Although I never use it, this letter opener sits in a pencil case on my writing desk. Don’t be fooled by the color. It’s made of plastic not ivory. The inscription on the handle reads: “With the compliments of Mecca LTD.” It’s a cheap giveaway. Probably picked up at a business conference by my stepfather. It used to sit on his desk also, which makes it at least sixty years old.
It’s the only possession of his that I own.
We didn’t really get on, my stepfather and I. Although ours wasn’t an ugly, combative relationship, we practiced studied indifference. Whenever he introduced me it was always: “This is my stepson, Peter.” I was twenty before I asked him why. “I just thought you’d prefer it that way,” he said. But for me each stepson stung like a paper-cut. The title diminished me. I called him Dad. What else? He was the only father I ever knew.
He was happy when I left home, and I felt no pull to return even when life took a difficult turn—home for me was not a refuge. When Austin died I was in my early twenties—still too young to appreciate the sacrifice he had made when he took in a four-year-old boy (me) and my nine-year-old sister.
Now I’m a stepfather, I think I understand some of his reticence. It can be a delicate balancing act navigating a path through a combined family. But I will never forget how full my heart felt on the day that my step-daughter started calling me Dad. Perhaps Austin taught me something by omission.
Maybe that’s why I keep the stupid letter opener.