Citing a profound yearning for the tenuous love and strained affection that only stepparents can provide, 10-year-old Danny Hartis, who was orphaned by a car crash at the age of three, says he often wonders what it would have been like to grow up in a “normal” family with his real stepmom and stepdad.
“Vacations, family dinner, a lack of genuine attachment to my parents’ new spouses—I feel like I really missed out on all those things growing up,” Hartis explained. “Not to mention hiding in my bedroom while my parents fought, the inevitable divorce proceedings, and remarriages.”
Luther Pittman, Hartis’ older cousin, took the boy under his care after his parents’ car accident. “I’d like to think I’m providing a nice life for him,” said Pittman, “but I know I could never take the place of his dad. And the string of girlfriends I bring through the house doesn’t inflict the same type of trust issues and inherent instability that Danny would develop if he were in the care of potential stepmoms.”
Hartis added that, although his two siblings have been a “comfort and source of incredible support” throughout his childhood, he wonders what it would have been like to have had “a real family, with stepsisters and half brothers and custody battles.”
Hartis has found that his experience isolates him from other children. “I’m the only one in the whole fifth grade who doesn’t have to go to his dad’s house on the weekends,” he explained. “And yesterday, my friend Jack was complaining about how his stepmom favors his half-brother. I wanted to say, ‘Do you even know how insensitive you’re being? My parents are dead. I never even got to meet my stepmom.”
“That wouldn’t have made me feel better, though. Losing your parents—losing your chance at ever having a large, feuding family that can’t stand to all be in the same room on Christmas—that’s not something you really ever get over.”
“But it’s the day-to-day stuff that I miss, too. Imagine spending your whole childhood without having a stepdad to tell you ‘Listen sport, I love your mom a lot and I think you and I are going to be good friends.’”
Now, Hartis can only dream about the family he lost. “If I have trouble sleeping,” he said, “I’ll lie in bed and make up stories about things I might have done with my stepparents.” Hartis explained that he especially wishes he could have a stepdad to coach his baseball team, and a stepmom to glance at him disdainfully when he visited.
“I like to imagine that her eyes would be blue, unlike mine.”
Originally published January 2015