When I was four years old, my mother placed a personal ad in the Daily Telegraph. The last man she agreed to meet became my step-father. He, like her, was a single parent having lost his wife suddenly after a routine operation. After one week of meeting my mother he proposed and within six weeks they were married.
I have no recollection of the wedding, though my mother told me that on the day I had been grumpy and uncooperative. In her words she took me aside and told me she was getting married regardless of what I thought and I would just have to deal with it.
My step-fathers daughter was three going on four years old when they met. I remember having lots of fun playing with her and getting up to mischief! But within weeks of living together my mother felt unable to cope with her. His daughter struggled with the change of circumstance and going between grandparents and the newlyweds made her frequently tearful. Within weeks my mother made an ultimatum that led to my new friend leaving permanently to be raised solely by her grandparents.
I do not remember any time when I thought I liked my step-father. We had no relationship. We did not do anything together, there were no hugs or cuddles – but then I don’t remember getting any from my mother either until I was caught trying to run away from home aged fourteen.
They couldn’t have had an easy relationship, my step-father left my mother twice. The second time, when I was nine years old, he did not come home one day from work and called to say he wasn’t coming back. My mother collapsed in a heap on the floor and I remember being so scared and picking up the phone crying, telling him to come back. He came back.
The years that followed were that of a man who gave up, and shut down. My step-father would come home from work, sit in front of the TV and fall asleep. My mother would frequently say, “Your father works so hard to put food on the table,” but I knew this was her way of justifying his behaviour.
My step-father was obedient to my mother, he did jobs around the house at weekends to keep busy. He had no dealings with me and was rarely involved with my half-brother unless my mother was upset about something and she asked. Then all I would hear was foul and abusive language being spat out at him. The older I got the less and less I respected the man who sat in the chair.
After my mother died he changed completely. He moved house, bought a parrot, went dancing, had friends, dated and most important to him, he got back in touch with his daughter. He said that whilst my mother was alive he hadn’t wanted to ‘open a can of worms’, and after the storm of me finding my birth father, I could sympathise with that. Though from conversations I had with my mother in her later years, she clearly felt guilty about how things had turned out.
My step-sister then got in touch with me and I invited her to stay a weekend so we could chat. Over the weekend, I felt I was able to put her mind at ease with the past. My mother blamed her for what had happened and attributed all sorts of unkind qualities to her, but she was just four! A four year old cannot be accountable for their actions – she was just a baby, one who had lost her mother; nothing was her fault.
My step-father was thrilled to be back in touch, but she was not so keen. He now visits her and his grandchildren two maybe three times a year. Not as much as he would have liked, but she grew up very much loved by her grandparents and that was all she needed.
After putting all my possessions in to storage and travelling across the UK and Europe in 2016, by February 2017 I was penniless and in need of accommodation. So my step-father graciously said I could stay with him. He told me I was ‘his daughter’ and ‘family’ and despite me offering, insisted on me staying for free.
Now a Christian, I wondered if this was God’s way of putting us together to make amends, and maybe bring him to Jesus. But when the subject of my baptism was brought up he mentioned how he had unfriended a family member in Canada who posted often on Facebook about Jesus and he didn’t want to hear about all that ‘mumbo jumbo.’ So I hoped I could be a light by my behaviour, which might change his mind.
He said I could stay until I had saved a deposit to rent my own place, which I warned would take a few months due to existing financial commitments, and that was apparently fine. I cooked meals for us that he didn’t want to eat, and he spent long hours chatting to women online. He smoked in the house, which as an asthmatic I found very challenging. But all fine, his house, his rules. I continually prayed to God for a better solution and I worked every day and spent much of my free time out walking the dog.
Then he started complaining that my showering was costing him money, so I offered him money, which he refused and I showered elsewhere. Then he asked me to leave. I was upset, because this left me sleeping on friends couches for a few weeks and then a couple of weeks living in a friend’s caravan in her garden before a room to rent became available with a family I knew were happy to have me and the dog.
Two weeks after I had moved out he then asked me for money. Jesus says “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back”. So when he told me how much, I gave it to him.
I reflected and debated with myself, could I have done more, was I not kind enough, what happens next, what part does he play in my future? Then the story of Saint Francis of Assisi helped me find the answer to these questions. The story goes that when his father, a wealthy merchant asked to be repaid for what he had taken, Saint Francis gave him the money and stripped himself of the clothes he wore, made from his father’s cloth, and walked away naked to never see him again!
David also writes in Psalm 27:10 NIV “Though my father and my mother have forsaken me, the LORD will receive me.”
So I can say as Saint Francis did that God is my father now.
So who is my family? There are people I am related to, but they are not family. In scripture Jesus says when asked “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.” Matthew 5:48-50 ESV.
Now I am grateful and I thank Him, because until I met Jesus I had no good father figure in my life. I absolutely feel his parental influence! I often tell Him that He has high expectations of me, but I realise this is simply what I need! Having been floating with the tide, unsecured, I am filled with joy to have Him as my guide. My anchor. My good Father.
Father thank You for being present in my life, receiving and guiding me as Your child. I submit myself to you and I seek to love and forgive others as You love and forgive me. All the time I pray let Your will be done, in Your way, in Your time. In Jesus name. Amen.