A lot of us have multiple fathers. Baby-daddies, step-dads, sperm donors, fathers, papas, sirs and the like. I have had two in my life and each had a hand in who I’ve become as person. And for the first 29 years of my life, I couldn’t appreciate what it took to be a father, so Father’s Day meant little more to me than a chance to bestow some hand-made piece of junk gift and a hug or two. Then I became a father, and the game changed, considerably.

To have a child of your own blood has an impact the likes of which cannot be paralleled. The bond remains, tested though it may be by either party, throughout the years, and I took a vow to never take that bond with my own boys lightly. When you hold your child for the first time and realize that THIS is the person for whom you’ll sacrifice your own life, for whom you’re willing to do hard time in prison, you can’t ever go back. You can’t un-know the emotion, and it builds from the moment it’s forged. Each of our children is a biologically bonded and inextricably linked by unconditional love and a selfless desire to watch them grow up healthy and strong, able to take on this world’s challenges.

This is the love of a father, and having experienced it, I can now appreciate it what it takes for a stepfather.

There is no blood bond. That child will always be the son/daughter of someone else. They’ll look like their father, and you’ll always be reminded of that each time you look at them. And yet, for a lucky few of us, we’re still loved unconditionally.

I am a lucky step son.

When I was 4, he came into our lives, a bearded carpenter with a quick laugh and an ability to make my mom smile, something that had been stolen from her over the previous few years. He wanted me to jump in the truck and go to the job-site with him. He showed me his life, he (tried to) teach me his skills, he took a genuine interest in me and he showed me unconditional love. Every boy needs that from a father.  He stepped in, he stepped up, and I’ll never have the words to express to him how much that meant to me, still means to me.

32 years have passed and he’s still the man I consider dad. We’ve had difficult times, to be sure. There’s not a soul out there who can outwork him and I’m fundamentally lazy, so you can imagine the friction that smoldered into a full-bore furnace during the teen years. Today, at 66, he can still drive me into the dirt with his work ethic, and one of my biggest fears is letting him down. He’s old-school enough that we don’t discuss such things as “emotions” or “validation” or any number of institutions he considers “communist propaganda reserved for hippies”. And that’s ok. I can always get him to visit us here in Missouri with the promise of an upcoming project that I’d be sure to screw up if he’s not here to build it right. I need to come up with a new project soon, because I miss him.

But for now, I just want to say thanks. Thanks to the man who makes my mom happy, because she deserves it. Thanks to the man that inspired me to be a worthy dad, one who can give to his children what he’d received as a young boy: a father’s love.

Thank you Robert.

Happy Father’s Day from a grateful son.