What does it take to go from friends to father and son? In 1992 I found out.
“You can’t marry Tony. He was my friend first!”
That wasn’t the response I expected from my 16-year-old son the day I informed him his Sunday school teacher and I planned to marry. I thought he would be happy. I knew Ryan liked Tony, and I knew Tony liked Ryan. What I didn’t know was the adjustment it would take to go from friends to father and son.
It takes an awful lot of courage, commitment, and faith to take on the role of a stepfather.
Tony came into our family with expectations of what his relationship with his son would look like. Once the reality of who Ryan was, not who Tony hoped he would be, became obvious, Tony adapted and realigned his expectations to meet his son’s needs.
Tony and Ryan are both sports-minded, but each shows it in different ways. They can attend the same event and come away with different insights. Tony likes to go out, try new things, and have the experience of the activity. Ryan likes to observe, cogitate, and then report about the experience.
Having the mistaken hope Ryan would like doing everything he liked to do set Tony up for disappointment. Whenever Tony planned something for the two of them, either Ryan did not want to do it, or when he did, he was not happy about it.
One Sunday evening, Tony persuaded Ryan to ride with him to church on the back of Tony’s motorcycle. Tony believed it would be a fun time of male bonding. On the way home from church that night, Ryan sat in the car next to me. Not on the back of the motorcycle.
On another occasion, we all went to the beach. Tony convinced Ryan to lie down on his surfboard in waist-high water as Tony pushed him into a wave. When Ryan reached ankle-deep water, he rolled off the board, strode to the sand, and stayed under the beach umbrella.
Finally, Tony shared his pleasure of flying small aircraft. Once airborne, Tony asked if Ryan would like to take the controls. From the look on Ryan’s blood-drained face, Tony realized what he believed was quiet fascination was pure terror.
Tony and I had a tradition when we dated, which we continued after our wedding. After church was over on Sunday evenings, we stopped by Dairy Queen with Ryan and a friend his age.
One evening, a school chum of Ryan’s took our order. Ryan introduced us as his parents. When we left, Ryan’s school friend called out, “You look a lot like your dad!”
Parents look forward to the day their children are born. One of the first things they discuss is which side of the family the newborn favors. So, what do you do if you are a stepfather? You know none of your genes passed on to your new child.
For Tony, it is more important his son reflect the godly behaviors and morals he sees him exhibit, but it doesn’t hurt for people to think Ryan favors him a little.
These days, Tony and Ryan enjoy sporting events together. As fans, not as participants. They travel together in a car. Not a motorcycle or plane. When they go to the beach together, Tony surfs while Ryan watches from the cabana.
Although Tony longed to have a son who shared his interests, he understands he cannot turn Ryan into a younger version of himself.
He realizes it is more important to be there for his son, than for his son to be like him.
I can’t say for certain when the tags on Tony’s birthday and Christmas presents from Ryan said, To Dad, instead of To Tony, but I believe it showed Ryan no longer saw Tony as the friend he said I couldn’t marry, but the man he accepted as his father. They went from friends to father and son.
Tony showed Ryan what it means to be a godly husband and father. Biological or step, isn’t that a worthy goal for any father?
I wish you well.