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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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My Stepfather
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At 12, I could be very determined, and I was not going to let Ben McIver be a friend to me, no matter what he did or said. He wanted me to love him, or even simply to like him. He adored my mother, and she adored him. When I was 18, they got married. I didn't go.

Every person, I suppose, does things in the course of their life that are just plain wrong and that generate regret they can never completely eliminate. For me, how I related to Ben is one of those things. There was so much I didn't understand about adult lives. He was a good person, I think, although he and my mother both sank deeper into alcoholism as the years went along. And suddenly he was dead.

He was a traveling salesman (industrial and agricultural elevator equipment, things like belt loaders and the like). One day he was in Iowa and had some chest pain. He checked into the hospital at Keokuk, and called my mom to say he wouldn't be home that night, they were running some tests, and not to worry because he felt fine. Ten minutes later he died.

My mother's grief was immense, and only then, at 29, did I realize how much I had wronged both of them all those years by my selfish intransigence. I hadn't gone to the wedding. We still didn't get along nine and a half years later, when I graduated from college. What a complete fool I was, to hurt them like that.

Years later my mother forgave me, but the moral of the story remains: don't be a jerk about your parents. Whatever else may be at play, they have lives apart from yours, and their choices or decisions for themselves are theirs to make, not yours.

I don't regret very many things over the course of my long life, which I guess is a good thing to be able to say, but I will always wish that I could have escaped the limitations of my focus on myself and of my own insecurities enough to have seen Ben's virtues while he was still alive.

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