A Letter to My Stepfather

Dear step-father,

First and foremost I would like to thank you for your time and effort here. I have just recently finished cleaning out the now-over-10,000 emails in my inbox, and in all of my years, I can only count on one hand how many times you got emotionally invested in an email message when you sent it to me. My mother claims that despite everything, you love me, in your own way. I believe her now. Though you were never extended that same courtesy by your own family, you have some notion of what it is like to be supported, and you have just tried to grant it to me. I will forever be grateful that you chose to express your feelings in some way. It shows that we have made some progress in that regard.

However, I would like to make something clear. Our situation is not one in which I was overly pampered with my parenting.

Although I must agree with the writer of that article’s points that the millennial lifestyle is at least in part due to their predecessors’ desire for them not to encounter hardships, that is not what happened in the past. The caretaking I experience, and experienced, is, and was not borne out of love, but with reluctance and frustration, if not neglect altogether. I agree with you – my mother is overly concerned with me, and she was overly concerned with me when I was still a youth. She, with her own insecurities and fears, attempted to raise me in a world where I knew no poverty. However, we should talk about the parenting I received from you both as a whole. In short, you did not parent me to a satisfactory degree – or to any degree of satisfaction, for that measure. In your household, I was all but neglected when I was young. I understand why. You were reluctant to connect with someone who reminded you of your own situation. To you, I was, in some way, a perversion of the experiences and hardships you encountered as a child. You were horribly, horribly mistreated at the hands of your father, who to this day will never know the hurt he has left inside of you. When you were raising me, it must have been extremely uncomfortable, especially considering the special consideration I was receiving, financially or otherwise.

You even said it yourself that you had reluctance to raise me, for I was not your son, and you wanted to make me want to live with the people I truly wanted to live with. You see, there, with Vicki and Jeff, I experienced something I had not. Love, compassion, genuine interest. I do not remember my childhood well. In fact, I don’t remember anything before middle school very well. But I know for a fact that I rarely, if at ever, spent time with you two. You elected to raise me in your own way, one that was distanced: a position that you would rather have, if you had any choice in the matter. I understand – emotional investment was not something you were looking for in me. You were younger then, and you had many ideas of how you were going to live your life with Allison, none of which included me. In the rare times that we made an emotional connection, video games were involved. Video games became my surrogate father – both of my father figures truly loved gaming as a hobby, and I found it as the one method in which I could connect with them. When you were playing games with me, I can only remember you being happy, or being frustrated but in a pleased way.

Alas, life is more than our hobbies. From you, I inherited this love of gaming and nothing else. You did not teach me, but instead begrudgingly tutored me when my mother instructed you to. You had your own method of teaching a child, as someone who had taught people much older. You expected me to want to formulate my own answers. Whether you realize it or not, the way most of these ‘math sessions’ or other such events felt like was periods where it was socially acceptable to belittle and emasculate me, not only as a student, but also a man. You humiliated me, constantly, when you asked me to learn from you. Whether the topic is how you fix the house, or how I solve a quadratic formula, you make me feel as if I am mentally incapable of any task. You told me things were easy and simple, when in reality, understanding many concepts is difficult as a child. The entire length of my working memory hosts only these feelings: regret, for not having been educated beforehand, even when, realistically, there was no way I would have been learned in any subject I asked for help in. Disappointment, in myself, because you always made anything you taught seem like a simple concept to grasp. To this day I still have a complex about perfection, much in the same way you do.

Abuse begets generations of abuse, and whether you want to acknowledge it or not: you hurt me in many fundamental ways – ways that I am still recovering from now. I was not molested, I was largely not physically attacked as a child, and yet, you have been my bully for countless days. Many nights, I cried because of you and my mother. Despite all of the counseling and medication, I know that you have left a permanent wound in my mentality, a festering injury, a stain that tells me I am damaged, and cannot be washed away. I feel fundamentally ruined as a human being, and am genuinely surprised when people treat me with basic compassion. For a long time I believed my role in life was to be everyone’s floor mat. To be something they could step on, to be of use. I formulated that mentality from my interactions with you and my family as a whole. As an example, I can recall one time in which you told me, when I was topless, that I should put something on, or at least be a woman – something to that effect. As someone who is much more physically adept than I am, this destroyed my own self-esteem. Since that day, I have struggled to accept my body, and I remain very unmotivated in losing weight because of these experiences. A carelessly spoken sentence worth of derision, which I have no doubt you do not recall now, has cost me sleepless nights and my own health, as well as my self-image.

You were always, always, always concerned about money. You were interested in your own agenda when we were traveling. You did things at your own pace, and damn anyone if they aren’t on the same page as you. I remember countless nights where you had a plan in mind and you were belligerent, and oppressed me. Your complaints were all directed towards the helplessness I had as a child – as a being that didn’t know any better. To this day I still have reservations about using the bathroom. I constantly feel guilty for living, and I am well aware, even if I have not had to struggle and work to achieve financial stability, that the luxuries and privileges I have now are a far cry from the ones you did as a child. That you beat it into my head that I have more than you ever did at my age, is a form of abuse in of itself. You constantly undermine my attempts, as if to elevate your own achievements over a mere young adult.

During my high school years, when we were in the middle of a potential lawsuit, you took out your frustration on me. Enclosed, is an image of five emails. These are the only five emails you sent to me in that timespan. During this time, we were all the more aggravated – you, me, and my mother. I was increasingly receiving less emotional support and help, and becoming more and more disillusioned with you two as parent figures. You constantly failed me as a father figure multiple times, and that’s nothing to say of the many times where my mother did the same. You truly, truly broke me in these years, as they form the foundation of the hurt and pain that I still carry with me today.

I will never know the truth about my father and step-mother, nor am I inclined to. The surrounding atmosphere behind the lawsuit is one that weighs me down, even if I were to merely think of it. There are too many conflicting statements, too many half-remembered ideas of what actually transpired. Nevertheless, whatever you think of them – they were the closest thing to parents that I have ever had. For the longest time, I never knew what ‘family time’ meant. I never knew people sat around a table and conversed, asking basic questions like: “How was your day? What did you do?” I never knew that parents spent time with their children, that they could go together to parks, or other areas. I never knew that such compassion was basic, fundamental, or even important to a family.

You and my mother – the noble, self-sacrificing ‘parents’ who you claim loved me too much to allow me to fail – you never taught me that. It was with Vicki and Jeff that I learned these things from. And in their care, for the first time, I felt loved. I felt cared for, appreciated, I felt like a child. I was truly loved.

I had, for the first time in my life, hope.

In the words of John Wick, when you called my father a ‘deadbeat dad’, you took that from me.
Stole that from me.
Killed that from me.

As a teenager coming into my own as an adult, I struggled with the idea that my father and step-mother could love me without financially supporting me. All this created a general feeling of distrust towards the only parents I have ever known. Despite the difficulties we had when I lived with them, I saw that they genuinely cared and were trying to help me. Now, I questioned even that. What was I worth to the world, when no one wanted to support me? When my own father, I thought, didn’t even want to pay for my finances? No one wanted me. No one loved me.

I have since then reconciled with Vicki and Jeff about this, but even now, I still do not trust them. My mental state is in tatters, and I fundamentally distrust these people who have sent me nothing but kindness in the form of emails, year after year. Do you know what I saw, in the inbox that I cleared out? Perhaps even a hundred emails from Vicki and Jeff – whether it was sending a message to thank me for backing up their photos of Joshua, or to invite me on trips to go with them, they were always trying to reach out to me. Allison, Son, you ruined that. Despite my knowing better, I worry that somehow Jeff and Vicki will take advantage of me. That somehow, their kindness is a deception, and I should perceive them as enemies. You have damaged my relationship with my parents in a way that you will never comprehend, and that you could never atone for.

I died then, and I died again when you and my mother decided to intervene in my relationship with a transgender female. (In the future I will refer to this person as a woman.)

The question of whether it is morally right or wrong to have an intimate relationship with a biological man should be put aside. The reality is that, from her, I felt the love and affection that I had been missing from my father and stepmother. She cared for me. She was friends with one of my friends, and they lived together. In 2016, I had found a sanctuary which had been largely missing ever since those painful years. It was from a so-called ‘man’ that I received such compassion, such kindness. And yet, through it all, I received hardship after hardship. You two went as far as to involve my own father and stepmother in this, and paint the picture as if I had been tricked into believing she was not biologically female, when in fact I had known that before we met in person. You pressured me constantly to break apart. You took the one relationship, the one connection I wanted to keep above everything else, and you tore it apart.

Hope is a precious, fragile thing, and the trauma you all caused me then when you were trying to get me to break up with her is probably one of the many reasons why I feel so unmotivated today. Through my eyes, I saw in all of my parents, the failures of marriage. How could I emulate a good relationship between myself and a significant other, when I had never seen such a thing to begin with? I have not been talking with this person for years at this point, and though I am now sure that the relationship might not have worked out in the end – that was for me to decide, that was for me to find out, that was my “mistake” to make.

In the end, Son, you, and Allison have never bothered to interact with me and my life unless it was to be domineering, to steer me in whichever direction you desired, because you wanted that. You selfishly decided when to be parental figures, and when to shirk your duties. You claim to have helped me, when in reality helping me was almost always secondary to your own agendas. You have hurt me over and over again, and you have made it such that I feel I need medication in order to function in society. I am certain that without the Internet/games/books as a form of escape, I would have become an alcoholic at the very least.

I cannot, in good faith, agree with your linking of that post.

Know, however, that I do not blame you. You have taken care of me, financially, for many years at this point. I know that this must have been a hard journey for you, and that you had to sacrifice many dreams to raise me. Despite everything, you have been a financial rock to me, an anchor that has kept my future grounded. I know that in recent times you feel that I have been taking advantage of you, and I apologize. It’s just that I do not feel confident or even motivated in my own pursuits – even writing, which I excel at. I have lost my zeal for life, my excitement for relationships, my self-confidence. I have lost the small moments where a young man looks himself in the mirror and vainly admires himself. Instead, I see something hideous.

Despite my attempts to find freelance work online, I cannot find a job that is willing to have me, and at this point I feel incapable of going outside and working on a day-to-day basis. The combination of my medication’s side effects and my own looming anxiety makes it so that some days, I don’t even feel like playing games. I do not hear poetry in my soul anymore, and my fingertips will drum on my table rather than tapping away at the keyboard. I have even lost my enthusiasm for escapism.

How, then, I ask myself, can I think about working?

What is the point of work other than to create opportunities to enjoy life? Without such things, the act of living becomes a job; a tedious job that I do not care to undertake.

Why must I live, if all I have seen and experienced is largely suffering at the hands of those who are in positions of power over me?

I am recovering now. I have medication, and after this pandemic ends, I will seek counseling. I am hurt, I have been broken, but yet, I still see a future for myself. Even amongst the scattered, few good memories I hold dearly, I see some kind of hope. It is damaged, discolored, and yet it is still here, whispering in my ear: “This too, shall pass.”

Although I cannot honestly speak the words, “God bless you,” I will say them here as a token of goodwill, as a thank-you for everything you have done, for all the hardships that have made me into the man I am today – a man I can be proud of. A man who can be loved.

God bless you.