A stepdad's nose for adventure

Fathers have only one chance to raise their daughters the right way. So says author Joe Kelly in an interview (page 13).

But sometimes life gives a daughter a second chance. My mom remarried when I was 20. Too late for a new father figure? Not exactly.

My stepdad was a talented handyman who could craft almost anything out of wood. He also knew how to build strong family ties.

Whenever I visited, my stepdad greeted me with a bear hug. He'd sit right down and ask what was new, leaning forward for my answer.

He built bridges in other, more unusual, ways, too. We made strawberry jam together. He invited me to ham-and-bean suppers he'd organized. And we made skunk runs.

Those happened whenever the striped stinkers tore up his lawn, looking for grubs. Out would come the Hav-a-heart trap; then, one by one, the skunks were moved to a more rural address.

The first time I rode shotgun, he carefully explained how to release the animals without getting them riled up. But during one deportation, things didn't go as planned.

He put the cage down on the ground, opened the door, and waited for the skunk to move. It didn't. So he coaxed it with a soft voice. Nothing. He cooed again. Finally he tapped the side of the cage gently. The skunk didn't like that. It bolted out the door and headed straight for my stepdad's feet.

Picture a scarecrow doing ballet. That's how this 6-foot man looked as he tried to get out of the animal's path. We didn't get sprayed, amazingly. Still, Dad noted, "That is not the way to handle a skunk."

But it was the way to reach out to a daughter. His secret was sharing little moments – even potentially smelly ones – and really listening.

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