Friday, December 23, 2005

introducing: my Paul

reposted from another, lamer, blog site

Paul came into my life sometime after my eighth birthday. He is not my stepfather.

When I was eight, my father moved out of the house. I remember it because we had one of our regular Saturday family meetings, and the topic was something like, “you two have noticed that your mother and I have been fighting a lot, so we’ve been talking about how to solve that problem.” The proposed solution was that Dad get a place of his own. We’d still see him all the time, but he wouldn’t live in the same house, and so he and Mom wouldn’t have to fight. My sister and I agreed that this was a good solution for all concerned. Dad got an apartment downtown.

I don’t remember a big deal around meeting Paul. Both my parents already knew him, so it’s quite possible that my sister and I had already met him before he and my Mom started sleeping together. What I do remember is running into him in the hall occasionally at night (adults slept naked for some reason, but I don’t remember thinking he was ugly or anything), and that he had the COOLEST APARTMENT EVER. It was on Avenue Road, and the kitchen had black and white tiles and a cafĂ© table with stools, and the livingroom had deep shag carpet, wall to wall drapes, and velvet chairs, one green, one red. We typically went there before or after my basketball games at the Y. Paul listened to jazz and read a lot.

The idea of having a stepfather or stepmother simply never came up. I had a mother, and I had a father. Their relationships with me had not changed. Paul became a part of my life, and I liked him and I guess he liked me. He was my mother’s boyfriend. Later, he was my mother’s life partner. I talked to him about stuff. He offered his wisdom when appropriate. I moved in with my Dad when I was eleven, and after that, Paul seemed like the only real adult in my life. As I grew up, more and more I found that my parents had to be taken care of, but Paul never seemed to need me. He just was there if I needed him.

Years later, I came to refer to Paul as “my third parent.” Today, however, I was told with no hesitation by a co-worker… that Paul is my stepfather. I sat there, a 38-year-old who has had Paul in her life for about 30 years of her life, and was told that Paul is my stepfather whether I use the word or not.


I can’t tell you why most people assume he is my stepfather. I can tell you why Paul is not my stepfather, and it’s this: Because my sense of “family” is not about a child living with a mother and a father. My sense of family is not so restricted. To me, family is two or more persons who are bound to each other for life. When a child is involved, family is the people that child can go to come hell or high water, for love and for protection, whether he needs to do so or not. But new family members don’t replace or substitute for the originals. I have a mother. Her name is Mary Ann. I have a father. His name is David. Any people they chose to add to my family when I was still a child, whatever gender or sexual preference or nationality… would be part of my family. Period.

Would they be, automatically, parents? No.

Paul was not my parent when I was growing up. I already had parents. I tried to respect other adults who were due respect, which he was. I conversed with them as equals when possible, and (sometimes) deferred to them as knowing elders otherwise. In my teens, I referred to Paul as either my friend or “my mother’s life partner.”

It’s as an adult that I realized how much he has meant to me, how he has always been there for me –but more to the point has always been there for my mother and enriched her life so much in ways that have supported my own. It’s as an adult that I can say without hesitation that I would simply not be me if it hadn’t been for Paul being a part of my life. It’s as an adult that I can talk with him in a kitchen in Newfoundland and wonder how I can ever repay him for what he has given to my mother and, through her, to me.

He is not my stepfather. That would in no way express what he means to me. Paul is my Paul. And I’m so very glad he is my friend.

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