The Dad He Didn’t Have to Be: Bonding as a Blended Family

By Sabrina Beasley McDonald
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Blended Family
A last wish, a willing heart, and a little time together have bonded my blended family.

Having a blended family was never something I imagined. However, life can change in a moment, and mine did. My loss was instant. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. So, when the police told me my husband, David, didn’t survive his car accident, I panicked: “What were our last words?”

That morning David had slipped out quietly to go to work while our two-year-old and four-month-old children and I slept. But our last significant conversation was a strange one, and perhaps providential.

A Foretelling Dialogue

Oddly enough, David was a toddler when his own father was killed in a car accident. His mom never remarried, which always concerned him. David felt different than other boys, like he was missing something special. He maintained that feeling even into adulthood. 

That’s why Brad Paisley’s country song “He Didn’t Have to Be” was important to David. The lyrics tell the story of a little boy, his single mom, and their loving relationship with the man she married. When the boy grows up to be a father, he muses, “I hope I’m at least half the dad that he didn’t have to be.”

The fateful night of our last conversation, David was watching that music video. He was content with the song’s happy ending, but I was in tears.

“Why are you crying? That song isn’t sad!” David said. Then he uttered his providential request. “Promise me,” he said, “if anything ever happens to me, you’ll get married again.”

Permission to Move On

In my shock at the news of his death, I was thankful David gave me a vision for his family and permission to move on with life. One widow I talked to promised her dying husband not to remarry. I wondered if God had orchestrated our conversation so I would have the strength to make a new life.  

When I met Robbie McDonald, his sons were 14 and 24. My kids were 3 and 5. After a few mentions of marriage, I asked, “What are you thinking? Do you really want to do this father thing all over again?”

Robbie replied, “I feel like God created me to be a father, and your kids need a father.” That was the beginning of a whirlwind romance.

Now, seven years into our blended family, my kids call Robbie “Daddy,” and they call David “David.”

Navigate family life with grace and love!

Daniel P. Huerta, Focus on the Family's Vice President of Parenting, presents a collection of seven powerful character traits designed to help parents grow and thrive while raising Godly children.

Rough Starts for Our Blended Family

Stepfamily living hasn’t been easy. Only days after the honeymoon, my five-year-old son felt threatened by Robbie’s alpha male presence. He once asked me behind tiny, furrowed brows, “Do you love him more than you love me?”

Even at their young age, my kids were settled into a routine — the kind where mom’s life revolved around theirs, and they didn’t want that to change. For them, it meant getting less of mom’s time, locked doors to mom’s bedroom, and mom taking sides against them with her husband. That hadn’t happened before!

It was hard on Robbie, too. He couldn’t play golf every Saturday or go fishing with his friends. Little kids need an active daddy. After 20 years of parenting, Robbie was tired! I’m sure there were days when he wondered, “What did I get myself into?”

And it was hard on me. The kids became master manipulators of the single mom guilt I carried into remarriage. And those initial months of adjustment created irritation and tension in our home. Hurt feelings, yelling, and the silent treatment were daily activities. I remember picking up toys, crying buckets of tears, distressed by all the emotional chaos. Robbie helplessly asked what was wrong. I sobbed, “I just want you to love my kids!”

We were all lost and confused. We clung to promises like Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not give up.” We believed one day, the treasure would be worth the travail — and it is.

A Real Daddy

Now, it’s beautiful to watch my little girl run to Robbie’s arms when he comes home or to witness the three pile up for a tickle fight. The kids’ eyes light up at Robbie’s stories of war or childhood, and they brag about him at school.

Even though my kids mentally know Robbie is their stepdad, they feel like he is their real dad. I’ve overheard them say things like, “You must have gotten your curly hair from Dad (Robbie),” or “I bet Dad was just like you when he was a kid.”

And isn’t that how it is with God? We’re not His begotten children. We are adopted (Romans 8:15). But His love for us couldn’t be stronger, even despite our propensity to push Him away and return again. He disciplines. He waits. And he embraces us with open arms. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).

It’s been hard work, but we’re starting to gather the treasures within our blended family. Like those moments when my son says, “When I grow up, I’m going to be just like Dad.”

And to that, I can only say, “I hope so, son. I hope you’re at least half the dad that Robbie didn’t have to be.”

© 2020 by Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. 

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.


Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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