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Stepping Up! Celebrating The ‘Nurture’ Dads Out There

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Tim and Rose (left)
Once upon a time, I was a grumpy three year old with frizzy hair and a penchant for Osh Kosh who lived in a little flat in Shepherd’s Bush with my mum. It was 1991, my parents had split up and our mother-daughter dreamland was perfect. Well, for me at least, I didn’t really have to do anything except nap and try to put pennies up my nose. Then one day, the conversation every only child dreads:

‘Now Rose, mummy has met a lovely man called Tim: he’s very kind, he is very clever and makes me very happy.' I pondered these words carefully, looking thoughtfully out of the car window and then, after about a minute and a half replied: ‘I don’t like him’.

Stepfamilies are famously tricky to navigate (the Kardashians and Jenners have all made careers out of it) and at first I seemed to take it as badly as most people. I was a stroppy little thing who was very reluctant to share my mum with anyone, especially with some bloke who had flowery shirts, long hair and AN EARRING. Once, Tim was sat in the front of the car whilst my mum was running an errand and I innocently asked from the back seat: ‘when are you going home?’ (Tim had been living with us for about a year at this point.)

The setup didn't come naturally to him either. For instance the time we went to Primrose Hill to fly a kite in the manner of Mary Poppins and then ten minutes in, the kite was smashed to smithereens and put in the bin after failing to take flight. There was also a misguided trip to the zoo where Tim, the devout veggie, flounced off in disgust after seeing an encaged gorilla and waited outside whilst my mum and I sadly shlepped around the enclosures feeling rather guilty (never learning, we had to relive the experience two years later at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.)

There were many tantrums, many sulks and many threats to leave home and sit on the wall outside (and that was just Tim), but over the years I came to realise this guy was actually rather nice and probably quite right to get upset over a sad looking gorilla. And as the years progressed, I realised I was starting to behave exactly like him.

To start with, there’s the sarcasm. At first Tim’s jokes were annoying and sometimes just strange, mainly because they were all laced with pop cultural references I didn’t understand. Then I suddenly grasped the concept of irony and everything made sense! Then there’s the anxious habits; both of our fingernails are chewed to the core. And the vegetarianism which I signed up to about eight years ago after overdoing it on the leathery chicken in my university dining hall. Finally, there’s all the ranting. We could argue, shout and go on forever to get our point across whether we’re talking about the EU referendum, free speech or whether an extra rice should be added to the takeaway.

Yet, the purpose of this piece is not to add to the nature vs nurture debate. It’s to celebrate families out there who are a bit different. Those who might not have the easiest relationship at first, but work at it and over time become good friends and even kindred spirits.

I feel very lucky to have three parents and am also very close to my real dad. But as it’s Father’s Day and I noticed that Paperchase rather outrageously doesn’t sell ‘Step Father’ cards, I thought I’d show my appreciation via this piece instead. So thank you Tim. Thanks for teaching me how to be rude, bitchy, sarcastic and shouty. Thanks for all the lifts – from midnight queues to get the new Harry Potter to 5am raves in King's Cross. Thanks for relentlessly mocking my obsessions with Westlife/Man Utd/Nickelback until I was free of them. Thanks for talking me down from the walls when essays were due/ I hadn’t put salt in my dishwasher for two years/ had been court summoned by the council tax people/ thought I’d insulted someone’s dress at a work party. Thanks for the artfully designed Matt Bellamy cake at my 16th birthday. Thanks for painting my flat top to bottom. Thanks for introducing me to Roy Orbison/ Johnny Cash/ David Lynch/ The Clash/ Will Self. Thank you for advising me against Queen/ Abba/ people that say ‘rock up’. Thanks for teaching me to inform myself and to listen to ALL opinions, and most importantly of all, thanks for ‘not going home’.
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