What If You Can’t Save The Person Who Saved You


“Do you know what it’s like to be 57 and starting over?”

My stepdad lost his job. But it’s more complicated than that – he lost his job, then fought really hard to get a new appointment. When he didn’t get the appointment, for various political reasons – it was devastating for all of us. It was like losing his job all over again.

And he is such a good man. Such a loving, kind, honest, humble, decent human.

When I was home for Christmas this year, we stopped by Wal-mart one night. A 14-year-old girl approached him in the parking lot and gave him a huge hug and told him how much his involvement in her life had meant to her (before he lost his job). She had been a participant in the drug court he had started on his own time working on weekends, fighting impossible bureaucratic and financial battles, inspiring his team to spend their own money to travel to attend training … I could go on. There are so many stories of my stepdad tirelessly, quietly working on behalf of his community.

Once at a fundraiser, he was parking cars. One person asked him if he did anything else besides park cars: “Yeah. I’m a judge.”

He was continuously finding solutions to keep families together, keep kids out of jail.

He loved his job, and he was good at it.

Worst of all – the batshit crazy guy who cost him his job was himself removed from office soon afterwards for pulling out a gun in the courtroom.

It’s hard for me to make sense of this. It hits me in a place in my gut that’s raw – where injustice lives.

I feel like everything I write comes from this place.

It’s full of rage.

And fear –

And sadness –

And helplessness –

I feel like the people who get ahead are the ones who cheat. Who connive. Who manipulate. And my stepdad is just not that guy. He’s just an honest, straight-shooter – a real salt of the earth person – probably too honest for some – with a salty wit that sometimes rubs people the wrong way, especially in rural Georgia where some people have real sticks up their asses but the vast majority don’t and are about the coolest, funniest, most wonderful people you’ll ever meet –

And I love him so much it hurts. Like, it’s painful to love someone this much. Because what if I lose him? I have way too many eggs in this one basket. I’ve got it all riding on black 21.

My stepdad saved my life when I was a child. While my real father was manipulative and cruel, distant, empty and selfish, my stepdad was nurturing, loving and attached. He has always believed in and supported my artistic ambitions.

There was a moment when I was at home at my parents’ log cabin in rural Georgia and I had just seen a novelist I went to college with on the Today Show. And it was upsetting for me. I walked out onto the front porch, where my stepdad was having a cigarette with the dogs looking out over the foggy morning woods. I told him what happened and how it made me feel and I started crying. I said “why do you keep believing in me?”

He said “Are you kidding? I’m just doing this for my Ferarri.” And that made me laugh and love him so much. And I hugged him.

And now hearing him sound so down – his voice sound so on edge – I wish I could do the same for him. But I don’t know how I can. It makes me feel so trapped that I can’t.

I sat in my car just now – parked in my carport – tears streaming down my cheeks –  hearing him say the words above – and said – “I wish I could rescue you.”



12 thoughts on “What If You Can’t Save The Person Who Saved You

  1. A young writer from my adopted hometown used to tell people, “take it out on the page.”  I never knew him as well as some of my other friends did but he was much beloved in my circle (and many others), and an incredibly talented pure writer who earned most of his living doing freelance journalism.  (He died last month from cancer.)

    What happened to your stepdad sucks hard.  It’s frustratingly unjust.  What’s worse, I know a dozen stories just like his, and there are millions more neither of us will ever hear.  But if as you say you can’t do much for him directly, your only real options are to continue to be supportive, loving, encouraging, basically returning what he’s been for you…and then take it out on the page.  Who knows, maybe it will pay off enough so that it doesn’t matter whether he has a job.

  2. The greatest blessing when you love someone, who deserves it all so truly, is that while you’re worrying about how much you have at risk they’re only thinking about what else they can do for you.

    Lovely then that this post came from your deep desire to help him. That says so much.

    Blowing sunshine at someone who is up against a difficult time always feels so unavailing. Regardless, I will offer this: your stepdad sounds like a wise and experienced man. We are all aware that life is constant change and I’m sure he knows this very well. Your description would suggest he’s offered exactly this to many needing souls.

    Just be there.

    Just listen.

    With time this situation will evolve. With time he will astutely shift perspective to read these challenges as opportunity and not defeat. Being human, I really believe, is an adventure in transitions. Reinvention has its own rewards.

    Best wishes & hugs.

  3. It sounds to me like all the things he gave you, you can give him. Being nurturing and loving, supporting his ambitions, believing in him… He’s clearly a capable guy, and will land on his feet. All you need to do is be there for him as much as you can, and be a great daughter, which, as this post makes clear, you are.

  4. I’m coming to the end of my current career – not because i’m bad at it but because i’ve always been the best. I don’t subscribe to the politics  of my job and at the end of the day I know i’ll be able stomach my choices. He’s got that. He’ll always have that. When the shock wears off he’ll remember why he did it and that not only was he a warrior but the right kind of warrior.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.