What is a Real Dad?

By: Nicky Donghia

I have two dads. One who supplied the some of the DNA that made me who I am on the outside, and one who provided the environment that made me who I am on the inside.

My biological father is an attractive man, with cutting wit and an intelligence level that I think might border on genius. He is, however, an emotional half-wit.
My parents divorced when I was four and my sister was nine. Dear old dad took off. And by that I mean he told my mom he needed to pick someone up from the bus stop, had her drive him there, went inside, and did not come back out.
So here we were, in Alabama all the way across the country from where we belonged, in a town we did not know. We had no friends, no family. Nothing. Just us and a house that had apparently never even belonged to us. Soon we were almost homeless.

My mom is a beautiful woman. Some might say too beautiful. I think maybe things had come easily to her because of that. Now here we were. She had never worked a day in her life. She had no idea what to do. A congregation in Prattville helped us find a place to live and we moved in with another single lady and her children while mom tried to find a way to get us back to Arizona without causing my grandparents to have a stroke and perhaps order a hit out on my dad.

My mom got a job and she bought a car. She did the best she could, but we were living on such a small budget that there was no money for anything unexpected. During this time, she met my step-dad. Just coming out of a horrible relationship, I don’t think she was too keen on starting anything new. Besides he was twenty-one and she was a good bit older than that.

Well, it just so happens that we got a flat tire on that car that we could barely afford, so we had to walk everywhere. I can’t count the times I have walked to TG&Y from Bridge Street, but somehow when you have to do it with a load of groceries and you are five it’s a bit worse. One morning we woke up and the car had new tires. Soon to be step-dad had replaced them in the night. So, I guess she decided she would give the guy a chance. When they got married, everyone said it would not last. That he was too young and that raising my mother’s two bratty girls would run him right off! Well, he stuck around and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to my family.

My real dad is one of those men who will always be rich, but you never see him working. My step dad was one of those men who was always working and was never rich. As my real dad tried to amend his relationship with my sister and I, we resented the fact that my mom and her husband couldn’t give us the things that my dad could. We loved his giant house and his pool and his money. And the freedom he gave us when we were there. It’s amazing how much you will let a kid do on their own when it doesn’t really matter to you if they ever come back. His interest in us was fleeting. Sometimes it would be months between visits, sometimes it would be a year or more.

But my step dad loved us everyday.

He worked hard to provide for us and make our lives meaningful. He never once called us his step-children. We were always his daughters. Always.

It was my step dad who worked extra hours so I could get the cabbage patch doll with the red hair and horn-rimmed glasses my dad promised to buy me. He said that he knew if I didn’t get that one, I wouldn’t find one like her again.

It was he who pulled my loose teeth and showed me how to spit watermelon seeds through the gaps.

It was he who explained to my mother that making me wear an eye patch in the third grade was cruel and unusual punishment.

It was my step dad who tried to teach me to break dance.

It was he who nailed my bedroom window shut when I kept sneaking out.

It was he who saw me graduate kindergarten and high school, who stood at my weddings, who cried when my babies were born.

He tells goofy jokes that aren’t funny, threatens to give my kids a “swirly” every time I see him and has made me watch way too many slide shows of his vacation photos. But those are just the things that make him all of what he is. And what he is, is one of the most kind-hearted, honest, genuine people I have ever known.

I don’t know how much of who we are is shaped by genetics and how much is shaped by environment. My sister got my dad’s wit and intelligence and I got his stocky legs. She got red hair and I got blue eyes. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what came from him and what didn’t. But sometimes, I see some of his characteristics in the way I behave. They are always the qualities I like least in myself. I am glad that two people that were kind and giving and caring raised me. People who tried their very best to teach me and parent me, instead of just allowing me to muddle through on my own. I don’t think I would have turned out too great without that kind of guidance.

I always wondered when I was little what my life would have been like if my dad had never left. I am so thankful that I never had to know.

I love my step-dad and I admire him so much . I know my sister and I were tough little chicks to raise. I have great respect for ALL step parents who STEP in and PARENT.

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2 thoughts on “What is a Real Dad?

  1. I really enjoyed reading your article. There are far too many "step" parents who don't get the credit they deserve on Father's Day or any day for that matter. You have recognized and truly appreciate the gift you received the day your mom married the man that helped shape the person you are today. I have a couple of nephews who haven't come to that realization yet, and I only pray that one day their eyes will be opened. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story.

  2. As I sit here wiping the tears from my eyes, I felt compelled to compliment you on your grace and insight. I too, had a wonderful Dad as well as a biological contributor. My Dad passed away almost 12 years ago and I miss him so much, mostly because I never really got to tell him just how much of an impact he's had on my life. You are blessed to have him still and what a wonderful gift you have given him with your words of praise and acknowledgment. I'm sure he's equally proud to call you his daughter! God bless you!

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