My Real Dad

You might say I had two fathers—my “real” dad and my stepdad. So why the awful emptiness inside?

It had been a trying summer for my mother. A bad marriage and a terrible divorce forced her to move her five children closer to her family in Utah. But then things got better, and she met Bruce.

I was six years old when my mother married Bruce. He was the father that I had always wanted. He would play with my younger sister, Liz, and me. He loved us. We even called him “Dad.”

For quite some time I loved Bruce too. He took me on “dates” and was interested in everything I was doing. But then I became confused and my feelings toward him started to change as I began to realize that he wasn’t my “real” father.

When I was just about to turn eight years old, I started to get anxious about being baptized. I told my mother I wanted my real father to baptize me. She told me he wasn’t going to even be at my baptism. I was crushed. I didn’t want Bruce to do it. He wasn’t my father.

As the years passed, I distanced myself more and more from Bruce. I decided he wasn’t cool enough for me because he didn’t dress and act “right.” I thought he was trying to take my real father’s place, so I began to resent him. By the time I was 14, I felt I hated Bruce. I ignored him and would walk away from him when he would talk to me or ask me questions.

As I reflect back, I realize that all Bruce ever did was show me love and support, even when I treated him terribly. He showed Christlike love for me. My mother would plead with me to try to treat him better. She said I didn’t have to love him, just respect him as a human being. I loved my mother, so I reluctantly said I would try.

Even then, the hatred I had for Bruce grew inside me. It got stronger, uglier, and more potent. I would do anything to hurt him. I even turned my sister against him.

Then one Sunday, Bruce offered to drive me to my bishop’s interview. After much resistance, I let him drive me to the church. I don’t remember what he did that got me so upset, but by that time in my life, I was always upset with him. All I felt for him was hatred.

The bishop opened the door and greeted me with his usual grin and friendly handshake. He began by asking me the standard questions. But as soon as I opened my mouth to answer, tears began streaming down my face.

I proceeded to tell my bishop about the hatred I had for Bruce. He became very concerned and finally asked, “What are we going to do about it?” in a very fatherly voice, as if it were a problem between him and me. I didn’t intend to do anything about it, but my bishop did. He told me he wanted me to pray and try to overcome this growing “disease” I had. I told him that it was easier to hate Bruce than to love him, and that “we” weren’t going to do or say anything about it.

What my bishop didn’t understand was that what I really wanted was for my real father to love me as much as Bruce did. My real father never gave me the attention or love that I needed and wanted. To this day, I continue to dream that my father will want to play a part in my life and that he will find a way to show me that he loves me.

I cried as I walked home and thought about everything we had talked about. When I got home, I went to my room and began praying. I prayed and I pled for the desire to respect Bruce for who he was—a child of God.

Throughout the next five years, I made great efforts to be kinder and more respectful toward Bruce. I wouldn’t walk away from him when he talked to me. I would acknowledge him when he came to watch me perform. I began to like him again. I no longer wanted to hate him. I actually wanted to show him love.

After I graduated from high school, I went to BYU. In my freshman English class I was assigned to write an essay about a time when I overcame a conflict. I chose to write about my relationship with Bruce. It was a very difficult paper to write, but after I did, I felt better.

A few months later I was asked to give a talk in my ward on repentance. I decided to share the story I had written. My mother and Bruce weren’t going to be able to make it. I was actually quite relieved to find out they weren’t going to be there. Then just before I was supposed to give my talk, my mother and Bruce slipped into the back of the chapel. My heart started to beat wildly. I felt like I was going to cry. I had to pull it together. What was I going to do?

After a few minutes into my talk, I began to read my story, and as I did, tears came streaming down my face. I paused, took a deep breath, and continued to cry throughout the rest of my talk. When I finished, I looked over at my mom and Bruce. They were both teary-eyed and sniffling. After church Bruce came up to me and told me he was so sorry. He said he hadn’t realized what I had been going through. He told me that he was sorry, whereas I was the one who had done all of the terrible things. I quickly told him that I was sorry and that I hoped he could forgive me. The beautiful part was that he had already forgiven me. I didn’t even have to ask.

A year later I found myself holding hands with my soon-to-be husband in a sealing room of the Provo Temple. Across from me was Bruce. He looked so proud. He had been there for me every time I needed him and even when I didn’t think I needed him. But more importantly, he was there at the temple with me as a witness to my marriage. I looked over at him, and at that moment, I knew that he loved me and that I loved him. He will always be my dad.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

[photos] Photography by Tamra Hamblin