A New Mom in Town

A New Mom in Town

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

A New Mom in Town

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.
~Jane Howard

Our family doesn’t label relatives as “step-this” or “half-that.” Not since my father’s remarriage to a Southern Belle, that is. Truth is, the biological issue doesn’t really matter. What’s important is how you’re connected inside; and once you’re in, you’re in. Period.

Our “extended family” began about a year after my father lost his beloved spouse of thirty-odd years to cancer. To say Dad was devastated by Mom’s death would be an understatement. For more than three decades—and most of Dad’s adult life—my mother represented everything to him, from partner to daily organizer. Mom was truly his rock, and once she was gone, my father seemed to become lost and alienated from life. Although the family tried to distract him from his depression and grief, Dad refused to take interest in any sort of activity, preferring to stay at home and watch TV.

Then Dad was introduced to Becky through my aunt. This wasn’t a matchmaking scheme; it was simply an opportunity to help my father make new friends and to start socializing again. But whatever the motive, that casual meeting changed all of our lives—especially Dad’s and Becky’s. Within moments, they found themselves drawn to each other, thrilled that they shared many of the same hobbies: traveling, gardening, family gatherings, even raising dogs.

The blossoming romance shocked the entire family, especially since Dad had been extremely vocal about not wanting to tie the knot again. Nor, as it turned out, was Becky looking for another Mr. Right after her painful divorce. Having raised five children more or less on her own, she was beginning to settle into independence and liked being single.

Until she met Dad.

Sometimes people don’t realize how lonely they are until they are given the opportunity to meet someone special and discover what they’ve been missing.

To our family, Dad’s return to the land of the living was nothing short of a miracle. How we’d missed his smiles and laughter! We even teased him—lovingly, of course—about his newfound habit of waiting by the phone.

No one was surprised when, a few months later, Dad proposed to Becky. But before she accepted, she talked to my siblings and me.

“I’m not asking to be your mother,” she told us. “I wouldn’t dream of taking her place. I just want to be your friend.”

Turned out, Becky feared we wouldn’t accept her, an anxiety that was unfounded. Sure, there was a learning-to-accept-one-another process. After all, both sets of families loved their biological parents very much, and even as adult children, needed a bit of assurance that a new spouse wouldn’t threaten that love.

Silly, isn’t it?

Of course, Becky was wise, and respectful, in considering our feelings. After one huge family gathering in Alabama, the matter was put to rest. My siblings and I accepted our new mother, and Becky’s children took to Dad. In fact, they quickly nicknamed him “Papa Chief” due to his Hispanic and Indian heritage.

But there were more miracles to come, since the marriage seemed to pull two lonely, fragmented families together. The bonding process was like something in a TV sitcom, only without commercials. Mom and Dad’s new home in Alabama became the heart and the center of the family gatherings, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. A slave to tradition, Becky was the epitome of southern hospitality when it came to my siblings and me. Not once did we ever feel like the second-string family at her and Dad’s new home. She welcomed us as if we were royalty, lavishing us with feasts and the best accommodations.

Two families had become one.

Still, my biggest debt toward my new mother was how well she took care of Dad when his health began to decline a few years later.

She called me regularly, day or night, and kept me updated on Dad’s doctor appointments and medical conditions. From minor procedures to the more serious ones, she made me aware of each doctor’s diagnosis (sugar-coating nothing), and helped arrange for me to travel from Oklahoma to Alabama whenever possible.

There were countless nights she would stay at the hospital, at Dad’s side, until the doctor released him to go home. Throughout these vigils, not once did she consider her own health. Even family members knew better than to ask her to take a break from caring for Dad. That wasn’t happening under her watch!

Looking back, I believe it was her love and willpower that helped him survive a series of strokes and a cancer diagnosis, which, thankfully, proved to be an error. Whenever Dad’s health declines, I feel positive that Becky will somehow help him pull through, that her devotion to him exemplifies the bond between husband and wife.

Who could ask more of a mother, whether a biological one or not?

~Al Serradell

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