I started dating a single mother about five years ago. I had always wanted to start a family, but I hadn’t imagined this would be the way it would come about. My role as a stepfather to her daughter evolved quickly from piggybacks and lullabies, to hair brushing and school drop-offs. I took pride in it all right from the start. Each bit of responsibility and care felt significant to me.
I never had a stepfather, and grew up with the impression that no one in movies or TV was happy with theirs. Stepfathers were portrayed as two-dimensional figures on a narrow spectrum ranging from well-meaning dolts to looming threats. They were unwanted additions to otherwise happy families, semi-committed men who begrudged the parenting baggage that came with their adult relationships.
These were unfair clichés, of course, but while time may have helped us to see stepfathers as a normal part of life, I don’t think we’ve welcomed them as “real” parents yet. Despite our cultural acceptance that family is a much more malleable idea than it was in the past, stepfathers remain parents with an asterisk.
I rarely thought about any of this before I also became a biological dad. It was only when meeting new people that I felt obligated to explain my semi-parent status. I kicked myself for seeming apologetic, and I saw the awkwardness I created by feeling compelled to explain anything at all. Still, I respected what it meant to be a parent — I witnessed my girlfriend doing a whole lot of it — and didn’t want to take credit for what I hadn’t earned yet. The problem was that there is no threshold of commitment stepfathers are expected to meet before earning their place amongst other parents. We just go on doing what we do, and in my case, that meant making ordinary social interactions weird.
“You’re a real father now,” multiple people told me after my son was born.
After we learned we had a little boy on the way, my family commitments evolved overnight. There were now birthing classes and midwife appointments, plus ongoing check-ins with my stepdaughter to ensure she was fully involved in the entire process. As it was when I joined the family, we didn’t want anyone to feel like an outsider while going through a big change in our lives.
I was really excited for our baby to arrive. And I was also a little relieved that I would soon be earning my new-parent stripes by experiencing the sleep loss, the constant diaper changes and all of the “firsts” that constituted my notions of what it means to be a parent. I would no longer have that asterisk attached to my self-image.
“You’re a real father now,” multiple people told me after my son was born. In the spirit of celebration, I loved hearing that. I had finally arrived as a dad, the way I’d always envisioned. And yet, however well-meaning, these comments teased out feelings that I wasn’t a whole parent before. I had just played at being “real.”
I think this unintended criticism comes from the assumption that a stepfather’s efforts are inconsequential, or that they’re checked out on the issues that really matter. My partner has always done the heavy lifting in my stepdaughter’s life. She’s an incredible parent and I aspire to take on more of her instincts. The bond she has with her daughter is something I could never replicate, but I also know they both need me to be who I am.
It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there from day one. My stepdaughter feels valued by me, and I her. Even while many were congratulating my “first” Father’s Day after my son was born, my stepdaughter and I were well aware of the previous years she’d given me cards or flowers.
“Parent” can and should be the name we give to the act of parenting, not just to biological fact.
Stepfathers should be seen as real parents because this also honours each child’s commitment to these relationships. While they don’t choose the adults in their lives, they do decide whether to be invested in the emotional bonds that support them. “Parent” can and should be the name we give to the act of parenting, not just to biological fact. Stepfathers are not the same as birth fathers, but they can offer the same formative potential to a child’s life.
Having a baby has only strengthened my identity as a stepfather. There’s a 10-year age gap between our kids, and that means each day requires very different skills between the two of them. A baby’s needs are relatively simple. They teach you how to respond to their demands, and they make them as often as they can.
Being a good stepfather to an older child is a more subtle art that requires delving into your own latent instincts from how you were raised, while also respecting the established parenting style of your partner. Sometimes you have to challenge both in order to find the right place for yourself in a step-family.
There are some stepfather clichés from the movies and sitcoms of my youth that still ring true to me. We do make sudden, awkward appearances into a family’s life and our early efforts at earning a child’s trust will inevitably be goofy. But commitment is everything when it comes to parenting. Kids are sponges, and being a positive influence can only help them become better people. That’s a crucial role. It’s as “real” as anyone could hope to be.
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At least 5 dead in Texas shooting rampage after traffic stop
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — At least five people were dead in West Texas after a man who was stopped by state troopers when his vehicle failed to signal a left turn opened fire and fled, shooting more than 20 people as he drove before he was killed by officers outside a movie theatre, authorities said Saturday. Three law enforcement officers were among the injured.
The shooting began with an interstate traffic stop in the heart of Texas oil country where gunfire was exchanged with police, setting off a chaotic afternoon during which the suspect hijacked a mail carrier truck and began firing at random as he drove in the area of Odesa and Midland.
Police initially reported that there could be more than one shooter, but Odesa Police Chief Michael Gerke later said there was only one.
“The suspect continued shooting at innocent civilians all over Odesa,” a statement from Odesa police said.
Gerke described the suspect as a white male in his 30s. He did not name him or a motive but said he has some idea who the gunman is.
Northern Bahamas hunkers down as Hurricane Dorian closes in
McLEAN’S TOWN CAY, Bahamas (AP) — A dangerous Hurricane Dorian closed in on the northern Bahamas early Sunday, threatening to batter islands with 150 mph (240 kph) winds, pounding waves and torrential rain as people hunkered down in schools, churches and other shelters.
Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on Dorian, meanwhile, amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the U.S. Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned even if its core did not make U.S. landfall and stayed offshore, the potent Category 4 storm would likely hammer U.S. coastal areas with powerful winds and heavy surf.
In the northern stretches of the Bahamas archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people from low-lying areas to bigger islands as Dorian approached.
Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned that Dorian is a “dangerous storm” and said any “who do not evacuate are placing themselves in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence.”
Small skiffs shuttled Saturday between outlying fishing communities and McLean’s Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles (240 kilometres) from Florida’s Atlantic coast. Most people came from Sweeting Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5 feet (1.5 metres) above sea level.
Justice Ginsburg reports she’s on way to ‘well’ after cancer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Saturday she’s “alive” and on her way to being “very well” following radiation treatment for cancer.
Ginsburg, 86, made the comments at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington. The event came a little over a week after Ginsburg disclosed that she had completed three weeks of outpatient radiation therapy for a cancerous tumour on her pancreas and is now disease-free.
It is the fourth time over the past two decades that Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, has been treated for cancer. She had colorectal cancer in 1999, pancreatic cancer in 2009 and lung cancer surgery in December. Both liberals and conservatives watch the health of the court’s oldest justice closely because it’s understood the Supreme Court would shift right for decades if Republican President Donald Trump were to get the ability to nominate someone to replace her.
On Saturday, Ginsburg, who came out with the book “My Own Words” in 2016, spoke to an audience of more than 4,000 at Washington’s convention centre. Near the beginning of an hour-long talk, her interviewer, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg, said: “Let me ask you a question that everyone here wants to ask, which is: How are you feeling? Why are you here instead of resting up for the term? And are you planning on staying in your current job?”
“How am I feeling? Well, first, this audience can see that I am alive,” Ginsburg said to applause and cheers. The comment was a seeming reference to the fact that when she was recuperating from lung cancer surgery earlier this year, some doubters demanded photographic proof that she was still living.
Hong Kong police storm subway with batons as protests rage
HONG KONG (AP) — Protesters in Hong Kong threw gasoline bombs at government headquarters and set fires in the streets, while police stormed a subway car and hit passengers with batons and pepper spray in scenes that seem certain to inflame tensions further in a city riven by nearly three months of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Police had denied permission for a march Saturday to mark the fifth anniversary of a decision by China against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong, but protesters took to the streets anyway, as they have all summer. They provoked and obstructed police repeatedly but generally retreated once riot officers moved in, avoiding some of the direct clashes that characterized earlier protests.
Late at night, though, video from Hong Kong broadcaster TVB showed police on the platform of Prince Edward subway station swinging batons at passengers who backed into one end of a train car behind umbrellas. The video also shows pepper spray being shot through an open door at a group seated on the floor while one man holds up his hands.
It wasn’t clear whether all the passengers were protesters. Police said they entered the station to make arrests after protesters assaulted others and damaged property inside. The TVB video was widely shared on social media as another example of police brutality during the protests. Angry crowds gathered outside Prince Edward and nearby Mong Kok station, where police said they made arrests after protesters vandalized the customer service centre and damaged ticket machines.
Also Saturday, two police officers fired two warning shots into the air “to protect their own safety” after being surrounded by protesters near Victoria Park, the government announced. It was the second time police fired warning shots following an incident the previous weekend.
Taliban attack 2nd Afghan city as US envoy says deal is near
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An official says the Taliban have launched an attack on a second Afghan city in as many days, even as a United States envoy says the U.S. and the Taliban are at the threshold of an agreement to end America’s longest war.
The spokesman for the Baghlan province police chief, Jawed Basharat, says gunbattles continue on the outskirts of its capital, Puli Khumri.
The attack Sunday comes a day after the Taliban attacked Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities, in a neighbouring province and killed at least 16 people.
The attacks are seen as strengthening the Taliban’s negotiating position in the talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
He is visiting Kabul on Sunday to brief the Afghan government on the details of a deal that is not yet final.
Osaka consoles teary Gauff, 15, after beating her at US Open
NEW YORK (AP) — Naomi Osaka looked across the net after ending Coco Gauff’s U.S. Open in the third round Saturday night and saw the tears welling in the 15-year-old’s eyes.
Osaka also saw a bit of herself in the kid she’d just beaten 6-3, 6-0.
So the tournament’s defending champion and No. 1 seed, who is only 21 herself, comforted Gauff with a hug and words of consolation, then encouraged her to address the 23,000 or so folks in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands who were pulling for the young American. Knowing how tough it is to lose, Osaka told her: “You need to let those people know how you feel.”
So Gauff obliged — a rare instance of a match’s loser addressing the crowd from the court. And was appreciative of Osaka’s gesture.
“She just proved that she’s a true athlete. For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like your worst enemy, but off the court can be your best friend,” Gauff said later at her news conference. “I think that’s what she did tonight.”
Too old for president? Health and fitness a better question
WASHINGTON (AP) — Science says age is only a number, not a proxy for physical and mental fitness. But with three Democrats in their 70s vying to challenge the oldest first-term president in American history, age’s importance will be tested as never before.
Only a few years separate President Donald Trump, 73, from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77, and former Vice-President Joe Biden, 76. But as Trump mocks Biden for verbal missteps, suggesting age has slowed his Democratic rival, both Sanders and Biden have conspicuously showcased their physical activity during the campaign.
Cameras have captured a third top Democratic contender, 70-year-old Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, taking high-energy jogs around rallies where she stays hours afterward to snap photos with supporters.
While the risks of disease and death rise substantially in the 70s and beyond, many specialists caution that the age on your driver’s license means far less than how healthy you are and how well you function — what’s sometimes called your “biologic age.”
“I’m not going to sugarcoat aging,” said well-known aging researcher S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago. But, he added, “how many times they’ve travelled around the sun should not be a litmus test for the presidency.”
Protect or develop? Amazon fires signal growing pressure
VILA NOVA SAMUEL, Brazil (AP) — “Without smoke, there’s no progress,” said the Amazon rancher in a torn straw hat and cowboy boots caked in red dirt.
The rancher, 75-year-old Antonio Lopes da Silva, was talking about the fires that have swept parts of one of the world’s most precious regions in recent weeks. People around the world reacted with shock at what they consider a monumental threat to the environment, but for many living in the Amazon, land-clearing fires mean survival and development.
“If you don’t burn, you can’t live. But it has to be well organized” and in line with the law, said da Silva, who provides pasture for his 200 cattle.
The strain between protecting and developing the Amazon, which encompasses vast rainforests as well as mid-size cities, farms and logging operations, will surely intensify even after this year’s fires subside.
The Amazon, about 60% of which is in Brazil, is a buffer against climate change that is crucial to the planet’s health, scientists say. It is also an engine for growth whose huge spaces and natural resources are being harnessed relentlessly to help boost Latin America’s biggest economy.
Suit settled in teen suicide that led to Illinois law change
CHICAGO (AP) — The case of a suburban Chicago teenager who killed himself after being confronted at his high school about whether he made a video of himself having sex with a classmate raised uncomfortable questions about how aggressively school officials should question kids suspected of wrongdoing and whether they should wait until a parent arrives.
A wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of 16-year-old Corey Walgren that focused on those questions has been resolved, with the city of Naperville expected to approve a settlement on Tuesday in which it and the local school district each agree to pay the Walgren family $125,000.
Walgren’s death on Jan. 11, 2017, three hours after a dean and in-school police officer at Naperville High School told the honour-roll student he might face child pornography charges also prompted a change in Illinois law.
As of August, a parent, guardian, family lawyer or designated advocate must be present before police can begin questioning students at school who are younger than 18 and suspected of crimes, unless they pose an imminent threat.
“The Corey Walgren story hits at every single parent’s heart,” Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, who introduced the legislation, said Friday. “We need to recognize that the brains of young people are not fully developed and they need to be dealt with differently. … What happened to Corey should never happen again.”
Dallas Holocaust museum takes visitors from WWII to today
DALLAS (AP) — When the Holocaust museum in Dallas opens the doors to its new building, visitors will be not only learning about the mass murder of Jews during World War II but also other genocides that have happened around the world, as well as human rights struggles in the U.S.
The newly renamed Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is the latest in the U.S. to broaden its permanent exhibit and embolden its efforts to inspire visitors to take action to make the world a better place.
“We’re hoping that in the moments that they finish this journey they will be thinking: What can I do? How can I make a difference in my community?” said Mary Pat Higgins, the museum’s president and CEO.
Expanding the focus to include more recent atrocities and human rights struggles helps draw in more visitors to be reminded that the lessons from the Holocaust are still relevant.
The museum opening Sept. 18 in Dallas is five times bigger than its previous location — a jump from 6,000 square feet (557 sq. meters) to 55,000 square feet (5,110 sq. meters). Museum officials hope for 200,000 visitors a year — more than double the previous figure.
The Associated Press
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