Travis, a 30-year-old living in Kentucky, grew up without a father. Though he never knew what it was like to have a dad or understood what that relationship means, that didn’t mean he was going to give up on being one himself.
Five years ago, his high school crush and her two kids — a 6-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old son — re-entered his life. The two rekindled their love and got married. One day, his wife’s daughter called him “Dad.”
“From the moment she called me Dad for the first time, I was going to be the best father I could possibly be,” he tells MEL.
Like Travis, the two kids grew up without dads of their own. The girl he now proudly calls his daughter “was abandoned by her father before she was born, and my son came from an extremely abusive father,” he explains.
Travis has been there for the two of them for the past five years, and married to their mom since October 2017. “I honestly have trouble remembering my life or myself before they came around,” he says.
A year into the marriage, they began discussing adoption, and immediately his daughter asked to take his last name. In fact, Travis says, his daughter had wanted his last name for a long time — and when she told him, “it really hit me hard,” he says. “It’s really hard to describe the feeling.”
Had it all been on tape, perhaps Travis’ reaction would look like that of the dad in this viral video from June.
Dads like Travis can be hard nuts to crack, so I asked a few people who took their stepdad’s last name to see what their thought process was, and how it changed their relationship.
“I wouldn’t be the man I am today without my stepdad… In many ways, you could say he saved my life.”
Josh Stone, Texas, 35
My mother and stepdad met in late ’88 when I was 4. They married in ’91. I didn’t see my real father very often, and unfortunately most of my early memories of him are terrible.
Even worse, there are two other individuals in my area that had my same full name, even though the surname of my biological father wasn’t that common. But these two have a knack for robbing people, cooking meth, committing arson, all that good stuff.
After years of being tired of getting mistaken for the wrong Josh, and after having a major falling out with my biological father, I had my first hard debate on changing my name. After all, my stepdad had raised me my entire life, so I finally took his last name in 2008 when I was 24.
Coupled with my desire to never see my father again, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea.
When I talked to my stepdad about it, I could tell it meant a lot to him, even though and he isn’t the type to show emotion. A month or two after making it official, I talked to the extended family during a holiday and they all supported it.
Funny thing, during the actual process, I had to go to the police department to get my fingerprints ran, among other things. They sent my prints and name to the capitol for a background check and it got hung up for three months.
Why? They once again confused me with one of the other two criminal Josh’s, but at least it was the last time.
Re-learning how to sign my name was probably the worst part, it took longer than I expected. Then when I was first dating my spouse I had to explain to her why people would call me this weird name — my original surname — that she had never heard about.
But I carried on, correcting people and still trying to sign my name right. Then, five years ago, I had a daughter and my entire life changed. I started to look back on things and see them in a new light.
How would I react if my daughter never spoke to me again. It tore me apart just thinking about it. So I called my father and over the last three years have worked out our differences. He now has a relationship with his only granddaughter.
He understands my decision, I’m sure it eats him alive. But I don’t regret it. I have things I picked up from my father, and quite a few things I picked up from my stepdad.
My stepbrother resents me to an extent because I got to grow up and bond with his dad. We have our differences but he accepts me as a brother these days.
I wouldn’t be the man I am today without my stepdad. He accepted me as his own and spent countless thousands on medical bills, medicine, dental, etc., over the years. In many ways you could say he saved my life.
“To this day, I have all his mannerisms. His temper, his personality. If we stub our toe, we react the same way. Now the name is a perfect fit!”
Rob, 34, New Jersey
My stepdad started dating my mom when I was only 5 months old. He’s the only dad I’ve ever known, since my biological father didn’t want to be one.
Eventually my mom remarried, and my little brother was born. To make things easier, my mom started using my stepdad’s last name for me as well, which included school registration, Little League, and doctor’s records, you name it. She’d told me that my stepdad wasn’t my biological father as soon as I was old enough to understand, but I used his last name anyway, because we were a family.
The process to make it legal, however, didn’t start until college, when I had to apply for financial aid using my birth name. Even though my stepdad’s name was on my license and passport, it wasn’t technically my legal name. And since 9/11, the [New Jersey] DMV introduced the six points of ID system. So suddenly I had these two half-identities — neither of which I had all the documents to prove it was me.
I had already taken his name as a child, so at 22 I needed to make a decision in order to renew my driver’s license. It seems superficial, I guess, but that’s what tipped the scales to getting it done legally. I didn’t have a middle name, so I used my birth name as my middle name, and my stepdad’s surname.
Even at that time, my stepdad and I didn’t have a lot of common interests. Growing up I felt like he favored my brother, his biological child. He was pretty indifferent to the whole process. To the people in my family this was just a formality. He never adopted me, but I was always his.
But our relationship evolved when I started working for him during my summer break, mowing lawns for his landscaping business. He’d introduce me as his son, and tell his customers I was in college for engineering and how proud he was. I really didn’t expect that. He wasn’t a very affectionate guy, more of a lead-by-flawed-example type of person.
Now, to this day, I have all his mannerisms. His temper, his personality. If we stub our toe, we react the same way. Now the name is a perfect fit!
So while I regret that there was no tearful reveal and heartfelt reaction, I feel blessed that I always had his acceptance and I never felt like I wasn’t part of the family.
We never talked about what the decision meant to him. Like I said, he’s not outwardly emotional, but my mom has assured me it meant a lot. Last year I had my first child, and I named her Antonia — after my stepdad, Anthony. He was over the moon, and is absolutely in love with his granddaughter.
“To me, taking his name was the ultimate expression of love as it signifies a closeness that we wouldn’t have any other way.”
Kimberly, 31, Georgia
Growing up, I was a true daddy’s girl and a tomboy. Working out in the shop with my dad was the best part of any day. My world was torn apart at the age of 9 when my parents divorced. My mom married my stepdad when I was 15 years old. At that time, he was 61 years old — 25 years senior to my mother. I wasn’t very accepting because I still wanted my birth father in my life and I was worried this man was too old to understand me.
As the years passed, I grew closer and closer to this man who chose to take me in as his daughter. I always joke with him and tell him thank you for teaching me to be a man even though I’m his daughter.
I decided in 2006 that I would love to share the same last name of the man that I consider my father. I never acted on it because I assumed it was expensive or hard to do. I had mentioned the idea a few times over the years to my stepdad and he liked the idea but nothing ever came of it.
Even though there are a million reasons for me wanting to share this man’s last name, the deciding factor was how he decided to take me in as his daughter and teach me things that I would have never been taught without him in my life. The fact that loving me was a choice, not an obligation, made it clear that he wanted me when my biological father didn’t care about me.
As the years passed, my dad’s health began to deteriorate and I knew that he didn’t have many years left on this earth and I didn’t want him to leave me without knowing just how deeply I love him. To me, taking his name was the ultimate expression of love as it signifies a closeness that we wouldn’t have any other way.
On January 13th, 2016, my dad was out working hard to help a friend and I set out to the court house on a whim to see what changing my name would entail. At this time, I was 28 years old and he was 74. After working out the details, I was able to change my name that very same day! I immediately drove to the job site with the decree in hand to tell him what I had done (picture enclosed of the moment I told him). Keep in mind, this man rarely shows emotion but he was so happy to hear that I had made the change.
We haven’t really talked much about the change since that time as we both know why I did it and what it means to us. Looking back, it was the best decision I’ve ever made, and I wish I would have done it earlier so that I could carry the name longer. Having someone come into your life and make the decision to accept you and love you when they didn’t have to is such a wonderful feeling. I am grateful to call this man Dad and sharing his name makes that bond even stronger. Thank you, Dad, for loving me, always.
As for Travis, he’s still ironing out the details. “I want [my daughter] to have a hyphenated last name of my own and her mother’s, as my wife’s parents are both deceased and I want that name to go on as well,” he explains. “My son is going to have the same, but we are currently in the process of tracking down the biological father to get him to potentially sign his rights away.”
Despite still working through the adoption red tape, he says the most important thing is that it doesn’t change the family dynamic, outside of being “a way of telling the world around us how much we care about each other.
“We are an oddball kind of family, all of us weird with our own quirks, but it works,” he laughs. “When the children are older, I hope they can understand how much this really means to me, and I’ll do my best to convey that to them.”