Men Who Take on Other Men’s Children

by Linda Rodriguez
My stepfather coaching my little brother’s Litlle League team

When I look back on my life, I realize I’ve been lucky
enough to be closely involved with three men who had the ability to take on
children who weren’t their own genetic children and love and care for them as
fathers. It will be Father’s Day soon, and I want to say a word or two about
these kinds of unsung heroes.

My birth father was a brutal, unpredictable man. I suspect
he would now be diagnosed as a clinical sociopath. After my parents’
scandalous, highly contentious divorce and all of the violent, ugly fallout
afterward, my mother settled in a small college town in Kansas and met a quiet
man she married when I was fifteen.

My stepfather immediately tried to be a good father to me,
which meant, among other things, setting limits and being protective. My birth
parents had both been irresponsible and sometimes dangerous children, so from
my earliest memories I was the pseudo-adult in the house, the one who worried
about all my younger siblings and tried to protect them and care for them so they
could have as normal a childhood as possible. No one had ever looked after me
or tried to take care of me, so I resented my new stepfather’s efforts

As the next few years went by and I observed my stepfather’s
treatment of my younger siblings, for whom I still felt so responsible although
I’d left home at sixteen, I warmed to him. He was doing his best to be a real dad
to them, taking them camping and fishing, making them toys, coaching Little
League teams, etc. In time, like my younger siblings, I came to call him Dad.
When I gave my parents their first grandchildren, he was a doting grandfather,
and when he finally died, he died in my sister’s and my arms with all my
brothers and the grandchildren around his bed.

At the time I married my late first husband, I already had a
baby, whose father had died. My late first husband loved my oldest as much as
either of the two children we had together, and that was one of the things I
loved about him, that capacity to open his heart to a child who wasn’t his own genetically
just as much as to those who were.

Later when I was a single mother of two teenagers in the
final years of high school and my youngest was only four years old, I met and
married a man who’d never been married or had children. He had enough sense not
to try to be a father to my teens, who would have only resented him for it, but
he loved and raised my youngest as his own. This gentle, totally urban
intellectual did the zoo safari, even though he was embarrassed that everyone
else had to help him put up the huge tent he’d rented, and when our little one
left the tent open to the depredations of peacocks and collapsed the whole tent
on his stepfather when they were packing up to leave, he was so kind that he
earned a hand-printed, hand-drawn certificate of membership in “The Loyal Order
of Peacock Fathers.” My youngest and my husband to this day have a close,
loving father-son relationship, and because he was so patient, he and my older
two children have a warm relationship as well.

My sister has two sons. One father is a deadbeat, missing in
action because he’s never wanted to be financially responsible for his child
after the divorce (just as he hadn’t for all of the other children he had that
my sister didn’t know about when they married). The father of the youngest paid
support but simply refused to see his own son. For these boys, my current
husband has been a father-figure. The younger one clung to my husband and
waited eagerly for our visits and his to us. My husband used to shake his head
on the way home and wonder at the idiocy of the men who refused to have any
contact with their gifted, charming boys. At Christmastime, these two nephews,
now grown, delight in finding eccentric books and other gifts that will please
my husband, often keeping an eye out for them all year.

I’ve seen firsthand what a difference men like this can and
do make in the lives of children whose fathers are gone, sometimes dead,
sometimes by choice. So here’s a toast to the men who take on other men’s
offspring and give them love and a true father’s care, even when it isn’t easy,
even when those other men have left emotional damage behind. To Dad, to
Michael, to Ben, and to all of the other men out there like them, you are the
true salt of the earth!

Linda Rodriguez’s third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear, was a selection of
the Las Comadres National Latino Book Club and a Latina Book Club Best Book for
2014. Her second Skeet mystery,
Broken Trust
, was a selection of Las Comadres National Latino Book Club, International
Latino Book Award, and a finalist for the Premio Aztlan Literary Prize. Her
first Skeet novel,
Every Last Secret,
won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel
Competition and an International Latino Book Award. Her short story, “The Good
Neighbor,” has been optioned for film. Find her on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda,
on Facebook at,
and on her blog

REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger still hates me):

Thank you, Pam!

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