The first time my adoptive father, Taner, tried to teach me a lesson was over some green peppers that had made their way into a pile on the side of my plate. I was five years old with classically frustrating picky-eater syndrome and I didn’t want those green peppers. But being the new father figure in the previously single parent household, Taner was set on proving a point: I was not leaving the table until I finished everything on my plate. We sat there for what felt like eternity as I contemplated then gagged as the peppers rolled around in my mouth not wanting to be digested either.
The battle ended with me in tears and Taner forced to wave the white flag in surrender when my mom finally stepped in and said enough.
Up until that point, having a consistent and authoritative male figure in the house was a foreign concept to me. My biological father Rodney had unexpectedly passed two years before; a time well before a toddler can possibly comprehend or process into memory a sense of fatherhood.
Without even the slightest say in the matter, my mom and I were bound to be, as Pink Floyd so eloquently put it, “two lost souls living in a fishbowl.” Something that no one would ever expect (or deserve) at 31 and 2 years old. And to that same point, no one at two years old, again with no say in the matter, would want to become the 1 in the ratio of 1 in 9 Americans who lose a parent before the age of 20.
Father’s Day is a tough day every year for me and my fellow misfortunate. Complicated even further by the fact that, like a fair amount of widows, my mother remarried and I now have an adoptive father who, despite our early battle over green peppers, has more than filled the role of a loving, supportive, and playful dad. How do you celebrate your current father, who should receive undivided recognition for his commitment to fatherhood, while also respecting your biological father who would have undoubtedly deserved the same recognition were he given the chance?
When Richard Nixon officially signed Father’s Day into law as a national holiday, Rod was 12 years old. A trouble maker living in Great Bend, Kansas who had already received a C before reaching 2nd grade. How this is possible, I have no idea, and I would give anything for a chance to laugh at the answer.
Many fathers were slow to accept the idea of a Father’s Day. Mother’s Day was already popular and marked by a sense of sentimentality; a trait many men didn’t particularly welcome as it was seen as a contradiction to the manliness that most were aspiring to. But nevertheless, the holiday gained traction. We all know that a relationship between a mother and child is indescribable, especially in my situation, where my mom was my sole guardian, teacher, ally, friend. But a relationship with a father is a unique opportunity to learn, explore, and play. And while there will always be a part of me who wishes I could have built memories with Rod, there is no doubt that both Taner and Rod have shared these roles over the years.
Were it not for Rod, I would not know what a Jayhawk is. When Syracuse breaks my heart in the NCAA tournament, I know I always have a back-up team with a usually reliable roster.
Were it not for Taner, I would not be able to instantly recognize any song from the Phantom of the Opera were it not for Erik and Christine’s music lessons reverberating through our house on weekend afternoons.
Were it not for Rod, I might not have ended up a late-blooming history buff working at the Mecca of art history. I’ve heard the stories countless times—Rod pushing my pregnant mom around battlefield after battlefield in a wheelchair with her broken ankle pointing out where Civil War generals stood, fought, and died in the countryside of Virginia. Now I walk through the galleries of the Met craving the chance to analyze old painting, drawings, and photographs with him.
Were it not for Taner, I would not have passed high school physics taught by an MIT alum unaware that a bunch of 16-year olds were more worried about who to ask to Fall Ball and how many inches of snow are coming in Vail than at what time two cars traveling towards each other at different speeds will meet.
Were it not for Rod, I would not have the genes or the desire to push myself athletically. Pursuing success in running makes me feel closer to him despite not even remembering any of the mannerisms I so often hear I inherited. Running is something we can share, and as crazy as it sounds, sometimes I like to think the goosebumps I feel a few miles from the finish line are a sign from him cheering me on.
Were it not for Taner, who would so expertly construct near-Olympic quality luges to careen us down the sledding hill into the un-snowplowed streets of Frisco, CO? Those memories are one of the cornerstones of my childhood; the cold, the rush, the tumbles, the laughs, the possibilities.
What I’ve learned from both of them is to make sure to relax, take time to smell the roses, and live life with a little humor. It is these parts of life that allow you to find happiness and let others take you on a journey you wouldn’t have known otherwise.
In a recent survey by Comfort Zone, a camp for grieving children, 72% of those polled said they believed they would be better off if their loved one was still alive. This is a sobering statistic since it shows the power that our loved ones can have on our overall wellbeing. And while I understand that my emotional stability was preserved given the timing that Rod and Taner left and entered my life, I believe that my life is not for the worse, it has simply changed. There is nothing that will bring Rod back, and as hard as I wish, I will never get as much as a breakfast with him. But there are also doors to different cultures and opportunities that only Taner could have opened for me.
Is it just coincidence that I look like two different men? Or did Rodney fulfill his fatherly duty to protect those two lost souls by putting Taner in our life—a person who fits so well we fool new acquaintances on the extent of our father-daughter bond? I like to believe it’s the latter.
It is their teamwork that proves fatherhood transcends biology and time.
And we’ve come a long way since those green peppers. Happy Father’s Day Dads.
Gretchen Kodanaz (daughter of Rachel Kodanaz) currently lives in New York City and works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and coach who provides encouragement to those who are suffering a loss or setback. She is the author of Living with Loss, One Day at a Time.