The story below is an excerpt from our November/December 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
The moment of genuine connection between a young child and a step-parent is a magical one, and made only more so when it is carried out and framed in holiday glamor and glitter.
My stepdad’s name was Fearless. He was a retired Air Force Colonel and that was the name he earned in the service for reasons unfathomable to the common man. Like the time he flew his B-52, leaking jet fuel, into a snowstorm, attempting to land at the nearest fuel station, dangerously close to enemy territory. Legend has it when he landed he pushed the door open to his plane, and as a plume of snow settled he demanded, “Where can I get a drink around here?!”
One other reason I think they gave him that name is because he had a commanding presence and he could walk into any room whether it was the waiting room at a Tire and Auto shop or a first-class place like The Hotel Roanoke, one of the finest institutions in Roanoke, Virginia, where we lived, and be treated like a king.
He had an unshakeable confidence, and, I would later learn, a crisp supply of $10 bills on hand for tips for anyone who helped him. From my perspective as a young girl, he seemed like the master of his universe.
Before I met Fearless through my mom, I never would have even thought about stepping foot into a place like The Hotel Roanoke. Built in 1882, it was a beacon on the hill, something that maybe I would be worthy of seeing someday, but I would be much older, certainly richer and more distinguished.
Growing up, I never knew my real dad. I would always envy my friends who had dads. They would pick them up from school, or plan special father-daughter dates with them or generally give them that ol’ “Hey, I’m your dad and I’m proud of you” pat on the back kind of thing that can really build a young girl’s self-esteem.
So even though I was standoffish with Fearless at first, I knew that he was the person I’d always dreamed of meeting. I had so many ideas for us! He would take me to ball games and teach me how to fish and maybe even take me shopping. And even though he wasn’t my real dad, I knew he cared about my mom and that he cared about me, too.
I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach the whole “You’re my dad now, let’s go do all these fun things together” conversation. I thought for several days on how to ask him to assume his new role as “My Dad,” and I couldn’t come up with any ideas.
So when Fearless invited me for the first time to be his date at The Hotel Roanoke for brunch, I was relieved, but I still wasn’t quite sure what to say. It was a moment I had been waiting my whole life for. Was I worthy of this? I didn’t have time to think about it because I had already blurted out an exuberant, “Yes!”
As we pulled up to the grand roundabout with the 100-year-old pine tree in the center greeting us with open arms, I gazed up at the magnificent Swiss-looking castle and listened to the fountain. It sounded as if individual diamond pendants were being dropped into the water, a thousand per second.
There’s no way he would use valet, I thought. Surely we would have to park and walk as it must cost $50 or more.
But instead of continuing around the roundabout, he stopped in front of the red carpet leading up to the front doors, the giant HR monogram highlighted in the noon sun. A man with white gloves opened the car door for me and I slid out. He shut the door and I stood there, not sure what to do. Then Fearless appeared by my side, offering me his arm and guiding me in as we made the ascent up the stairs to the front door.
It was Christmastime and everything looked huge to me. The Christmas tree in the foyer looked to me to be 200 feet tall, and each individual Christmas ball was as big as my head. I could have stayed and stared at that Christmas tree all day, but Fearless gently led me past the estate-sized fireplace and into the grand dining room.