I slammed the front door of the house, walked toward my car . . . and spotted him in the passenger's seat.
"Oh no. You are not going with me," I said as I reached for the passenger door.
Bob smiled and pushed down the lock. Oh yes I am.
How did it get to this? I was 18 years old, a full-fledged adult. I certainly didn't need my stepfather baby-sitting me on my drive cross-country. Didn't he know that I had never liked him?
Fine, I thought. I got in the car and backed out of the driveway, turning the music up loud. If we were going to drive 2,000 miles together, I was going to make the trip as miserable as possible for him.
Bob was unmoved. He never lost his temper or spoke a harsh word. But he'd always been that way. I met Bob when I was 12 years old. My biological dad walked out on us when my mom was pregnant with their fourth child. It was the '60s, and divorce carried a social stigma. Considering the sheer workload of taking care of four children, my mom did a wonderful job.
My mom's husband
Just over a year after the divorce, Mom went on her first date with Bob. On that evening, she introduced him to the baby. On the second date, she introduced him to the 5-year-old. The next date, she brought me out.
Bob smiled and looked at Mom. "Come on now; bring out all the children. I want full disclosure!" With that, Mom introduced him to my older brother, too.
For whatever reason, Bob didn't leave. A year later, they were married.
I didn't like him. I figured as long as he was in our home, my dad wouldn't be able to return. My brother and I conspired to drive him away — just kid stuff such as hiding things or being "forgetful" about anything he asked us to do. But he wouldn't budge in his love and care for us.
"You can do these things," he would say, "but I am not leaving. Your mom and I are in this for life."
And he was. Bob loved my mother and loved us. He was consistent, kind and gracious. He showed up for things that mattered and celebrated our accomplishments. He seemed unmoved by our hatred, pouring only love into our world.
When young military guys moved in next door, I knew Bob was worried. He had every right to be. Pretty soon I was smitten with one of the young men — and when he moved to Wisconsin from California, I was determined to follow. I had graduated from high school. I was an adult — no one was going to change my mind. Which brings me to the day I walked out to my car and found my stepdad in the passenger seat. He didn't stop me from going, but he wasn't going to let me drive alone.
I don't think I spoke two words to him the entire trip. I was fuming. How dare he? Once I arrived safely, he wished me well and boarded a plane back to California.
It was only six weeks later when I realized what a horrible error I had made. I called home, sobbing. Bob answered the phone.
"I made a mistake," I said. "Can I please come home?"
Bob could have said a thousand different things, but he said the one thing my teenage heart needed: "I'll be on the next flight."
Using their hard-earned vacation money, Bob booked a flight and arrived in Milwaukee later that day. We packed my stuff and started home. No blaring radio on this trip. I spent the first 1,000 miles of our drive home telling him all that had happened, and we spent the next 1,000 miles talking and laughing. It was the turning point in our relationship.
Today, I call Bob "Dad." He is 80 years old, and we've shared 40 years together. He and my mom live down the road, and we visit together regularly. He is a treasured part of my life.
Now I know. When Bob promised that he was in this for life, he meant it.