He came to meet my mom on Thanksgiving Day. He joined us for dinner, and afterwards he took my mom out on their first date. He came back on Friday and gave my brother and I both a model car kit for us to put together. When we told him we did not know much about cars (we were 10 and 8 at the time) he took us out on Saturday to have cheeseburgers and to go look at cars.
Less than a month after this set of events, he and my mom got married. To this point we had been raised solely by my mom, with occasional help from my grandmother and grandfather. My grandfather, who we called Papi, was the only male influence in our lives.
We asked him what he wanted us to call him, since he and my mom were married now. He said we could call him Don. We asked if it was OK if we called him Dad, and for the next 35 years he was our “Dad.”
People were often confused about our relationship. We never called him our stepfather – he was our Dad. He never talked about his stepkids, we were his “boys.” So when they called him “Mr. Bullis” or they thought we were the “Simpson” boys, we just shook it off and kept on going.
Life was not always easy with this new relationship. At times we were quite downright ornery with him, and I regret that to this day. While our friends played on Saturdays, we were fixing up used cars to resell or collecting scrap metal for extra money for the family. We had chores to do everyday before my mom and dad got home. We were not allowed to have the TV on during the day and had to keep ourselves busy. We had an old swimming pool in the backyard that needed to be torn down and filled in. Guess who did it? Yep, my brother and I.
So was he a tyrant? As kids we thought so. But when we change out a clutch in a car, rebuild our brakes, or do major repairs around the house now, we have him to thank for our acquired skills. When I find myself working my rear end off on a project, I know I got my work ethic from him.
After my dad passed a way a few years ago my brother made an amazing statement. I don’t remember the context, but he said that the most important thing that he learned from my dad was how to love. What an awesome legacy. And my brother was absolutely right.
You see, he did not have to love us. He loved my mom, and we came with the package. Too many step-parents don’t realize that much of what they see in their new spouse is the love that they have for their children. My dad chose to love us. He chose to call us his boys. He chose be our dad. And that is what he will always be to me. My dad. I had a biological father that I don’t really remember all that well since he left when I was less than two years old. But my dad was there as I grew up, got married, and had a family of my own.
Today my dad would have been 80 years old. I wish he was still around to see what my life has become. I wish I could share with him the joy of being a grandpa. I want to show him how I built my raised garden beds from the lumber of the deck that I tore down. He probably would have shown me how to do it better, but I would have loved the feedback.
Three days from now will be Fathers Day. I don’t need a special day to remember him. He remains in my heart every day. I miss you Dad.