I don’t remember much but brief flashes from very early childhood. I don’t remember my biological father ever being around, ever visiting, ever sending cards or letters. Well, that is until he was placed behind bars. In the end, my biological father turned out to be a good man, who as a young man found himself in bad situations, one after another. The point here is, my biological father lost his chance to be my dad.
My mother tells me I was about 3 years old when my biological father left us. We lived in a trailer, he took the car. Mom carpooled to work until she found a job that was close enough to walk to. I hear that’s when she met my real dad.
My real dad turned out to be a big, strong man. He lifted weights and I would try to build my muscles too. He would laugh when I demanded him to, “feel my muscles!” and he would use his giant index finger and thumb to measure my tiny, little arm. Sometimes he would squash my miniscule muscle flat with no effort from his finger, other times he would smile and open his eyes wide and tell me, “Wow, you really are getting stronger!”
For my fourth birthday, he and my mom bought me a bike and they taught me how to ride it. Then he took off the training wheels for me. They taught me lots of things over the next few years. Then they taught me how to share their attention. My mom and my real dad got married and then gave me a little sister. Right around the time my sister was born, my real dad went to court to adopt me. He told my mom I’d already stolen his heart so I might as well take his last name too.
I was in the third grade by then, and getting mouthy. My real dad tried to work with me and to keep me out of trouble at school. He tried to calm my mother when I was annoying both of them. He still chose to adopt me, and although I resisted at first, I started calling him by his new name, ‘Dad’.
Life was getting better by the year, but by the time I turned twelve, mom and dad got a divorce. It was really hard on my sister. I didn’t think it bothered me, but almost twenty years later I realize it must have; because shortly after Dad moved out, I became even more unruly.
I disrupted classes and was in detention on a fairly regular basis. I disrespected my teachers and even my classmates. I skipped classes. I never came home on time. I lied — about everything. I stole things. I broke things. I snuck out of the house. Then I attempted to run away from home altogether. I did it again and again. After a while I suppose it became somewhat of an exhausting game. My mother wouldn’t give up on me though. Each time she had the police find me and bring me home. My dad was there every other Saturday, and every Sunday. I rejected him. I told myself that he wasn’t my “real dad.” I avoided him. I chose to work shifts at my job on Sundays and holidays so that I wouldn’t have to spend time with any of my family. I hurt everyone who cared about me.
Dad didn’t force me to visit him. Mom did. She knew that I needed fathering and by doing this, they both did the right thing for me. Dad didn’t push me away when I was annoying and disrespectful and downright bratty. He corrected me. He tried to remember my teenage point of view. That must not have been that hard, it’d only been a few years earlier for both of my young parents. He gave me space, but he was there to teach me when I needed it. He listened, and then he talked. He didn’t let me run all over him. He rarely yelled. He didn’t have to. He was aware that his mass and his intensity spoke without saying a word and that he could lay out the power of the boom in his voice that I swear would vibrate any skull into resignation. My mother certainly had powers of her own, but her feminine, 4-foot-11 3/4 frame could never utilize these tools that my real dad could wield effortlessly. He laid down the law and he put me in my place more than a few times. He taught me the practicalities, politics and nuances of life. He and my mother both taught me that knowledge and hard work are keys to unlocking the American Dream. He taught me how I should expect to be treated and how to respect and take care of myself. I didn’t see him a lot, but he helped me more than I will probably ever realize.
My parents didn’t have to keep working so hard on me. They could have chosen to let me go to a detention center or to a “bad girl’s school.” They could have ignored me and let me do what I wanted. My dad wasn’t forced to adopt me and once the divorce was final, he could have given up on me. After all, I wasn’t really his kid, why should he pay for me? Why should he put up with my attitude? His biological daughter was a perfect child, a joy even, while his adopted daughter was, at times, a complete disgrace.
Lucky for me, my real dad made the best choice. He and my mother saw what very few people could see in me then. He stepped up to the plate when it mattered. Now I’m done with my graduate degree, working in a demanding field, contributing to society, married to the mate of my soul and helping to raise my three step-children. I thank God for the blessing that my parents didn’t give up on me when I needed them the most. Can you imagine what America could be if we had more real parents?
Parenting is the most challenging work in life. It’s also the most rewarding. Just ask any real dad or mom, or even my dad, Ed.
Thank you, Dad!
Nicole (Burnside) Ebisch was born and raised in Westfield, where father currently lives, though she and her family now live in Erie.