…I stood at my mother’s side as she recited marriage vows for the second time in her life. I do not have clear memories of this occasion, but have learned from retelling after retelling that my 5-year-old brother (the ring-bearer) would not stop flinging the pillow that had previously held the rings around during the ceremony and later tried to order prime rib at the reception. I know from pictures that my mother was glowing with happiness, and that the style of her second wedding has stood the test of time much better than her gaudy wedding of 1985. 

The same statement could be made of the marriages that followed the respective weddings. My mother was the third in an ever-growing line of women to be manipulated by my biological father into being the perfect wife while he romped around, obtaining sketchy business deals and sexually transmitted diseases. Although they divorced when I was young, I can remember the air of anxiety, shame, and subtle rage that permeated our household during those years. 

By contrast, in my stepfather, my mother found a stable man who treated her with respect and dignity. They were introduced by a mutual friend and became smitten immediately. To this day, if you ask my stepfather (who I have called “Dad” since I was six) what his favorite color is, he will reply with, “The blue of your mother’s eyes.” He was not without his baggage: a father with an alcohol problem, an unfaithful ex-wife, siblings who could not seem to function in the world. But, unlike my biological father, his problems were his own.

His first test came when I became violently ill while he was having dinner with my mother at our house. The second was when my brother got sick all over him while sitting on his lap, looked at him, and exclaimed, “Ew! You’re all wet!” The third and most difficult test was my obsession with driving him out of our family, protesting, “Why are you always here? Why don’t you just go home?!” He thoughtfully and compassionately dealt with all of these.

My dad became a safe base for my brother and me. Where my biological father was unpredictable, my dad was steady. Where my father was never able to meet our emotional needs, my dad was there with a hug and genuine empathy. While my father chose time and time again to not show up, my dad could be counted on to attend recitals, parent-teacher conferences, and t-ball games. He introduced us to new things without being pushy and was there to catch us when we fell. 

In addition to choosing to take on the responsibilities of parenting where another had chosen to give up, my dad made my mother immensely happy. We could laugh again. While they have had disagreements over the years, I have never heard one of them raise their voice or address the other with anything less than respect. We learned to be the spontaneous, openly affectionate people we could not be with my biological father around.

So as I stood in front of our gathered family and friends 17 years ago and watched as my mother said her vows, I was content. I say this not because I remember, but because it had to have been so. My mom and dad getting married cemented our identity has a family that had its problems, but was ultimately happy and healthy. They have shown me and my siblings what healthy love, communication, and relationships look like, and I am forever grateful to them for all that they have given me. Mom and dad, although you will never read this, thank you. I love you.