I did my best to be a great father. I was extremely happy when she started calling me “Dad,” out of the blue.
I met my oldest daughter when she was three years old. She and her Mom lived across the hall from me in our apartment building. Walking up the stairs behind them one day, she introduced herself and her Mom, “Hi, my name’s Melissa, and this is my Mommy, Lise.”
I was smitten, mostly by her, but her Mom was pretty, and I introduced myself. I was single; after all, so meeting a pretty lady was great. I found out she was a single mom and lived with a male roommate who I had thought was her husband. I quickly became friends with Melissa and her Mom.
I decided I wanted to ask Lise out. One of my roommates was interested as well and said he was going to go ask her out. Later that evening, I knocked on her door and asked her if she and Melissa would want to go on a picnic. She said yes. Turned out I said the magic words. I asked her and Melissa out. My roommate didn’t get a date. He had asked her out. Just her, not her daughter. We had a great time and a relationship was built and I eventually proposed to Lise.
I tried to connect with Melissa’s father to ensure him that I would do my best to help him develop a close relationship with Melissa. There had been some tension for the first years of Melissa’s life with him and Melissa’s mother. I had come from a broken home myself and wanted to make sure she had every opportunity to grow up with her father. My father had left before I was born, and even after connecting when I was about 8, he eventually did some things that broke off our relationship, but that’s for another story.
I did my best to be a great father. I supported Melissa in everything she did. We had a great relationship growing up. I was extremely happy when she started calling me “Dad,” out of the blue.
He birth father had very little to do with her as she was growing up. His weekend visitations twice a month rarely happened. He lived out of state and we would drive half way to meet up and drop Melissa off. The visits became less frequent and often didn’t happen for a years at a time.
Melissa and I became very close, and I loved her like my own daughter. We had a second daughter when Melissa was six. I wanted to adopt Melissa, then. I had already adopted her mentally but wanted it to be legal. We didn’t think her father would allow it, so we waited until Melissa was in middle school, which made her old enough to make the decision to be adopted if she wanted. She had been calling me dad for years, and I was excited to have her as my “official” daughter. However, when we discussed it with her, she said no. I was devastated emotionally.
What had I done wrong? I brushed it off and continued to raise her as my own. I loved her like my own daughter. I never referred to her as my step-daughter when I spoke of her to my friends or strangers. I always talked about my daughter, Melissa. She went through high school and even though senior year wasn’t the best year we had in our relationship, I still loved her and did everything I could to help her, to advise her and do everything a father would do. She graduated from high school at the top of her class. She had been accepted at Georgia Tech, and I was so excited. I was sending my daughter to college. I was also sad that she was growing up and would be on her own as a young woman.
She completed college with two degrees and honors in both. I was a proud Dad! Her birth father was invited to and attended her college graduation ceremony. She was trying to develop a relationship with him again, now as a grown woman. She spent some time after college working on their relationship and eventually realized it wasn’t working out as she had hoped.
Several years passed, and she found the “Man of Her Dreams.” He proposed, coming to San Francisco to ask my permission. They were engaged in San Francisco over Thanksgiving. Every step-father’s dream and nightmare was about to come true. Walking your daughter down the aisle to her new husband is the joy of every Dad. It’s also a scary time for step-dads. Would she ask the birth father to walk her down the aisle or you, or both?
She told me that she wanted me to walk her down the aisle and give her away. Tears filled my eyes. I was elated. Then she told me the greatest news a Step-Dad wanted to hear. Since she got to change her name when she got married to her husband’s last name, she was going to change her last name to mine. She would take my last name as her maiden name and be Melissa Woodall Sousa. Buckets of tears flowed from my eyes.
She went on to tell me that she wasn’t against being adopted when she was in middle school but didn’t want to be a Woodall, at the end of the alphabet. She was already in the middle and hated it. Having been at the end of the alphabet as a “W” forever, I completely understood. I hated having Woodall as a last name and since my father left me, I had thought about changing it to my middle name, Antone.
Melissa made me a proud Dad, and I was thrilled when I walked her down the aisle. Not only did I get a new Son-in-Law, I got adopted by my Daughter the same day!
Photo: Flickr/ Dmitry Ryzhkov