Sara’s Stepfather defied stereotypes and taught her that “real men” don’t necessarily look and behave like media shows us they do.
We live in a time where the definition of “family” is fluid. The myriad combinations and manifestations decorate society showing us that everything from single parent homes to polygamous households can find some kind of familial love and that perhaps, it is one of our fundamental human needs.
I grew up in a blended family, and that was my normal. Though most of my classmates seemed to come from nuclear families, it never really occurred to me that my situation was remarkable in any way. As such, with my biological dad living 3000 miles away, my step father was my primary male role model. He would be the standard against which I would hold my ideas of masculinity. I can rattle off countless obvious influences from my mother; a woman of great character and strength. But this piece is about the quiet, almost unnoticed, wisdom I unconsciously gleamed from my stepfather. Like all families, we had our dramas and disappointments, but the older I get, the more I understand the unspoken lessons I learned from him.
1) Age matters as much as you want it to. As a society we’re generally comfortable with the older man /younger woman dynamic. The inverse is rarer. So much so, we’ve given it a name. He’s six years my mom’s junior, and I never really understood the term “cougar” because an older woman with a younger man wasn’t an anomaly. I learned that women don’t have to be younger than their partner to be desirable and loveable.
2) Giving it all up for love. He moved eight hours away from his home to be with my mom. He left behind his friends, family, and social life at the age of 23 because he wanted this relationship and believed it was valuable enough to fully commit in a very real way. Indecisive, my stepfather is not. I learned that men can and will make great sacrifices for their partners.
3) Thick and thin is real. My mom and stepdad have lived some intensely difficult realities. They stuck together through major illnesses, job losses, desperate financial situations and significant deaths. They share triumphs and good news together. Relationships are hard. They’re not always fun. Often, they’re kind of boring. Regardless, the person who celebrates with you in times of happy and is with you when all the shit hits all the fans is your thick-and-thin. It’s more than a clump of words. I learned that men also invest in a relationship.
4) Marriage can be a state of mind. They’ve been together 30 years with another 30 on the way. They never married, and as far as I can tell, have no plans to. They have one child together, and two from my mom’s previous marriage. They own a car. They fight. They make up. They plan for retirement, take vacations together, pay their mortgage, and anything else married couples do. Commitment doesn’t necessarily require ceremony or religion. It absolutely requires dedication. I learned that a man doesn’t need to be “trapped” by marriage to commit in a relationship.
5) Real men don’t always fall into traditional gender roles. For most of my upbringing, my mom made more money than my stepdad. It never occurred to me that some people would not be comfortable with this. I learned there’s nothing emasculating about being with a successful woman.
It’s easy to generalize about sex and gender. These stereotypes and cliches sell a lot of tabloids and grooming products. Sometimes, when we’re developing an identity, we cling to these fables as parameters for How One Behaves in Society. Though convention might dictate that real men shun commitment, must be the primary or only breadwinner, dismiss the need to put maintenance into relationships, and aren’t demonstrative, one very real man taught me otherwise.