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facts & arguments

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"I think they think of Dad as 'Dad,' " my sister said to me one evening last summer. She was talking about our stepsiblings.

"Do they call him 'Dad'?" I asked, feeling the words catch in my throat.

"I'm not sure," she said, hesitating. "But I know he's like a father to them."

Like a father to them. The news hit me like a punch to the stomach. I cried for hours that night, unable to calm the overwhelming feeling of panic that something so mine was being taken from me.

I guess you could call me a daddy's girl. While I know his love is unconditional, my life has been spent in pursuit of my father's attention and approval.

When I was a little girl, Dad and I often went for drives before bedtime in his pickup truck. I would already be dressed in my pyjamas when he would scoop me up into the passenger seat. Driving around town, we would discuss my future and whether I would be a doctor, a lawyer or a writer.

On summer nights, Dad and I would spend hours playing catch in the backyard. Concentrating hard, I would try to throw perfectly, revelling in my father's attention. Later, my sister and I would run through the woods behind our house to the baseball diamond to watch Dad pitch for his softball team. That's my dad, I would say proudly to myself.

I thought my father was the smartest man in the world, and anything he thought to be true, I did too. So the Edmonton Oilers were my favourite hockey team, and Wayne Gretzky was the greatest hockey player to ever live. I even proudly wore a Brian Mulroney button on my overalls.

As I grew older, though, I became more and more my own person. By 9, I didn't care much for hockey. By 14, I had a subscription to the New Internationalist and vowed to vote Green when I was old enough. Regardless of the chasm growing between our political views, my father was always the first to hear about a good mark I received in school, my latest choice in future career or why I thought Canada had a lot to learn from Scandinavian models of socialism.

My parents separated around the time I wrote my final high school exams. It had been a long time coming and though by then it brought some relief, the years leading up to it had been painful. The sense of loss I felt, and in many ways continue to feel, is tremendous.

By the time my stepmother and her children came into our lives, I was only home during summers and Christmases while I went to university away. My sister and brother were growing up and within a few years had both moved out of the house. As we moved on, my new stepsiblings seemed to fill our place. That house, the very house my parents had built together, became less and less our home.

A couple of years ago, I was with my father when he ran into an old university friend. They were getting caught up when my dad's friend asked him how many children he had. "Six," was his reply. The number stung. I told myself it made sense, but I couldn't control the hurt I felt in my heart.

I know from years of experience that my father is a wonderful dad. How could I be surprised then that my stepsiblings might also be won over by his humour, wisdom and ability to always look optimistically at the world around him? Not to mention his hugs?

What's more, I had been sharing my dad ever since my younger sister and brother were born, something I hadn't given much thought to before now. But to share my father with three new people at this point in my life was not something I had anticipated. Despite all the rational reasoning in my head, my heart has found this difficult to accept. I often feel more like that three-year-old girl following her dad around than the 31-year-old woman I am now.

A good friend of mine once observed that no one can cause a grown woman to revert to a childlike version of herself better than her own father. I find it hard not to feel taken over by a much younger version of myself when I think about sharing my dad. And when I have tried to express my feelings on the matter to my father, it's with a three-year-old's inability to communicate pain beyond crying that takes over me.

I still adore my father just as much as I did when I was younger. Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I continue to seek his approval on the choices I make. I cherish our time together, particularly the time we spend just the two of us, free to talk about politics, careers or where to get the best deal on home insurance. A part of me still mourns those years where my parents were growing apart. It's the same part of me that is jealous my stepsiblings get to have a version of my father in their lives that is happy and in love.

My stepsiblings are three wonderful people now in their late teens and early 20s. Despite the differences in our ages, one thing we have in common is that we were all children caught in the middle of divorce. While I have felt hurt, slighted and envious of their relationships with my father, how could I possibly be angry that something lovely has grown from a painful situation? How could I be mad that three more people love my father? As difficult as it is to learn to share, I know my dad loves my stepsiblings dearly, and I would not want it any other way.

Julia Christensen lives in Montreal.