This article is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz… When marriages fall apart, they often leave behind shattered relationships. This is especially true if children from a former marriage are in play. The loving bond that may have grown between the step-parent and the spouse’s children is usually severed. Sometimes the bond holds—but sadly, that is rare. There can be many reasons: a continued animosity between the former partners, distance, or the step-parent forming other romantic and familial relationships. The step-child with whom they were once close becomes a memory rather than an active part of their life.
I am thankful that is not the case with my “chosen son,” Daryl. Daryl’s father, Ed, was a young widower when we met. His wife Jan died of brain aneurysm at age 32. She left him with three young boys: Robert, brilliant student, who became a sought-after science writer, then age 13; and Brian, then 8, handsome and outgoing, who became a highly successful orthodontist. And then the baby of the family, little Daryl, just 4, who took my heart the moment I met him in a midtown diner, where he peered at me from behind the hamburger that looked gigantic in his tiny hands. That night, he was so shy—all button nose, freckles, and questioning blue eyes. His mother had died three days before his third birthday; he was too young to remember her well.
I was 28. One year later, I married his father. Five years later, I gave birth to his sister Heather.
The marriage was a mistake. I immediately knew it, but I ignored all the red flags because my heart was with the boys. I had a tough time with the oldest brother, who was going through a rough teenage period. I think he resented me for taking his late mother’s place—not that I was trying to. But Daryl felt like he was mine from the start. We had so much fun together. Two times stand out: we went to a pet store and picked out a miniature poodle puppy. Also, for his sixth birthday, I hired a man with a monkey, which ran all over the house and front yard in a diaper. Daryl and his neighborhood and first-grade friends fed so much fruit to that poor critter that after a while, his diaper could no longer hold back the natural results of all that overfeeding. We have the photos to prove it and we still laugh about it.
I’m ashamed to admit that I was unable—or perhaps unwilling—to continue a relationship with all the boys when the marriage ended. And if I am being candid with you—and with myself at this juncture—I was not there for Daryl in his middle years as I wish I had been and should have been. The miracle is that Heather and Daryl were as close as siblings could be and continued their close relationship into their adult years. Heather always made sure I knew what was happening in Daryl’s life, even when I was distracted by my work or my two subsequent marriages. Heather urged me to attend his graduations, his wedding to his beloved Patti, the birth of their daughters Maris and Zoe—and all their special events. For his part, Daryl and Patti—whom I adore—made sure that his daughters became my granddaughters. I love them dearly. When Maris graduated from Columbia University with a Master’s in Creative Writing, she came to work for me. After a couple of wonderful years, she spread her wings and continued to pursue her bright future elsewhere. Zoe, too, has been a gift that keeps on giving.
When I had surgery five years ago, Daryl came to see me in the hospital, sitting there for long hours with Heather and my best friend in the world Dian—yup @silverdisobedience! This small but mighty and magical circle enveloped me with love, and helped me heal fast.
I still find Daryl’s deep love for me remarkable and not entirely deserved. Now, as I am packing up my large Upper West Side apartment and deciding where I will go next, it is Daryl and his darling wife Patti that have driven in repeatedly from their home in Saratoga Springs, New York, more than three hours away. They spend weekends helping me decide what to keep, donate, sell and throw away—a daunting task made infinitely easier with their assistance!
Hadassah Lieberman once told me that in their blended family, she and Joe never considered or referred to each other’s children as “steps.” They were each other’s son or daughter—and when they had a daughter together, she likewise treated every sibling as a full sibling—not a “half” anything. I think this philosophy is remarkable, and exactly how it should be in blended families.
My son has been such a gift to me throughout my life, but never more than now, when I need him the most, in my “CelebrEighty” years. Sometimes, I still see that tiny boy with big eyes peering at me from behind the hamburger when I look at Daryl. My bottom line in this, dear reader, is that life will give you some unexpected gifts. They won’t always come in the expected packages. The Universe may gift you with a relationship not based on blood. Cherish it. Celebrate it. Know that there is a higher intelligence at work. Whatever it is—thank you for my son.