From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

One Child, Many Parents

It takes a village to raise a child.

African Proverb

If my husband, Steve Moreau, had lived, I’m pretty sure he’d be astounded by how much our son, Matt, looks like him. Obviously, Steve left his genetic calling card—so some traits were bound to travel via an invisible in utero father-to-son handshake. Matt has the same blue eyes, same square jaw, same lanky frame. Matt’s smile creates dimples in the exact same location on his cheek as his father’s, and his posture is a mirror image of the man who once towered above me.

He’d be proud, I’m sure, that the Moreau genes trumped all others, and I believe he would have spent the last eighteen years reminding me of this fact. Father and son barely had eight months together, and yet somehow Matt managed to acquire the same troubled squint and an identical laugh. He never saw his father row, but his love of the sport is the same. Both Steve and Matt loved the sound of eight oars slicing the water and the slow burn that comes from pushing past the pain. Matt is his father’s son in so many ways. However, the best things about Matt, the things that Steve would be the proudest of, are the things he didn’t live long enough to teach his boy.

The year Steve died, 1987, was a bad year for the Moreau family. Three days after Matt was born, Steve’s father died suddenly. Eight months later, the Navy jet Steve was flying crashed in the desert. Any other family might have drowned in their individual sorrows. But the Moreaus aren’t just family—this is a family of unspeakable strength. They stepped in and became for Matt every aspect of the father they knew Steve would have wanted to him to have. They started with the “dad basics”: how to build a fire, how to rock climb, how to surf—things Steve would have loved doing with Matt. But they also let Matt discover the best of himself by helping him embrace a man in death who wasn’t perfect in life. Steve’s brothers and sisters knew all of Steve’s stories—the good and the bad, the triumphant and embarrassing. They never failed to share with Matt that his father was human, that he made mistakes and had regrets, but these mistakes built character. It’s been through Matt’s own character-building moments that he learned how to dig deep and push himself when he wanted to give up. When he falls, he gets up and finds another way because his aunts and uncles taught him the meaning of sacrifice. Because their moral compass was strong, Matt learned to require more of himself every day. Their joy in the saddest of times taught Matt to laugh at himself and appreciate the opportunities he’s been given.

Steve would be proud of how far Matt has come, how hard he has worked, what he’s accomplished, and how bravely he has fought to grow up in the image of a father whom he adored. It turns out, Steve’s absence didn’t make Matt less of a man, it made him a stronger one. I think we can all be proud of that.

Melissa Moreau Baumann

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