I loathe the word stepfather. He is so much more than the word insinuates.
My now-husband and I dated long distance for a year. He worked in London; I was in Minneapolis with two small kids, fractured but healing from a painful divorce. He visited us every couple of months, staying a few weeks at a time, participating in the delicate tango of dating a woman with children — one step forward, two steps back.
My kids and I were a package deal from the get-go. But so was my ex-husband.
Though divorced, my ex and I were fiercely committed to raising our kids together. We lived in the same neighborhood; shared custody, parenting rules, and the pain of watching our kids adjust to a life they did not choose.
Being involved with a long distance love and family was a heavy price to pay for the new man in our lives, emotionally and financially. There were his flights, purchased every few months. He came into the country via a visa waiver program, a short term solution to what quickly became a long term vow. He was able to see firsthand how hard it was to raise a child. He opted in anyway, not in spite it all he said, but because of it.
Once we committed to a future together, the four of us, he applied for employment in the U.S., no straightforward task. There were his H1B visa and legal fees, to say nothing of the emotional toll. Accepting the complexities of immigration law and the heartache of knowing he could be sent away with little explanation was a heavy burden for all to bear.
With a job and H1B visa finally secured, we celebrated with an expensive bottle of champagne and a night on the town and then spent more money to send him back to the U.S. Embassy in London to have his passport appropriately stamped.
Fast forward two years and a second H1B because of a job change (H1B’s are employer owned), additional legal fees to ensure we were following proper protocol and investment in a green card, a more permanent residency option secured through our marriage. Our family, with the generous financial aid of his employer, continued the investment in our family’s future.
We married and had a child together, a little brother delivered to two anxiously awaiting siblings. Our family was finally complete.
Before we were to appear at the green card interview, we were advised by our immigration attorney to have our infant son present. After everything we’d been through, he should be present she cautioned, as “proof” of our union.
And so, we trawled our son through the waiting room full of unimmunized refugees wearing dog tags, hopeful participants in the process of legal citizenship. He was four months old; a souvenir of a true, intimate relationship which must be authenticated by strangers.
I recently had the privilege of watching my husband of almost eight years become a United States citizen. We sat among 878 other families from 89 countries in a heaving auditorium, nervous energy bouncing off every soul in the room. I knew what we’d sacrificed to get to this point and we’d done it for love. I listened to the countries as the judge read each off–Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Liberia, Iran—and knew the financial and emotional sacrifice we’d made was immaterial compared to what many had given up to be present that day.
The lack of shared DNA does not mean my husband is any less involved in our kids’ lives than their birth father. To be clear, their father is an amazing and invested man with whom we still share joint custody. But step parents still make breakfast, attend mind-numbing school choir concerts, play catch and read bedtime stories. He schedules doctors’ appointments, coordinates complex social calendars, folds laundry, and drops off forgotten school books, invested in the minutia that is daily parenting. When our kids are upset, my husband is the first person they go to.
He is the glue that binds our family together. He will never know the extent of my gratefulness for opting into our life. For choosing us over a simpler, quieter existence.
To say our investment has been worth it would be a colossal understatement. Eight years later, $25,000 seems insignificant given all our family has received in return.