We weren’t programmed to love each other. Yet we do. 

I can only imagine.

The pure joy.

Of seeing a child that you created, born.

I can only imagine.

The pure joy.

Of hearing a child you created, call you “Daddy.”

I can only imagine those things. Because at the age of thirty-two, I have never experienced either.

And the truth is, I may never experience either.

And that’s ok.

For all the amazingness I can only imagine would come with being a dad, I can say this:  I think being a step dad is even more rewarding.

We weren’t programmed to love each other. Yet we do.

I fell madly in love with Michelle in High School. We were together for a year before she broke my heart. Eight years after that, we were reunited.

As we spoke early on, Michelle told me in no uncertain terms that I would need to love her daughter as much as I loved Michelle, if not more, if it were ever to work between us.

That mission was easily accomplished.

I can vividly remember that beautiful, sunny day I first met her daughter. I was so nervous as I waited for Michelle and her daughter to arrive at my condo. I knew after eight years apart Michelle and I were going to make it work this time around. I knew I would be meeting a little girl I would be spending the rest of my life with.

What if she didn’t like me?

My anxiety was sky high. I felt like I was going to throw up. 

And then, they arrived.


I loved her instantly. Just as I knew that I would.

Michelle and I waited until the time was right, and we eventually told her daughter that Mommy and Johnny weren’t just friends, we were dating. 

The story of my life does not simply consist of one love story. No, it consists of two.

Michelle. And her daughter.

Throughout the years the relationship between Michelle’s daughter and I has grown to levels even I, a man who has always wanted to adopt a child as opposed to having one biologically, could never have imagined.

We have been through the best of times together, and we have been through the worst of times together.

We have laughed together. We have cried together. We have grown together.

Together, we started a new life with Michelle.

Together, we enjoyed the happiness of a new family born.

Together, we saw our love, Michelle, fall sick to cancer.

Together, we saw her die. 

And, yes, together – some way, somehow – we picked ourselves up. We dusted ourselves off. And, full of grief and fear, and through the loss of our everything, we moved forward.

The laughs we have shared, the tears we have shed, the hugs we have had. 

The pure love and raw emotion behind so many of our experiences so powerful, that even the most articulate of words cannot do them any justice.

There is a special feeling that comes with taking care of a child you did not create.

We weren’t programmed to love each other. Yet we do.

There is a special feeling that comes with loving a child you did not create.

We weren’t programmed to love each other. Yet we do.

In Michelle’s daughter, I see a child I love with all of my heart. With all of my soul. My pride. My joy. The apple of my eye. 

She is ‘step’, only in name. Never in my heart.

In me, I hope – and I believe – that Michelle’s daughter sees a man who has always, and will always love her, and her mother. A man who has always treated them well. A man who has always put them first. 

A man who has absolutely no obligation to her, but simply loves her for who she is. An amazing little girl that brightens his each and every day.

A man she can love as a dad, even if the word ‘step’ will always be there.

Michelle’s daughter doesn’t call me dad, or daddy. She has a biological father she uses those words for.

No, she calls me Johnny. Or John Polo from Volo. Or yes, sometimes she is brutally honest with me and tells it like it is. Sometimes she calls me Butthead.

Michelle’s daughter. My step daughter. 

Michelle’s everything. Her pride. Her joy. Her love. Her life. Her everything.

Loving her. Raising her. Being there for her: These are the greatest honors of my life.

I am not a biological parent. I am a step parent.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

*This post originally appeared at www.betternotbitterwidower.com 

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John Polo

John Polo is a widower and step dad. He is also an author, blogger and speaker. John met the love of his life, Michelle, at a young age, and the two dated for a year in High School.  After eight years apart the two reunited and planned to spend their life together, alongside Michelle’s amazing daughter.  Two years after their reunion Michelle was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive cancer.  So rare in fact, that the two were told when you consider what type of cancer it was, and where it developed, there is only one case a year in the world of what Michelle had.  Michelle fought valiantly for two and a half years before taking her last breath on January 22, 2016. It was no easy feat, but while Michelle was in hospice John had a moment that would forever change him.  He was able to rid himself of the bitter, and find his better. John is currently a contributor to a handful of blogs and websites; including Good Men Project, Hope for Widows, The Grief Toolbox and The Mighty. He also serves on the Hope for Widows Advisory Board, is a speaker for the National Cancer Survivor’s Day Foundation and is a member of the International Association of Professional Writers & Editors. John has co-authored a journal entitled ‘Hurt to Healing, The Journal from Life to the Afterlife’ and his first book, entitled ‘Widowed: Rants, Raves and Randoms’ will be released on November 11th, 2017. John’s true passions are writing and speaking about love, loss and hope as he tries to help others honor their pain and see that a hopeful tomorrow can indeed exist. You can find John’s blog at www.betternotbitterwidower.com and on Facebook 

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