When friends and acquaintances learn that Sean is Natalya’s stepdad, they are invariably surprised. When she was younger the two of them shared the similar coloring. Natalya has taken on many of Sean’s mannerisms: indelicate sneezes and the structure of an argument, to name only two. They share obsessions: music, science fiction and fantasy of the especially large tome and many seasons variety, and Whedon—but that would make sense regardless when we consider nurture versus nature.
What surprises folk the most is the extent Sean nurtures Natalya. He wonders whether he is providing for her enough, stressed about our lack of savings for tuition in four years, a vehicle in two, and a new laptop for the prolific creative writer she is at present. He has sheltered, fed, clothed, and insured her for years now. A bottomless budget for books, writer’s software, hair dyes, knee socks, gum, chucks, nerd girl shirts, journals, pens and music seems to be an unattainable goal that frustrates him more than her.
Sean thinks about how to be the father Natalya needs him to be. He reads articles by fathers of daughters and frets over embarrassing her while yet providing the kind of example of a human being their own strange self. He tends to her character, her brain, her spiritual and physical health, as well as mental and emotional wellbeing. He does not need her to be socially expected, but kind and intelligent and fiercely articulate with it—another thing they have in common.
Sean helps Natalya with mathematics and bicycle maintenance, consults on playlists, and paints her face on Halloween. He read her Lewis, Tolkien and Rowling to her at bedtimes and shared his copies of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and On the Road with her. They quote Clue and Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill to each other, sometimes in the same conversation. He introduced her to Neil Patrick Harris and Felicia Day, two of the few reasons she got a twitter account and is always on YouTube. One of the latest educational experiences he insisted on was a documentary: The Punk Singer (2013). He contributes volumes to the marvelous strangeness that charms school instructors and mystifies the majority–personal goals of hers.
He arranges and pays for her visitation with her biological father when it is our turn to do so. He walks with her to departure gates and hugs her upon return.
Sean reminded Natalya just the other day that she is loved no matter what, except maybe if she were to murder her mother as that might cause a terrible strain.
The aforementioned expressions of Sean’s care and concern are the primary reasons people are surprised to learn he is a stepfather. They do not expect a stepfather should look and act this way; or they could be seen attempting the role of nurturing father, but should be failing miserably. Apparently, a stepfather should be like Whit in Run Fat Boy Run (2007)—exposed as the conniving bastard he really is before we were ever really fooled into thinking he might be a good father. I suppose Interlopers or Usurpers should be portrayed as such when it gets in the way of our ideological ideals: the virile fidelity of a male provider of legitimized offspring. His role held in reserve for when interruptions can be rectified.
Can we afford the mythologies underlying romantic fantasy? Stepparents are overlooked as potential stabilizing agents, placed somewhere down the list after heroic sports figures, priests, scout leaders and big brother/big sister mentorships. I’m not arguing for civil rights, but acknowledgment and consideration. When people respond with such surprise, Sean is not unaffected.
Sean is quite self-conscious of who he is to the world and to the young person he is helping in the way Natalya should go. Maybe that makes him a better parent, I don’t know, but at times, it makes it more difficult.
Sean is not a perfect parent, and neither are the biologically verifiable ones. You can expect greatness though. You shouldn’t be surprised to find that a grown man can father another’s child with aptitude and excellence. Sean is, and I know I am not the only one grateful for it.
Happy Father’s Day, R. Sean Darnell.