My former stepfather, Stuart, died after a horrible car accident a few years ago. Stuart and I didn’t have a relationship after he and my mother divorced, but for much of my life he was my father. In fact, he was the only father I ever truly had. He was a complicated man, capable of sinking to very low lows but also capable of incredible kindness and caring. The stories of the lows are many, but since his death, I make an effort to focus on the good things, and those, too, were many.
Two days after Stuart passed away, I found myself sitting in my mother’s kitchen at 3am with my younger brother. We spent the night drinking tequila and talking about his dad. A memory I shared with him that night was one of my fondest, the memory of the first night I met Stuart. He and my mother were dating for a little while and she brought him home to meet me. I think I was about eight years old, maybe nine. What was supposed to happen was that I would come out of my room, be introduced and be charming, then disappear back into my room for the rest of the night. As is still typical of plans about me made without asking me, the plan went askew. When I went out to meet him, I showed Stuart one of the drawings I did that afternoon. He was so sweet, and seemed so interested, that when I went back into my room, instead of staying in there like a good girl, I immediately came back out with another drawing to show him. He expressed an interest in that one, too. And so the rest of my mom and Stuart’s date that night consisted of me popping in and out of my room with more and more drawings. I’m sure I must have shown him twenty pictures that night.
A lot of men would have lost interest after the first time, maybe the third if he liked kids, but Stuart stayed interested and kind throughout the whole thing. (Or at least was nice enough to act like that fifteenth cartoon drawing was fascinating.) The next day, my mother chastised me for being a ham, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that Stuart was sweet to me, and to a little girl starved for paternal attention, that was a balm.
After my mother and Stuart moved in together and eventually married, there were the normal blended family growing pains. Things weren’t always happy and became less happy over time, but I will never forget that first meeting and how kind he was to a little girl who desperately needed kindness.