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By Bob Cowser Jr.

Jake has decided to move with his father to Alabama. Tonight. No time for discussion.

Try to think of some positive images of stepfathers in literature, film, even television. I dare you. I would have said Joe Gargery, the simple blacksmith from Great Expectations, but he’s Pip’s brother-in-law, I eventually deduce, not his stepfather. Mike Brady from “The Brady Bunch” got on ridiculously well with his stepdaughters, but then that’s not the half of what was make-believe about Robert Reed’s portrayal of that character.

“It’s a thankless job,” the marriage counselor tells me, “practically impossible. You simply can’t be his father and shouldn’t try to be his friend.”

“What then?” I ask him. “I don’t do thankless jobs, as a rule.”

I hound the boy about why we can’t get along better. Jake and I have managed to string two or three good weeks together here and there, shooting hoops with his buddy Jared or sneaking a late night pizza past his mother. It lifts her spirits to see us this way, something Jake and I both want—we do have a love for her in common. But I go back to chewing my late-night cereal so loudly it wakes him from a deep sleep upstairs, and I can’t understand why he’s had to befriend and bring home every delinquent in the eighth grade. A bad day sets us back so far I despair of the whole enterprise.

“Look,” he finally says, “It’s nothing you did. I just don’t like you.”


Bob Cowser Jr.'s essays and reviews have appeared widely in American literary magazines. His first book, Dream Season: a Professor Joins America's Oldest Semi-Pro Football Team, published in 2004 by the Atlantic Monthly Press, was a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice. Cowser holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Nebraska and is associate professor of English at Saint Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

His stepson Jake, a US Marine, heads to Iraq in February.

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