Tina M., Fairfax, VA
When I was nine years old, my biological father skipped town and joined a carnival to avoid paying child support. Soon after, my mother started dating George, who lived across the street from us. George had no children of his own, and he and I got along well. During the summers, while my mother was at work, I spent hours out on jobs with him while he repaired TVs, video games, and jukeboxes (this was the ’80s).
It was George who got me interested in computers, which started me on the path to my current career as a software developer. One Christmas, I expressed a wish for a racing car set, so when he and my mother were out shopping, he started looking at some, and she said, “But she’s a girl!” George’s response: “It’s what she wants.” I got racing cars that Christmas.
From the time I started playing the flute in fifth grade, through high school, George came to—and videotaped—all my school concerts and show. When I was in the pit orchestra for “The Music Man” my senior year, and he wanted to videotape it, I had to tell him to make sure to get the actual play, and not just keep the camera focused on me. When I graduated college, he got there hours early so he could make sure he got a good seat. For my graduation, I wrote him a card to express how much he’d meant to me and how he’d helped me achieve my goal of being the first person in my family to go to college.
Just after I finished college, I unexpectedly ran into my biological father when the carnival he worked for came to my area. My mother told me George was feeling hurt, thinking I was going to forget about him. I assured him that I knew exactly who had been there for me all those years and who hadn’t. There was no contest. I couldn’t even bring myself to refer to my “real” father as “Dad,” because it didn’t feel right. He was a stranger to me.
A few days before his sudden death when I was in my mid-20s, George came to my new apartment and hooked up my stereo for me, spending a couple of hours making sure the speakers were exactly balanced for the best sound. He wasn’t feeling well that day (though none of us, including him, had any idea he would be gone a couple days later), but he came anyway.
I think that to George, I was his daughter, biology notwithstanding. He was certainly my real dad, in fact if not genetically. He’s been gone 20 years, but I still think of him often and wonder what he’d say about this or that piece of new technology or current event.
Any man can be a biological father, but it takes a special person to step up and be there, especially for a child who’s not your own.