to him in so many ways. He moved across the country (literally) to be closer to our family. He doesn’t have to say he loves us , but his actions speak louder than any words. Papa brings me to my doctors appointments when I can’t drive. He rode on the ambulance with Mary when she went for her latest inpatient stay in a psychiatric hospital. He never judged her for hearing voices or behaving differently than other kids. He just loves his granddaughter.
He’s fixed faulty lighting in our house. He’s prayed with us in church. He taught my kids to play the keyboard. He hangs out with my husband like old buddies. He lets the kids bang away on his priceless Steinway while making up their own off-key lyrics to the music.
Papa loves my mom with actions that border on insane. Take, for instance, the time he fell and sustained a head wound on a concrete floor. My mom wanted to drive him to the hospital as soon as possible. Knowing how long the ER took, he insisted that they stop at the McDonald’s drive-through on their way to the hospital. Why? So my mom wouldn’t miss dinner while he waited to get his head fixed.
Nothing says, “I love you,” like pressing a bloody bath towel to your skull while ordering a burger with fries.
In the end, Papa accepts all of us for who we are. And he is THERE for us both metaphorically and physically. No judgements.
My husband Luke believes family is the most important thing. He’s a dad because he works for it. Our family isn’t always easy. It’s almost never “normal” (if there even is such a thing!) Luke gets along with Papa because they are a lot alike. No, not just because they are weird. It’s because they are family men.
I’m pretty sure “normal” is overrated. I’ll take Luke dancing in the kitchen to “New Kids on the Block,” to cheer Mary up. I’ll take Papa teaching Carl to use a flame thrower. I will take what we’ve got over simple biology any day. This is family. This is love.
I love you, Papa!