Shawn Henfling makes the valiant attempt to explain himself to his children. One step-father’s talk with his children that transcends to all step-parents.
Recently I’ve witnessed stories popping up from all corners of the internet about parenting. One of the popular formats has been questions I’d ask my children. Personally, I can’t really identify with any of that, and haven’t found one that resonates with me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a biological parent, or maybe it’s a personality trait. Whatever the cause, I can’t imagine I’m the only dad out there staring into the vast nothingness of the internet wondering if there are others seeing things the way I do. In light of that, and the epiphany that I’m only a few short years from being an empty nester, here is my take on the theme. To my step-children, both of whom I love unconditionally, here is what I’d like you to know.
I tried my hardest. You were 5 and 9 when I moved in, and rather abruptly I might add. There wasn’t much time to acclimate myself to this whole parenting thing, and you two scared the sanity out of me. It wasn’t your fault things moved so quickly, there were other forces at play, but I know you suffered for it. Sometimes the right thing to do is the hardest, and the bigger picture is harder to see through the haze of childhood. I loved you both from the beginning, and that hasn’t changed. I certainly made mistakes, and said more than a few things I’d like to have back, but it was never out of malice.
To my son: I can’t say whether my influence has helped steer you in any one direction, but I know I tried. Through the good times and bad, I have given it everything, until I was left with little to give for anything else. When you felt old enough to throw a few punches at 17, I tried. When, despite everything else that had happened, I spent nights and weekends fixing that truck, I tried. When it seemed that I’d turned my back, forcing you to start truly facing the consequences of your actions, I tried. Through the darkness of my own depression and the temper that followed it, I tried. Most times it probably wasn’t enough, and you have my eternal apologies for the many things I got wrong, but know that I tried.
To my daughter: I’m trying. For you, I think, it has been the hardest journey. I could never replace the man who never was there, though I tried. When you were five and barely coordinated enough to walk in flip flops without tearing your toenails off, I tried. When conflict and tension invaded our household like an occupying army, I tried. When, heaven help me, you started getting interested in boys, I tried. As you roll your eyes when I discipline you, I’m trying. When despite all of the things we’ve gotten wrong, you hug me goodnight, I’m trying. When I can guess by your mood and how much chocolate is left in the house what week of the month it is, I’m trying.
To both of you: I’m proud of you. I’m proud of you for seeking your own way in life. I’m proud of you for being true to who you are and for being decent human beings. I’m proud of you for being quick thinkers, able to adapt and react quickly. On the other hand, I’m not always proud of the things you’ve done. Sometimes I’ve overreacted, and sometimes I’ve underreacted. Through it all, I’ve tried.
So, to my children, who’ve grown and matured in the blink of an eye, I have no real advice, no universal truths for you as you live your lives. What you’ll get from me is what you’ve always received. If, by some tragedy, I’m gone tomorrow, there really are just three things I’d like you to know. I tried, I loved, and I’m proud.
Photo: el toro