Friday, July 3, 2009

My "other dad"

What makes a father?

According to
The Free Dictionary a father is:
a. A male person whose sperm unites with an egg, resulting in the conception of a child.
b. A man who adopts a child.
c. A man who raises a child.

Your Dictionary defines a father as:
  1. a man who has begotten a child; esp., a man as he is related to his child or children
    1. a stepfather
    2. an adoptive father
    3. a father-in-law
Under those terms anyone can be a father. Under any terms anyone can be a father.

But what makes a dad? They're the same you say? Uh-uh. Not in my book.

I have an adopted dad, a biological dad, a step-dad, and a father-in-law. Though only one has been in my life from the beginning, they have all made a positive impact on my life in one way or another. They are all related to me either by blood or legally (two in a round about way).

An unlikely father figure became a part of my life when I was in sixth grade.

My mom was the assistant principal of the neighborhood elementary school and has first hand knowledge of all the educational camps (oh, goodie). This particular summer she signed me up for Science Camp at the junior high next door. I still remember the horrendous hair cut I had in my attempt to look like a cool skater girl. Even though it was a blazing hot, Florida summer I insisted on wearing a faded, red, hand-me-down, hand-me-down jacket (draw back of being the youngest of three daughters). I can still picture myself in that ugly thing.

I didn't know anyone in the camp so I shuffled my Converse clad feet into the room alone. It was my first time in an actual junior high classroom. The scarred black counter tops had uncomfortable looking stools around them. Big kid butts sat on those seats. All things space related surrounded the mint green walls. At the head of the classroom in between a blackboard and a large wooden desk with a counter even more scarred than the others stood the tallest man I'd ever seen. He was well over six feet tall, hairy, with a comb over and an excited, infectious smile. He greeted us warmly then began to share his love of science with a classroom full of frightened little bodies. Other than the giant, Star Trek loving teacher the only thing I remember about that camp was hooking wires to a big battery to make a light bulb turn on. Clearly I was not cut out for science but Mr. C provided a fun week for me and the other kids anyway. The only way to explain how I felt towards him is to say it was like a crush but on a friendship level.

Entering seventh grade meant I was old enough to attend youth group at my church. I was thrilled to learn that Mr. C-Jeb out of school-was one of the youth leaders. Unfortunately he was the youth leader for the high school kids. I didn't have much interaction with him except on youth retreats-which were a hoot with him around! We used to go to Southwind Retreat and the Itchnatucknee River every year and Jeb made both trips way more fun than they would have been without him. Southwind is where he taught me the truck joke which wasn't funny at all except for me laughing so hard I could barely tell it.

Me: Ask me if I'm a truck.

100's of anticipating youth: Are you a truck?

Me: No

100's of confused youths: (probably at me)

Jeb would float down the Itchnatucknee River on the longest surf board ever made. If you suddenly heard the sound of a Tarzan yell everyone knew who it was. I always tried to go down the river with Jeb because I thought the load boom of his voice along with the occasional Tarzan yell scared away the snakes and alligators. Plus, it was just way more fun to be around him. During these trips he always made himself available for anyone to talk to him if they needed an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on. He should have gotten paid to listen to all the problems I had.

Eventually, Jeb became my "other dad." When my dad was out of town or when we were arguing (usually when I'd gotten in trouble) Jeb was there. When I was dealing with bullying issues in school Jeb was there. When I decided I was moving out at the ripe old age of 14, Jeb put up with my two suitcases being stored in his room for a week. When I thought my life was over after my boyfriend broke up with me, Jeb was there. Every time. For three years. Through several boyfriends.

Just as I was about to graduate into Senior High youth group, Jeb left our church. I was devastated. I'd waited three years to be in the big kids group with the zaney, whacky, quirky leader only to have him leave. Though he didn't give specific reasons I understood he needed to leave. It was time for me to move on as well. High school was calling and the church got a new pastor who took over the Senior High group. He was almost as zaney, whacky, and quirky. Almost.

I didn't see Jeb much after that. I tried to go back and visit since the school was two blocks from my house but with high school activities, home work, and being on the dance team I never seemed to find the time.

The last time I saw Jeb was after I got married. I went to the school and there he was in the same classroom and as tall as ever. He smiled when he saw me and gave me a big hug. Telling him I'd gotten married and was having a baby in six months was difficult. Just as difficult as telling my parents I'd decided to get married after finishing only one year of college. My parents thought I should wait but I put my foot down. I felt disappointment from Jeb just as I did from my parents but knew he loved me all the same. He and my parents knew this would mean my education would suffer and they were right. I have four beautiful children and no regrets.

After that I lost contact with Jeb. It wasn't until sometime last year that I found him by accident. My best friend, Kris, finally convinced me to create a Facebook account. I did, then scrolled through her friends to see if there was anyone from her list I wanted to add. I was shocked to see Jeb's smiling face on Kris's list!
He and Kris are youth leaders at the same church. I added him to my Facebook, then to My Space, my email, and eventually to my phone. It was so good to be back in contact with my "other dad." He was so surprised that Kris and I not only knew each other but that we were such good friends. Boy is he in for a LOT of laughs whenever he gets Kris and I in the same room.

The first time I talked to Jeb on the phone was just after confronting and forgiving the girl who gave me such a hard time in junior high. My self-esteem was back. I wanted to share with him the joy it felt to be free of all I'd carried with me since then. There are no words to explain how wonderful it was to hear his voice again. We don't talk on a regular basis but I know that if I need him, he'll be there.

I sent him a text message on Father's Day wishing him a Happy Father's Day. His simple reply back of how much my message meant to him brought tears to my eyes. He has a beautiful daughter who I'm sure called him that day but I like to think that my message was almost as good as the one he received from her.

I haven't seen Jeb in over sixteen years. I know that when I do see him I'll be running full speed towards him and will launch myself into his big, zaney, hairy, wacky, quirky arms.

My face will be flooded with joyous tears.

My heart will burst with happiness.

I'll have my "other dad" in my arms again.

I love you, Dad.

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