Being Second Best

Being first in my father’s life was very important to my stepmother. Perhaps it was a manifestation of her insecurities, but she had to know that she was the most important thing in his world. She made a bit of an exemption for God, because their theology stated that God came before anyone else, but as soon as that was out the way, she had to be number one.

This need of hers affected my brother and I in several ways, some more difficult than others. When my father came home from work, she had to be the first to greet him. Our childish dashes to the door to give him a hug before he’d even made it over the threshold were tolerated, or perhaps ignored, before they married. After the wedding though, she seemed to get more and more possessive, until our rushing to meet him would cause her to fly into a rage. We learned to curb our impulses, because she had to greet him first. We were told that otherwise we were usurping her place in the household. I didn’t understand what that meant as a child of ten or eleven, but it must have been something bad, because it made her so angry.

At the other end of the spectrum came her demands that my father choose between her or us, and that had some awful consequences.

I sometimes wonder how this part of my adolescent environment has shaped who I am today. Has the environment of enforced second-best status contributed to my desperate need to excel in what I do? Has it played a part in my feelings of never being good enough, not deserving anything good, and never feeling like I can really be important to anyone?

It’s likely that it has formed part of who I am today, and not in a good way. Perhaps as the years pass, it won’t hurt so much to remember, and I will unlearn the sick thinking patterns that it helped to foster in me.

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