Wyatt (5-years-old) holding two cups on his chest
I asked my friend Glen to write about his experience suddenly becoming a father to a grown boy. Here’s his story…
By Glen Starkey
I was 50 when I first married, acquiring—along with my bride—a 10-year-old boy named Jaden who felt not so much that he was gaining a stepfather as that he was losing his mother. Suddenly his mother had someone. What did he have? Less attention from his mom and some dude whose house he now lived in.
It wasn’t as if his father wasn’t in the picture. His dad, an excellent but underemployed musician, lived—still lives—in a tree house and can supply little to his son’s welfare beyond emotional support and a weekly outing or two.
What did I know about fatherhood, or even step-fatherhood? I’ve never had kids before. I’d only lived with a woman once before, about 25 years prior, and that lasted a whopping, painful six months. Not only was I navigating for the first time a truly committed romantic relationship, I also had a little man in my life, and I could barely remember what it was like to be 10.
I guess I should backtrack for a moment. It wasn’t like my relationship with my wife was some whirlwind. We dated for seven months before she and her son moved in, lived together for a year before I asked her to marry me, and were engaged for another year before we tied the knot. I’ve known Jaden since he was eight, and this summer he’ll turn 12. We haven’t killed each other yet… so that’s good.
Of course, my relationship with Jaden has, like all relationships, gone through ups and downs. I’ve tried to be his pal. I’ve been forced to scold him when he misbehaves. It’s been difficult getting him to pitch in and help out around the house. He’s an only child who’s spent a lot of time with his doting grandparents, so our house can feel repressive to him, even though I think we sometimes spoil him rotten. Buying his “love” is a trap. I know this. It’s all a challenge. But I’ve tried to find ways to make it work and to build a closer relationship.
When he and his mother first moved in, I asked a friend whose marriage had just been destroyed by his wife’s teenage son if he had any advice for me. His stepson had so grown to hate him, my friend feared for his life… or for what he might have to do to his stepson to defend himself. He told me, “Touch him every day and tell him you love him every day.”
Yeah, the touching thing seemed a little creepy to me too, but I started to put my hand on Jaden’s shoulder when I’d see him, bump into him a bit when we walked somewhere, and squeeze him onto the couch when we watched TV. I told him every day, “I love you, little man,” and he’d say back, “I love you, man.”
I don’t have any magic formula for dealing with the reality of suddenly having a kid in your life. It’s a day-to-day thing. Sometimes it can be tough. I look at his face and I see my beautiful wife and I see Jaden’s dad. I don’t see me. I’m not in there. Jaden doesn’t act like me; he doesn’t think like me; sometimes I don’t think he thinks at all.
He can sometimes be an insolent little dick. I keep waiting for him to scream, “Fuck you! You’re not my dad!” It seems like he’s 11 going on 14. But I try to focus on all the things I like about him. Like me, he can be sensitive. He cares about other people and animals. He worries about the fate of the world. He likes to draw and create. He’s smart and funny. He also has his dad’s talent for music, and when he sings in his sweet, high voice and plays his ukulele, I swell with pride and tear up at how good he is even though I know I have nothing to do with those talents.
Every single day I try to remember he’s my kid now, too. My son. My responsibility. When I made a commitment to his mom, I made a commitment to him. I’ve always believed that love isn’t just an emotion; it’s also a decision. And I’ve decided on love.
On Sunday, I was jumping on a friend’s trampoline with Wyatt and Boone. They wanted me to bounce them around, so they were tucked in little balls while I jumped near them, sending them in the air.
We were all having a blast until one of Wyatt’s legs slipped out just as I was coming down. I shifted my foot mid-descent to avoid snapping his leg and landed directly on the side of my ankle.
Now, I can barely walk. I’m using an old golf club as a cane as I hobble around on what feels like the worst sprain I’ve ever had.
The good news is this now justifies the purchase of that cane with hidden sword I’ve always wanted.
(image via edgesofreality.com)
We just saw Mr. Peabody & Sherman on the 20th Century Fox studio lot, thanks to a friend. Oh, and when I say “we” I mean Boone found it too intense and made my wife take him to the lobby for most of the film, so I chivalrously stayed and watched it with Wyatt.
I doubt this was done by an actual kid (the writing’s too neat for a child who’d use that toy), but it’s still rad.
Random question, would you “hold” wyatt back and have boone go on? You know I know nothing, just wondering?
We’d like to avoid that, but ultimately we’d do what’s best for his education. See, here’s the thing:
I’m not sure how it works in other districts, but in ours, at the start of kindergarten, they separate kids into different classes based on reading skill. And while Wyatt’s reading ability is in the average range for his age, Boone is reading at a much higher level than a lot of kids. So, they’d probably be placed in separate classes.
But, Wyatt learns better when he’s around Boone (and vice versa). So, we’re working now to try to ensure they get placed together. That means we’re helping Wyatt with reading at home and they both see a tutor on weekends just to help out.
All of that said, we don’t want to pressure Wyatt into keeping up with his brother academically. It’s just not fair to him. So, if they do end up getting separated, we hope it’s because it truly benefits him.