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He Didn’t Have to Be

by Lisa Manning on June 15, 2014

mom and dad 70'sI was in first grade when my mom got a new boyfriend.  He was tall, dark and handsome!  Curiosity abounded, especially because he made me laugh.  Their relationship was a whirlwind and it wasn’t long before we were all together in one house and a new baby was on the way.  My mother had been a single mom much of my life and having a man around more often was an adjustment for all of us.  He probably felt the same way.  After all, I was a very energetic, talkative, and outspoken child.  The peace and quiet he may have had was now replaced with incessant questions, and soon, a colicky baby that hardly ever slept through the night.

My mother often worked in the evenings before my brother was born, leaving my new Dad and I alone in a tiny apartment to fend for ourselves while she was gone.  The only meal I ever remember him making was pork chops and mashed potatoes (his favorite!).  Surely, he made other food but I still tease him that was all he ever fed me.  Afterward, we would sit on the couch.  I would read and he would watch television; two people in the same room trying to learn to exist in a new world.

Quickly, I learned that this new man in our lives wasn’t just there to make me laugh.  He often came alongside my mom to discipline me.  Suddenly, things that were okay when it was just mom and I, were not allowed anymore.  Now and again, my chatter would cause him to banish me from the room for a while.  I often resented him for coming into “MY” home and upsetting the balance. 

Seldom did I recognize at the time, he was there for the other parts of “MY” life.  He picked me up when I fell down.  He took me fishing and to movies.  He was the audience for my magic shows.  He supported me in my entrepreneurial endeavors by taking my newspapers, cans & bottles to the recycle center.  He taught me how to roll and throw newspapers so I could do a better job on my paper route. At dinner, he would tell stories and make me laugh until my stomach ached.  He tucked me in at night.  While my mom was still in the hospital, he took me to a baby store and let me buy anything I wanted to buy as gifts for my new brother.  Anyone remember the Happy Apple?  One birthday, I wanted a bike but my parents really didn’t have the money to buy it.  In the afternoon, he asked me to go into their bedroom to get something for him.  There, in the bedroom, was a green bike with a shamrock on the seat.  I ran outside with the item he requested but pretended I didn’t see the bike! Later, I found out they had kept back some of their rent money to buy that bike.  For Valentine’s Day one year, he bought me this HUGE bag of popcorn.  It was almost as tall as me.  I kept that popcorn in my closet, long after it was stale, and ate every single piece.  

What I remember the most, however, was his loyalty to our family.  Unless he was working, he was home with us.  He worked hard to provide, even in difficult financial times.  We always had good food to eat, clothing, and a warm home.  During junior high and high school, both of my parents sacrificed to allow my brother and I the opportunity to attend a private school.  My parents may have gone without but to my honest recollection, I never remember an occasion that I didn’t have everything I needed.

For most of my childhood and into college, I called him Tony.  Recently, I called him that and recognized it has been many years that I used his name.  Somewhere along the way, the transition came and I started calling him Dad, although I cannot remember exactly when that happened.  Perhaps it was with the birth of my first child, when the realization arose of the responsibility being a parent entails.  My Dad loved my mom and I enough to take on that responsibility when he didn’t have to.  He may not have been a perfect man, but God knew he would be the perfect Dad for me.

The first time I ever heard this song, it reminded me of my Dad.  The lyrics (see below) perfectly describe my Dad as the man “he didn’t have to be.”

Thank you Dad.  I love you!


“He Didn’t Have To Be”

When a single mom goes out on a date with somebody new
It always winds up feeling more like a job interview
My momma used to wonder if she’d ever meet someone
Who wouldn’t find out about me and then turn around and run I met the man I call my dad when I was five years old
He took my mom out to a movie and for once I got to go
A few months later I remember lying there in bed
I overheard him pop the question and prayed that she’d say yes And then all of a sudden
Oh, it seemed so strange to me
How we went from something’s missing
To a family
Lookin’ back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be I met the girl that’s now my wife about three years ago
We had the perfect marriage but we wanted somethin’ more
Now here I stand surrounded by our family and friends
Crowded ’round the nursery window as they bring the baby in And now all of a sudden
It seemed so strange to me
How we’ve gone from something’s missing
To a family
Lookin’ through the glass I think about the man
That’s standin’ next to me
And I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be Lookin’ back all I can say
About all the things he did for me
Is I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be Yeah, I hope I’m at least half the dad
That he didn’t have to be
Because he didn’t have to be
You know he didn’t have to be

(Taken from AZLyrics.com)



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