The delightful humorist Erma Bombeck, who passed away some time ago, once dedicated a newspaper column to her stepfather. Being a stepfather is one of those heroic roles that rarely gets the recognition it deserves. Erma Bombeck knew that first hand, and wanted to give a little back to her stepdad.

Erma writes:

When I was 9 years old, my father died. It hurt more than the time I got my foot caught in the spokes of my bicycle … and took twice as long to heal.

When I was 11 years old, my mother remarried. She called him my stepfather. I called him Tom.

If he had been a relief pitcher who had been brought into the game when the team was in trouble, people would have cheered. If he had been an understudy who was filling in for the star who couldn’t go on stage, he would have been appreciated and respected.

But none of those things happened. He was a man who dared to move into a house that was mined with memories and charged with animosity. Not a day went by that he did not do battle with the ghost of Daddy past.

For an 11-year-old kid, my memory of my “real” father was astounding. I remembered him as a saint who never shouted at me, never asked me to pick up anything, never insisted I eat anything on my plate. My “real” father was a cross between Peter Pan and John Wayne.

But throughout the next 50 years, a strange thing happened. Slowly, visions of my natural father began to fade and in his place my stepfather emerged. It got to the point where I could no longer conjure up a face—only the ones in photographs—and the same stories I used to tell with such relish seemed pointless and trite.

It was sobering to realize my natural father had not given me away at my wedding, kept vigil while the grandchildren were being born, dropped off hot soup when we all had the flu or shared with us in the school plays, graduations and birthdays.

My father died last November … or was it Tom? I can’t remember anymore.

Stepdads, that’s a fitting tribute to guys like you who deserve it.

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