Roles and Relationships Add, Not Subtract

I just got back from a Mothers Day service at my church. The pastor, a good friend, commented both to me before the service and during the sermon itself about those who can be hurt because for one reason or not they are not mothers. Often hurtful comments are made by well-intentioned people. I know how easy it is to make a comment that hurts when one is only intending to be friendly.

But I see a community problem, or perhaps a problem of our whole society, in the way we view roles and relationships. It often seems to me that we view ourselves as having a certain capacity for relationships, so that any new relationship is likely to subtract from an older one. Similarly with our roles in life, we seem to think that if we honor one role, we dishonor another, or at least diminish its honor. But why must it be that way?

Let me speak from my own experience. I do not have an “biological” children. I married late in life to a wonderful woman who has three wonderful children. People asked both of us numerous times whether we were satisfied with not having any more children. That would, they hastened to remind me, mean that I would never have any “children of my own.”

Well, I guess I’m thankful for their concern for my happiness, but I do have children of my own, and now several grandchildren. They are my own because I claim them, because I love them, and to the best of my ability I’m there for them. I don’t have any overwhelming need to produce more children so that I can make some better claim to them.

Once I had stepchildren, there came some complaints about the word “step.” Some people wondered if I didn’t want my stepchildren to call me “dad” and not “step-dad” or “Henry.” Well, to put it bluntly, I’m proud of the role of stepfather, and it doesn’t bother me at all to be reminded of it. The stepfather role in no way needs to diminish the role of dad, either. My children are all very musical. Their father was an exceptionally talented musician, talented in sports, and a good man. You can believe me since I’m talking about my wife’s ex. I don’t think I’m motivated to flattery.

I knew with the children that I would not be taking his place, even if I had wanted to. A few minutes after he passed away, I had a conversation with James and he told me, “I guess it’s all up to you now.” That separate stepfather relationship was something special in itself. It wasn’t diminished by James’ love for his father, nor was his relationship with his father diminished by having a relationship with me.

I can never share John’s dreams in baseball in the same way as his father did. I learned baseball watching John. His father helped teach him to play. I came in late in the game. Whatever John wants or does is fine with me. His father lived the dream of seeing his son in the major leagues. But the relationship between stepfather and stepson has its own special quality that can even survive my rather basic questions about baseball. Janet does call me “dad” now, but that doesn’t make our relationship better or worse. It is just what works for us. I love to hear her voice when she calls, no matter what the reason.

I don’t think they can be any more “mine” than they are, and I respect their love for and memory of their father. No relationship needs to subtract from any other.

Looking back on my own life, one of my elementary teachers, who taught me for several years in a small two-room school had a tremendous influence on my life, and I know on the lives of many others. She never married, and so was not “technically” a mother. But her role had its own special quality and its own special influence.

My mother and my wife, while both having biological children, also tend to build up roles of friendship and mentoring with many others. Those roles and relationships do not diminish the relationship with their “natural” children. They add.

So today I do celebrate mothers in the traditional sense. But my celebration for the day does not diminish my appreciate for all those other women and the roles they play in peoples’ lives at home or at work.

One Comment

  1. I hear you on this. Relationships are about how you ‘are’ in them, not about percentages. I have half brothers which I never think about. They are my brothers. People often like to point out that we have different fathers. I end up being annoyed by that lack of insight on their part. If you play a role in their lives then makes all the difference.

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