“Love Begets Love,” column for April 23 2013

I never wanted my children to have a stepfather. My parents divorced when I was 2, and my mother soon remarried. My stepfather was a good man, but he wasn’t my daddy. I blamed him unreasonably for that.

One day in in third grade, the teacher asked aloud in front of everyone — God and all his angels and 30 pairs of perked-up ears — why my mother’s last name was different from mine.

I rose slowly from my seat and swallowed hard.

“Because,” I said, “she never listens to me. She divorced my daddy and married my stepdad against my advice. And now I have to explain to people why we have different names.”

In the ’50s, in the South, divorce was a rarity. I might as well have said, “Because my mother is from Earth, and I am from Mars, on a mission to enlighten ignorant teachers.”

Twenty years later, my first child came home from kindergarten to ask, “Mom, do I have a stepdad?”

“Of course not,” I said. “Why in the world would you ask that?”

He shrugged. “All the other kids have stepdads.”

I promised him that day he would never have a stepdad. It was not a promise I would keep.

He and his sister and brother were in their late teens to early 20s when we lost their dad to cancer. Years later, when I decided to remarry, it was in part because I saw the kind of father my intended was to his two boys, and I knew he’d be a good stepdad to my children.

The kids liked him from the start. They especially liked that he made me happy. If he made Mom happy, they were happy. If he didn’t, God help him.

Nobody starts out in life aspiring to be a good “step.” It’s a default role, a second-class citizen, a substitute teacher, a giant “step” from the real thing.

My children loved their father. No one could take his place.

My new husband knew this. He wouldn’t want it any other way. He just tried to be the best stepdad he could be. Mostly, he tried by not trying. He never pushed, never assumed, just stayed in the background and let the kids come to him.

Imagine my delight (and his) when my kids sent him birthday cards and Father’s Day cards and bought Christmas presents especially for him.

The icing on the cake — the real seal of approval — came when my daughter asked him to walk her down the aisle at her wedding.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

None of this surprised me, really. I knew he’d be a great stepdad. What never occurred to me then — before my children had children — was what kind of step-grandpa he would be.

My grandsons — Randy, 2 and a half; Henry, 1 and a half; and 4-month-old Wiley — will never know my late husband, their grandfather. They will hear countless stories of who he was, things he did, all the ways they are like him. They will know how much he loves them.

But they will never play catch with him, or beat him at hoops, or ask him to buy them a car.

Lucky for them, they will have “Papa Mark,” who is not their real grandpa, but acts like one, and loves them just the same.

One evening, Randy and Papa Mark were sitting on the floor playing with model cars.

“Randy,” I said, glancing at the clock, “would you like Nana to read you a story before bed?”

“No, ‘shank’ you, Nana,” he said. “I want to play with Papa Mark. I like him better.”

Then, as if to clarify, he added, “I ‘yuv’ you, Papa Mark.”

Long ago, I learned this about love: You can never have too much of it. I could love my stepfather and still love my dad. One love doesn’t diminish another or compete in any way. Love begets love — especially in the heart of a child.

I believe that absolutely.

But the next time Randy comes to visit, I’m going to buy myself a fleet of model cars.


  1. Steve Owen says

    I was very aggrieved at the insensitivity of your teacher. I had the same kind of tears on reading that as I did when I first heard “Coat of Many Colors”. Thank you for writing a column about the overcoming power of love.

  2. Jacqi Templeton says

    Thank you for this beautiful column which I read in our daily newspaper this morning. Over the past 10 years, since we moved to a town whose paper carried your column, you have made me laugh and/or cry many a time. I pretty much sobbed all the way through this one. Fortunately, I believe a good cry is almost as therapeutic as a hearty laugh. I’ve often thought about writing to thank you, but until now, I’ve always lost the scrap of paper with your address on it that I’ve torn out of the paper. I’m so glad to find this website full of your past columns! What a treat they’ll be!

  3. I wish to thank you for the Step Dad column. I am happy to say, I am. I have 3 children of my own and 6 Step’s from 2 marriages. the second was the hardest. Low and behold about 4 years ago. the most rebelious of the 2 girls, not only came to visit with her children but had instructed them to call me PawPaw (thats what all my Grandkids use). We also had a very long talk about some of her choices, which she understands now, were less than desireable. We are closer now than we were when I was married to her mother. My current wife (14yrs), has 3 girls , all married with 3-4 children each. I get fathers day cards, birthday cards, Christmas cards. I also go to all my grandskids birthday parties, together I have been blessed with 17 Grandkids and 1 Great granddaughter.
    It has been a hard road but the lining turned out golden.

    Thanks again for a great article.
    Tim Reams

  4. Thank you aunt sharon, Pa Case had our hearts but so did Pa Paw John. I miss both of them so much………

  5. Pat Poarch says

    I wish your column had a “like” button. I always enjoy reading it. It brings tears, smiles, chuckles, and just good feelings. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. Paulette Lynch says

    So beautiful and moving…..THANK YOU SHARON!!!!

  7. Gloria Smith says

    My grandfather was a “step” grandfather but I never thought of him as anything but my Grandfather. He loved us as his own and we loved him just as much. After my grandmother passed, John had health problems that meant he needed someone there with him. My sister and I stayed with him and never thought twice about taking care of him. He was family and as they say blood does not always make a family,love does.

  8. Dolores Daley says

    Marie Whittington was a friend of mine from high school on – through college, European travels, retirement. I loved her and I loved Bob, and I know how much family meant to them. How I wish she could read this lovely column.

  9. Nancy Chapman says

    I love this column. Yesterday I wrote a memoir about my Dad, and the special, loving man he was. Until I read your column I didn’t realize that nowhere did I mention that he was my step-father. It says a lot for him!!

Speak Your Mind