I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to earn my family.
There are some who’d tell you family is born of you — kin, they call it — trees and blood and heritage and all that shit.
I have that.
I have the people I’m stuck with, the ones who annoy and degrade me, who take me for granted and disrespect me. I have those. I also have people I’m profoundly grateful to be related to. The ones I know I’m lucky to call my own.
My family, though, is different.
I consider my family to be those people I’ve chosen for my inner circle. They’re the ones whose claim has little to do with blood, something to do with longevity, and everything to do with faith.
My family is made up of people who took a chance on loving me and received my love in return. They gave me their loyalty and I gave them mine in return. They stand by me, proud to know me, and I stand by them, proud to know them.
I learned a long time ago that you can choose your family.
You may not be able to choose your kin. Them sonsofbitches might just follow you around and try to drag you into their swamp. But your family, they’re something special.
One of the earliest members of my family is my brother Josh. We met as friends in eighth grade and remained as such through school. When I went to college at Clemson, he’d moved to Atlanta to live with his mom and step-dad Randy. So every weekend, he was in Clemson and we were partying and telling people we were brother and sister.
Randy and Patty (Josh’s mom) had been high school sweet hearts who reconnected after they’d each had marriages and kids and divorces. Their marriage was something we thought was equal parts tragic (“Why didn’t they stay together in the first place?”) and romantic (“They found one another again!”).
Randy’s inclusion of Josh in the story of he and Patty educated us in what true love really means. Not only did he accept Patty for the life she’d had while they were apart, he wanted to fully engage with the products of that life — her sons — and have relationships with those men. His relationship with Josh was probably the deepest since Josh was the youngest and, at the time, sorely in need of a father figure.
Randy showed Josh what it meant to be a step-dad. He demonstrated patience, he stayed out of Josh’s fights with his mom (unless he was defending her), and he provided guidance and resources (within reason).
Randy mostly lead by example: he showed Josh how to be a husband, how to be a father, and how to be a good man.
When Josh became a step dad in 2007, he’d learned from the best. Love, respect, gentleness when needed and firmness when warranted. He’d been taught how to be patient with mistrust and forgiving of the complexity of emotions his step-kids would have for him.
I have no doubt that Josh loves Teresa with every fiber of his being. I also have no doubt that he wants to be as good to her kids as Randy was to him.
Each step-dad finds his place in his step-kids’ lives. Sometimes finding that place takes time. As I’ve encouraged Josh to be patient, I know Randy would tell him to just love those kids with everything you have and the rest will come.
We have an infinite capacity for love, as Randy showed us.
Randy was the first person to recognize me as Josh’s sister. He saw between us the bond of orphans, two kids who had only each other to depend on. He was kind and supportive of our friendship, he was welcoming and encouraging of my inclusion in family events. We are lucky to have had Randy to encourage our friendship and support our loyalty to one another.
I’m lucky Randy gave Josh some of the love I couldn’t give: from a father to a son. He was truly proud of Josh, especially when Josh became a father.
There is so much opportunity for love in this world but too often we turn away for fear of being hurt, rejected, or judged.
To receive the kind of love Josh got from Randy, and to learn to give that same love to his own step-children, what a tremendous blessing.
I’m sorry, Patty, for your loss. Randy was indeed one of a kind. Thanks for sharing him with Josh and, by extension, me. I hope you’ll find comfort and peace in the knowledge that his gifts were appreciated.