But a few of those lessons I've learned...I've only learned because I was willing to accept Molly, the daughter of the woman I loved, and call her my own.
1. Love is a choice.
When the doctors ask me about Molly's parents' medical history...I have to say - "Honey, what medical conditions did (ex-boyfriend / Molly's biological father) have?" I know that she isn't my 'flesh and blood' - not only that her mother and I weren't together back then; but I've seen the DNA tests that were run for child support. But I love her. I was blessed to be a part of Molly's life from when she was just a few days old. And she will always be my girl.
I used to wonder..."Would I rather let other people think that my wife and I had a daughter together, almost a year before we got married; or would I rather let other people know that my wife had a relationship with some other guy and got pregnant."
The first couple years we were married, all of our friends knew the whole story...and really didn't care. As the years went on, almost nobody asked.
In fact, at my last job, I had co-workers who didn't know that Molly was my stepdaughter.
When people ask how my wife and I got together, I skip a lot of the stuff in the middle. (We met in January 1999. We started dating in September 2000, when Molly was 5 months old.) She doesn't skip it. To her, it's a good story, has a happy ending, and is worth telling.
I wanted things to look normal...not only to Molly (who, through no fault of her own, has a stepfather)...but to the rest of my world...
3. Don't mess with Papa Bear.
The Mrs. and I have four children. Molly has a younger brother, sister, and another brother. When we were expecting Olivia, a friend of ours asked us, "So, what are you having?" "A girl." "That's nice. Now Steven will have one of each."
My wife, noticing my anger rising, quickly explained..."Steven would tell you that he already does, with Molly and Noah" (If I'd managed to get my mouth open, it would've been a very angry comment, saying the same thing.)
A few months later, at a family gathering, one of my relatives tried to tell Molly that I wasn't her "real dad". "Is too!" "Is not!" "Is too!" Thankfully my brother got that relative - who was only 8 at the time - to zip his lip. Ruined the whole day for me. (When we explained to Molly that 'Mommy was with someone else before she was with Daddy, and someone else is your biological father', Molly said 'I knew that for years, Mom.')
I am Molly's dad. I swat the spiders. In a few years, I'll be trying to intimidate her boyfriend. Someday, I'll walk her down the aisle.
4. Don't mess with Mama Bear.
A friend of ours used to tell us that we were taking something away from Molly by not actively trying to cultivate a relationship between Molly and her biological father. Being diplomatic, he had once asked why I hadn't already adopted her; and right now he's in another state. As far as I know, he has as much contact with her as he wants...none.
The Mrs. has been insistent that I'm all the dad that Molly needs. And, with her family history (a long story), it is a high compliment when she says that.
5. Some stepfathers can be total jerks.
I read my paper...and time after time, I see it...stepfathers or mothers' boyfriends abusing the kids. From the Precious Doe case in '01 (I still tear up when I read that)...to friends I know...it's awful. I hate it. It makes me want to shun that label even more...
"I'm convinced that if one can't be a dad to a woman's young child(ren), he shouldn't marry her. And if a single mother has found a man who would make a good husband but not a good father...she should keep looking."
"Let's just say I pray to God that there is a very very hot and painful corner of hell reserved for stepfathers / boyfriends of mothers who mistreat their stepchildren...no one gives medals to stepdads who just treat their stepchildren like their own, who handle ex-issues with fairness and calmness, whether the child calls him 'Dad' or 'Neil'. "
Bring on Mike Brady and Saint Joseph of Nazareth.
6. A few things you don't say...at least around me.
"Beat them like a red-headed stepchild."
7. I can live with her last name - she has her maternal grandmother's maiden name. But I've still got her under "Molly Pratt" on my cell phone.
Reposted/amended from a post on Momaroo