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Last summer, I was trying to back up our lawn tractor with a trailer on it. If you’ve ever tried to back up a trailer, you know that it’s not as easy as you think it should be.

While I was having my difficult time, I thought to myself, Why didn’t my step dad ever teach me how to do this?!

In that moment, something clicked, and I was flooded with emotion.

If you had asked me 10 minutes prior, I would have told you that I had a good relationship with my dad. I would have told you that he was there for me growing up and that we talk occasionally now.

If you had asked me 10 minutes prior, I would have told you about the screaming matches my stepdad and I had gotten into over things like curfew or who was doing the dishes. I would have told you that we now talk on a fairly regular basis.

In that moment, when I couldn’t back up that trailer, I realized that I had built my relationship with my dad up in my head as something that it was not, and I hadn’t given my stepdad enough credit for what he did for me growing up.

It was so normal to me that my stepdad should have been the one to teach me how to back up a trailer. He was the one there, beside my mom, teaching me all of the things I needed to know for adulthood.

I looked back on my childhood in that moment—with the every-other-weekends full of outings and special movie nights with my dad. Other than that, though? He was absent. Completely absent.

He never screwed up, because he was never there to screw up. We never fought, because he was never there to discipline me.

Why would he have taught me something like how to back up a trailer, when he didn’t teach me any other practical lesson in life?

Now that I’m an adult, he calls on my birthday and some holidays. I’ve gone literally months without any communication at all, and I’ve gotten important information via a group email.

And my stepdad?

He put me in my place when I was a sassy teen, and he comforted me when my grandma died.

He bought me a screwdriver and hammer when I moved out on my own, and he taught me the rules of the road when I started to drive.

I can list of dozens of memories where we were doing nothing together.

It took me 30 years to see it.

It took me 30 years to see who was actually showing up for me and who was not.

That had to have been so frustrating for my mom to watch. An absent father getting my affection, while she and my stepfather showed up for me time after time. It was unfair that they didn’t get that same credit from me, but she patiently and silently watched it all happen.

For 30 years, I never realized that I was missing guidance that my dad should have been giving. That parenting slack had been quietly picked up by my mom and stepdad, and I was blind to it.

How could I not see it?

I saw it, though. Eventually, I saw it.

Do you know what I did when I had this realization on our lawn tractor? I immediately texted my stepdad. Not only did I have to (jokingly) let him know what he failed to teach me, but I needed to tell him that I see it now. I see all that he did.

I know that co-parenting situations come in all shapes and sizes, and having a good relationship with both a dad and stepdad isn’t a mutually exclusive thing. For me, though, that wasn’t the case.

As an adult child of an absent father through divorce, I want to give some encouragement to all of the parents picking up the slack like my parents did.

This is for the single parents and the stepparents who are showing up, frustrated by a virtually absent parent.

You’re doing great. Keep it up, and eventually your child will see the truth.

Actions speak louder than words, and they’ll know.

Please don’t stop what you’re doing. Keep showing up.

The love and bond that you’re creating will not go unnoticed.

Be patient, because they’ll know.

It took me much longer than it should have, but I eventually saw the truth. I hope that you rock star parents and stepparents know that your kids will see, too.

The absence and inaction of parents will eventually be noticed, too.

It may not be today or tomorrow, and I hope they see it sooner than I did. Even if it’s 30 years down the road, though, they’ll see it.

You may also like: 

No Step, Just Daddy

The Insider’s Guide to Being a Stepmom

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Stephanie Freybler

My name is Stephanie, and I'm a work at home mom of five kids, ages 4-13. I still have no idea what I’m doing, and I’m embracing the imperfection. You can find my blog at RacingElephants.com

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