The Big Lessons I’ve Learned About Being a Stepfather

I was raised by my stepfather. Now I get to be a stepdad to someone else and it's wonderful.

by Gustavo Muñiz
father with arm around son orange background

When I was around 24, I started proclaiming that I wanted to be a father. Not that I had a plan to accomplish this, but rather that I loved the idea of being a father and caring for a child that I would nurture, if the opportunity ever presented itself. Fast-forward to present day, and I think I’ve realized that what I’ve always wanted was to be a father figure. That might sound like a cop-out, but I feel that it can be equally rewarding.

One of the first things my wife, Lupe, mentioned on our first date was that she had a son, Isaiah, who was 10 years old at the time. I think the fact that I didn’t immediately ask for the check that night, eventually led to meeting him four months later. Marrying her four years later gave me an instant family, and I officially became a stepfather. I have that opportunity to be a father figure, and I can honestly say that I love this role.

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I’m not new to this situation, though, because I was a stepson myself. My mother remarried when I was 20, but I had already known my stepfather, Beto, for about seven years. Interestingly enough, my stepfather was also a stepson, and it would not surprise me if my stepson also becomes a stepfather.

My experience as a stepson has given me guidance for my role and responsibilities as a stepfather. Since I must have been out getting donuts when the stepfather classes were happening and Hallmark hasn’t yet figured out how to capitalize on Stepfather’s Day (unofficially, it’s the Sunday after Father’s Day, by the way), I’m sort of “learning on the job.”

Lupe inadvertently (maybe?) helped ease me into the role before we were married. She allowed me to interact with Isaiah on occasional outings, and I got to know him as his friend, as opposed to an authority figure.

I remember how Beto would interact with us, would give us advice, would take us fishing and would teach us about auto repair, so I try to do the same for my stepson. Of course, the teaching moments are different, but I still feel honored that Isaiah has allowed me to be part of those moments – show him how to tie a necktie, how to shave, how to drive a car and how make his Mother’s Day gift Instagram-worthy.

Lupe expects me to provide guidance and counsel, and I strive to do that. I don’t pretend to be his father (that’s his father’s role), but I do end up doing some “fatherly” things, such as go to Report Card Night at school, settle a discussion or tell Dad jokes. Just as Beto never forced me to watch football with him (Go Cowboys!), I don’t intend to force Isaiah to be into cycling or fonts. And, even though we have a friendship, I’m not trying to be his best friend. In other words, when his friends come over, I’m not about to pull up a beanbag chair and play video games with them.

Being a disciplinarian, though, is a tricky thing. I defer to Lupe to provide punishment if the need arises – not because I want to make her the bad parent, but rather because I don’t feel comfortable punishing her son (If she did a quarterly performance review for me, this would fall under “Areas of Improvement”). In these cases, I become more of an arbitrator or enforcer and try to hold him accountable to whatever the punishment was (I think my wife trusts my Libra sign for this). Still, though, I believe that each moment and experience helps us become a better family and my contribution as a father figure is significant enough to further bond with my stepson.

What all of this has taught me thus far is that I have a role to play, and my family and I are learning as we go along. If I could talk to my 24-year-old self I would say, “Yes, you want to be a dad, but be open to the idea of being there AS a dad – it’s just as valid, very rewarding and you’ll still be able to keep this ridiculous bicycle collection you have going on.”

I do my part wholeheartedly, and I’m lucky that Lupe and Isaiah are supportive. I’m lucky that Isaiah is respectful, and I’m thankful that Lupe has been an amazing mother. Beto was a great example for me, and if Isaiah continues this cycle of step-fatherhood, it is my hope that I will be a good example for him.

Gustavo Muñiz is a 75-year-old man trapped in a 48-year-old-body who does graphic design with First 5 LA in Los Angeles, California. In his spare time, he enjoys woodcut printmaking and cycling around L.A County. To score brownie points, he often gives his wife shoulder massages and secretly breaks things around the house, so that he can later “fix” them and look like a superhero in front of his teenage stepson.