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Unsung Stepfathers & Jive Turkeys

Today is April Fool's Day, but yesterday I felt like quite the fool...

A couple months back I had a conversation with my daughter's godmother and it went a little something like this:

Me: I don't want to say this, but sometimes I just want to give up...let them handle this mess and I'll just deal with babygirl.

DGM: Aww...you know you can't do that.

Me: Can't I? They're the ones that passed that boy around and left him up to his own devices and now everything is coming to roost and I'm the one who's gotta deal with it. My entire life centers around making things work for him and I'm tired of it. I don't even know what to do. I didn't sign up for this.

DGM: I know, I know, but it'll get better. Have faith. Besides, if you don't take care of things, who will?

An emotional outburst that isn't 100% correct, but it was 200% emotional. The godmother's last charge stuck with me. My father first uttered this to me when I was barely 20 reeling from the accidental shooting death (one of his idiot friends pointed a loaded gun at him) of one of my closest cousins. Grieving something awful, I didn't want to do anything but just get by in life. My father told me and promised me that that was not acceptable.

Here at MMWH as transparent as I am, I am edited. I give you guys all of my joys, but I rarely share the full extent of my sorrows or even my woe. What follows is an unedited piece of me.

I am not my son's biological father. Where that joker is is anyone's guess. Technically it should've made my entrance into his life easy. But it didn't if you take into account that his mother was both his mother and father for the first 5 (arguably 10) years of his life. And if a man is already present, even if she actually isn't a man, then you're in for a world of trouble.

The second the woman who would be my wife decided I was the one I was plunged face first into this trouble. I went from boyfriend to husband/father material overnight and quite honestly having only spent roughly 6 months as a capable adult (at the age of 28) I wasn't prepared for any additional responsibility. But that didn't stop me from trying and complaining. And for all you novice stepfathers out there reading this, don't be dismayed, you will get your stride but only after beginning your walk through a minefield. Unless somehow either mother or child welcomes you openly. No matter what it takes time. It takes the comfort of both you and the kid(s) and it will call upon more patience from you than you ever thought imaginable.

What made my walk so trying was that I simply could not please my future son's mother. Friends began to take notice and speak disparagingly of the situation I was in. And I disparaged them for their words, though I secretly wondered if they were right. To make a long story short things got better when I discovered that I needed to have a relationship with my son-to-be that was independent of the girlfriend. One she couldn't touch or pass judgment on. I taught him how to swim. I got him into superheroes. I began attending all of his little games. I talked with him as much as he would talk with me.

But even still I found myself on the fringes --- good enough to cart the boy all over the tri-state area, but never good enough for a hardline opinion on how the boy should be raised. Not slamming his mother or any of the other key players for how he was being raised, but just offering a different perspective. A man who truly is a man (I know this is a very mysterious thing) has a vantage on what being a boy means that no woman will ever have. Sorry, moms. My father was practically unbearable to live with, but he instinctively knew how to deal with me in a way my mother never could.

Now to the point: In the fourth or fifth grade, my son was diagnosed as ADD-inattentive. He zones out in the classroom. He zones out if you talk to him for too long. He doesn't get up and start acting out, he just sits there goes bye-bye. This has affected my son's academic career and as I've documented here on the blog his grades are getting worse as more responsibility is being heaped on him. It has his mother and I scared for him, scared for his future and angry with him for not trying hard enough. But no matter how angry I've been something has always caused me to hold back. I've always feared there was something more beside some attention issue and a willful child. And I've caught some flack for it. Often I've asked my wife, what if we're punishing him for something he can't control? My son is practically 6 feet tall and has a savvy about him that in the eyes of most makes him responsible even when he is not... To my absolute distaste, I've sat with my wife at my son's school in entirely too many jive-turkey seances with scores of teachers informing us (me specifically) of absolutely nothing helpful. But I've been somewhat alone in my displeasure. I've been the naysayer, the killjoy, the one who pointlessly holds on to the fact that both my parents were educators and I've only seen one or two of those in all my meetings with these people.

Enter Dr. Bruce Roseman, an absolutely lovely wisenheimer (sp?) and a very capable pediatric neurologist. Yesterday he re-evaluated my son, initially on the premise that maybe he could give him something to help him focus. And if focus had been the issue then maybe I wouldn't be blogging this. Instead Dr. Roseman decided to open a Pandora's box on me: My son has a language comprehension issue. Similar in nature to dyslexia, the way he takes in, computes, packages, absorbs and regurgitates written and spoken info is off kilter. It definitely explains all the who's on first moments I've been having with him this year. What made matters worse is that the principal at his kindergarten caught it, named it and labeled it. But nothing happened for reasons that I don't know because I really wasn't in the picture back then. As Dr. Roseman sifted through all the paperwork I provided, he discovered a rather alarming trend. His current school system identified the issue without actually naming it and never took the necessary/required steps to address it. Then they branded him ADD which puts the responsibility on him.

"If you can't comprehend what's going on, you start looking around for visual cues. If you can't find those cues, you zone out. I mean wouldn't you zone out if you weren't grasping something?" Dr. Roseman asked me.

"Wouldn't anybody?" I asked him back.

As the picture became clearer and clearer I became overcome with a mix of anger and sadness. I thought of all the anger, all the confusion, all the punishments and my beautiful, beautiful son just taking it. It was too much to contain. As the doctor concluded his session with me my face was wet with quiet tears that I kept wiping away so the boy wouldn't see. But the doctor did. He patted me on my back and told me, "It's hard when you know something and you know it by yourself. I went through the exact same thing with my own daughter. You're a good man to do this...listen to what I had to say and not get riled up. And it can be fixed without medication. I have tremendous respect for you. You're not his stepfather. You're the father who sets the steps and I'm marching to your beat. You stepped up. Don't ever diminish yourself (which was something I definitely did when the consultation began) like that again.. ."


None of this excuses my son for his complete ridiculousness as a teenager. But it definitely changes the course of his education and puts learning, or rather the facilitation of that learning, squarely on his teachers' shoulders where it should have been in the first place --- not simply cranking out a curriculum, shrugging and stating he won't pay attention.

After the doctor visit I dropped the boy to the Y so he could shoot hoops for the rest of the afternoon with the rest of the on spring break kids. The tears kept coming for a while, but they eventually passed. And now I'm optimistic and encouraged.

Bottom Line: If you're a stepdad or even a stepmom and you're giving you're all despite the results, despite the gratitude, despite what might even make sense to you, just keep doing it. It's not about you or the biological(s). It's about that kid needing you more than you'll ever know. Keep on fighting...for them.

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