My stepdaughter has been telling me she loves me a lot lately. I know. Big deal, right? Well, actually, it is.
Don't get me wrong. My stepdaughter and I have always had a good relationship. And part of the reason is that I included her in on virtually every part of my relationship with her mom. She even helped me propose. I knew they were a package deal, and there was no way I was going to leave that little girl out.
But that doesn't mean we haven't had our moments. We have. This blended family business is a tricky one.
Her biological dad is totally involved. He has her 5 out of 14 nights and never flakes on any of his fatherly obligations. He loves her to pieces and she loves him. And as one of the three folks (four, if you count her dad's longtime girlfriend) who are chartered with raising her, I couldn't be happier about that fact. Because everyone knows that the odds of a little girl growing into a healthy and well-adjusted adult are the greatest of all when her biological father is in the picture. She needs him, and the one thing I've never tried to do is replace him.
There's been no need. He's doing a great job.
But that doesn't mean that I get a hall pass. That doesn't mean I can just be her buddy. I still have to be a father figure. And I've found that this whole two-father deal has a downside for the guy who's not the real McCoy.
For example, five years ago I took my stepdaughter on a camping trip. It was her very first time in the woods and she absolutely loved it. We went whitewater rafting, ate NY strips which I'd cooked over an open fire, and even weathered a gnarly storm together.
The entire ride back, she gushed about what a great time she'd had, but an hour or two after we got home, the good-time buzz was gone. She lashed out and openly disrespected me in bizarre and over-the-top ways. My wife and I eventually figured out why.
My stepdaughter and I had had a blast together. Just the two of us. And she loved every bit of the experience, including the man who took her to the woods and kept her safe and warm for 48 hours. And if she loved me, then where did her biological dad fit in?
The best way to make sure he still had his place was for her to put me in mine.
That was a tough week. But if I think it's tough being a stepdad, think how tough it must be for that little girl to be a stepdaughter. That's what I always try to do, at least.
So fast forward to today and this is what you've got: a blended family of seven that spends a ton of time together. My stepdaughter is now blood related to a handful of junior associates who are blood related to me, as her mother and I have given her four siblings (three at once), whom she adores.
And nothing has changed with her dad. He's still around. He's still a great dad. He still loves her to bits. She still loves him to bits. And we still have a really good working relationship with him.
So, yeah, my stepdaughter has been telling me that she loves me a lot lately. And I think it's because she really does love me and has finally figured out that it's safe to admit as much to herself. And to me. At least that's what I hope.
But you know what I hope for even more? I hope that one day she looks back on our first few years and sees that the truest love is a patient one.
Even if it doesn't get the immediate results it's looking for.
Read more from John Cave Osborne at his personal blog JohnCaveOsborne.com