My Real Father

by Erin Morrison-Fortunato
Originally Published: 

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They say that girls marry their fathers. Each time that I am reminded of this saying, I thank God or fate or the universe or whoever or whatever is out there and is on my side. I am thankful that my biological father is not my real father.

Sweat plastered my hair against my head as I ripped off my riding helmet. As a chubby middle-schooler, an hour on horseback in the blazing sun worked up a thirst. I turned to my stepfather, who must have been equally parched having spent that same hour standing in that same blazing sun watching my lesson, and asked for a dollar for the vending machine. He gladly obliged before putting me in the cab of my father’s truck, still cool with air conditioning as he had arrived five minutes before the end of my lesson.

Immediately upon the wheels hitting the road, my father turned on me. “You will never again ask that man for money when I am there. I am your father, and you will ask me for what you need. I will provide what you need,” he insisted in an angry, yet eerily monotone and controlled voice.

Even at the age of 12, I understood his hypocrisy.

Just weeks earlier, my biological father had withdrawn all financial support for my extracurriculars, withdrawn support for anything beyond that which he was required by law to pay. My mother, a school nurse, was far from rich, and, horseback riding is an expensive hobby. While I took up mucking stalls and watering horses at the stables to defray costs, my stepfather, an elementary school teacher, stepped up to help with the costs.

Now, as I was trapped inside this metal box with a raging, unforgiving, jealous man, I knew that he had never been and would never be, my real father.

To the world outside, my biological father was handsome, intelligent, driven, and focused. To me, he was frightening, cold, unforgiving, resentful, and inappropriate.

My mother divorced my biological father while she was pregnant: unquestionably, the best parenting decision she has ever made. When I was 8-months-old, she began dating a teacher at the school where she was the nurse. He became a constant presence in my life.

My biological father nicknamed me “Sports Fan,” a ridiculous moniker as I couldn’t care less about sports. This misnomer became representative of our relationship: he didn’t know me and didn’t care to know me. He quizzed me on science and math facts. He didn’t allow television. He took me camping, in the dreary, muddy, spooky woods, where I felt cold and uncomfortable and lonely. He taught me to shoot a gun, which terrified me.

My stepfather nicknamed me ‘Bunsarunski,’ a nonsense word that has no real meaning, but, somehow, fits me to a tee. He let me win at checkers, wrestled with me, showed me magic tricks, and taught me to ride a bike.

My biological father was married to my stepmother, a lovely, intelligent, and successful woman, for several years. She was stable part of my life. And, then, she was gone. They divorced, and she was gone, forbidden from saying goodbye. There were other women, women to whom I was introduced and grew attached before they mysteriously and confusingly disappeared.

My stepfather was consistent: always there, always reliable. Because I am an only child, I craved family. My stepfather is one of eight children. And his big, warm, loving, loud family provides tradition and stability and joy in my life and the lives of my children.

My biological father had expectations of me to which I could never live up, and didn’t want to achieve. On my thirteenth birthday, my biological father told me we would celebrate with dinner. Instead, he drove me to a secluded road in a park and lectured me about my weight, confirming all of those fears buried in my head by the bullies at school who told me I was ugly, unworthy of love, disgusting. Then, he drove me home and dropped me off.

I refused to do it anymore. I cut myself off, cut him out of my life.

A real father is there to chase a toddler around with a pot after dosing her with ipecac syrup because she ate her grandfather’s shoe polish. He’s there to pick her up when she crashes her bike, destroying her knees and elbows. He’s there to take care of the bunny his daughter once thought was cute, but eventually abandoned. He sits through every performance of every school musical. He patiently teaches her to drive a stick shift while she destroys the transmission of his car. He sticks by your mother while she battles breast cancer and recovers from a mastectomy. He walks her down the aisle. He creates an embarrassing slide show to present at the reception. He helps her to paint every room in her new home. He cries when his daughter tells him she is expecting. A father comes to the hospital at 3 a.m. to meet his first grandchild. He is her children’s grandfather, their proud Papa.

My stepfather is my real father.

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