Once upon a time in the land of the 1970s when divorce rates were low and remarriage unheard of, there lived a little girl named Stacy Ann. Through circumstances completely out of her own control as a child under the age of five, Stacy found herself without a father in the house. She lived in a second floor, two bedroom apartment with her mother, her brother, and a poodle that like to run away by jumping off of the balcony. Stacy’s family had a friend named Rick who worked with her mom and lived down the hall from them in the apartment building. Rick would visit often, especially when Marc, Stacy’s brother, would break his crib. When this would happen, Stacy would say, “Don’t worry! I will go to get Rick.” And Rick would come down to Stacy’s apartment and fix Marc’s crib. One day, Stacy asked Rick to marry her mom, so he did. And they lived happily ever after.
Well…maybe not that last line exactly….
The details of the story in the first paragraph may have been simplified for the sake of the “fairytale” effect, but the facts are pretty much as accurate as this thirty-seven year old mind can remember back that far.
By the age of three, I had gained a baby brother and lost a father. Things had gone poorly between my mother and my father, so my mom moved home to small town North Dakota to live with her own mother and try to make a life for the three of us. After a series of events that attest to my mom’s abilities and strong will, we were living a modest life in Grand Forks, ND, where she had a job as a property manager. Rick worked with her in the same company as a maintenance man, and we all lived in the same apartment building that may have been one of the benefits from their job. Their marriage in August of 1979 came right before I started elementary school and camefrom a deep friendship that had grown between them. Although Rick was six years younger than my mom, he was a hard worker, and they got along very well.
My biological father was a military man who moved around a lot. In the years that early in my life, I can remember visiting him, along with his parents, in places like Maryland and Texas. He and I took a road trip together once as well, I believe. I can’t remember why. He was not exactly active in my life, but I do not remember that being a problem in those early years. On the other hand, his family – my grandparents, aunts, and uncles – were. My grandparents flew my brother and me with them or to them for extensive visits. Rhode Island in the summertime is so much fun! I grew up going to the beach, amusement parks, and pools. I also found books in my grandparents’ basement that filled the rainy days that came once in a while during a visit.
In contrast to the great summer memories I have, school year memories are slightly tainted with a sense that I did not really belong in that world. I had a funny last name (D’Ambra is not all that common in North Dakota amidst the Johnsons and Andersons), and my last name was not the same as my mom’s last name. I called Rick “dad,” but I also had “this other dad.” My friends could not relate to my family life. They could not relate to having your summers in another state to visit “another dad.” Unfortunately, the world changed over the course of my years in junior and senior high, and other friends learned to understand my situation when their own situations changed and actually mirrored my own. Looking at this now, I can honestly say that I wish I had remained an oddity as the common occurrence of divorce is not helping our society. But…that is another post and not this one.
What made life tolerable amidst this was the fact that I did have a dad. His name was…and is…Rick. When my friends’ lives were changing, they were still just in the divorce phase. My family had become a unit, though not traditional, by the time I started kindergarten. Even though my biological father was not a part of my regular life, Rick was. He did all of the things that dads do.
I do not know when we started to call him “dad” – maybe we just always did. That is who he is and who he was. Whatever function or emotional concepts one would attach to a person that one would call “dad,” Rick was that and is that. He disciplined, had high expectations, and consoled. He found me walking from school to my babysitter’s house and pulled me out of the snow into which two “big kids” had tossed me and left me to struggle out of. Like every dad, he had his flaws, but he had a vast bag of strengths that he applied to two children who were not of his own flesh and blood. On May 20, 1995, he walked me down the aisle and handed me over to my soon to be husband. A dad is supposed to do that!
I think I was in fourth grade when our family stood before a judge to request that Rick be allowed to adopt Marc and me. Marc would have been in first grade at the time and cute. Mom used to say that she remembered Marc sitting cross-legged in the witness stand because his legs could not reach past the end of the chair. The judge asked us if we wanted Rick to be our dad. I doubt that we had to think for long about our answer. Rick already was our dad. A judge saying that it was ok would just mean that law would meet our reality.
My mom wrote an article about this experience that I have to do some searching to find. If I find it, I will put it up as a blog post. As a side note: my mom was the original blogger, and she would have loved WordPress!!! My mom used to write daily devotional thoughts before she started to work every day. She had a huge email list of “followers” who received her daily Biblical thoughts and applications. When she passed away in June 2003, we used that email list to notify many people that she had breathed her final breath and when we would hold her funeral.
Anyway – my mom’s article talked about the amazing facts of adoption proceedings. When the judge signed our adoption orders, our past was erased. Marc and I no longer were D’Ambra children according to the paper trail. Our birth certificates changed (it says that Rick was 17 years old when I was born…SCANDAL!), my citizenship papers were changed, and the only piece of paper left in legal history that shows that I was a D’Ambra before I was a Schreier is that adoption order.
To have my past rewritten because a judge signed an order…what an amazing concept! How many other things in my life would I like to have rewritten that easily? My past was erased, and my future was proclaimed. I was no longer a child with a different last name than the people I lived with…I belonged to them, and my name said so. Even though I can’t remember the impact that it had on me at the time, I know what it means to be Rick’s daughter now.
I would be a great nature-nurture study participant. There is no doubt that Rick has nurtured this personality that pens the post. Rick is a self-proclaimed weather stalked, sports enthusiast, and hard worker. He will do anything for anyone, and he has high expectations of all with whom he works. Although the practical side of technology can cause him to be a bit skittish, the functions that it provides for him excite him. He has a Facebook account so that he can keep up on the happenings of all of his “friends.” He even dove into Twitter last year because then he could follow the UND hockey team more closely when they were out of town – and even when they are in town and he happens to be at a basketball game instead of the hockey game for a few minutes.
We are so alike.
Although we have had our hard times, I would like to say that this fairytale is going very well, and that we do live quite happily and intend to do so…ever after.
Note: Our family has maintained an “open relationship” approach through all of this. My Rhode Island family is very important to me and always will be. And I do maintain a relationship with my biological father and half-sister. While it is odd and hard at times, I believe that it does work under the model of God’s design for reconciliation of relationships. And I have a lot of D’Ambra in me – my passionate personality, my inability to talk without waving my hand, and, of course, my taste buds!