She knew he was a good man, for reasons she could probably list if she had the time and inclination to sit and list them, but the reason she could always give if she thought anyone would understand was that he’d once patted her butt and been shocked and dismayed by the action. The look on his face and his stammering were all the proof she needed that he was a good man. Although a bit more explanation could help those who weren’t there and might not otherwise understand.
The thing was: he was her step-dad. Normally you hear of a step-dad patting a teenagers posterior and you think: disgusting, abuser, rapist. And all for good reason. The thing was, he had done it reflexively, out of habit, because that’s what he did to his wife, her mom. It was his silent and gentle, “I love you,” given usually when she was in the act of doing something that showed her love and appreciation for him: making dinner, bringing him a cup of tea, covering him with a blanket when it was chilly. A soft pat, pat, pat on her rump.
The night he patted her they were all three in the kitchen making dinner together. Rather than have one cook in the kitchen responsible for the whole shebang, they’d divvied up the chore such that he was making the main course, her mom was making the salad, and she was making the veggie side dish. They were all talking about their day, and she had gone to fetch her parents each a glass of wine. She gave her mother hers first and earned a “thank you, sweetie,” and hug for her efforts. She’d taken the other glass to her step-dad next and he’d said, “mmm,” taking a sip, “thank you,” and then patted her butt.
Everyone froze. He immediately began to turn red and apologize and then stammer through something that sounded somewhat like, “I didn’t mean…was that…I don’t know….” Before he started sweating too profusely she and her mother, both looking at each other the entire time a question in one another’s eyes, began to smile and laugh. “Was that okay? Is it okay to do that?” he finally asked. Mother and daughter looking at one another still, replied together with identical shrugs. “I guess so,” she said. “I think it’s okay,” her mother said.
Despite their affirmations that they both understood completely that there was nothing sexual or untoward meant by the gesture, despite their affirmations that they both knew he was simply using the only sweet and loving gesture he’d ever learned in a habitual manner on the incorrect recipient. Despite it all, he never once repeated the gesture. It had embarrassed him, shaken him to the core. The very idea of himself being seen or thought of as anything other than a good man was more than he could handle.
And while she was perfectly okay with it, aside from the fact that it was awkward because she understood that the gesture on it’s own could be construed as sexually intimate despite knowing wholeheartedly that it was not meant that way when done to her, she was also sad and relieved that it never happened again. She knew he loved her like a daughter. She knew he would do anything for her, just as he would for his biological children. She knew. And she knew he was a good man. Still. It had been nice for just a moment to know that she had received a token of his affection that his biological children never had. She had been treated extra special, just once. Even if it was comical and accidental.
It was not an event she could tell anyone about though. She knew that without anyone having to tell her. Not that her mother or step-dad would tell her she couldn’t talk about it, or imply that, or in any way ask her to keep it secret. They were good people. And despite it’s lack of sexual meaning, she knew that she could never tell someone “he’s a good man because he once patted my butt and was mortified,” because they wouldn’t understand. They might say, “oh my gosh, that’s too funny,” or they might say, “wait, he did what?” or they might say, “are you sure you’re okay with it?” But what they’d really be saying, what she knew they were really thinking was, “that’s dirty and I bet it’s just a matter of time before he tries something else.”
Which is why when she walked out of her room naked to go to the bathroom on a weekend when she thought she’d heard her parents leave for breakfast, and instead ran into her step-dad fixing the leaky sink faucet she’d been begging him to fix for weeks, and it was her turn to be completely mortified. She was also even more sure that this was a story she could never share either because people would say things like, “oh my god, I would just die of embarrassment,” or maybe, “dude, that’s super awkward, what the hell were you doing walking around the house naked?” or maybe, “wait, you did what?” But what they’d really be saying, what she knew they were really thinking was “that’s dirty and I told you it was a matter of time before he’d try something else.”
It wouldn’t matter that when she realized he was there she immediately “eep”-ed, turned around, and flew back into her room, slamming the door behind her, turning bright red and leaning her back against the door, her head hanging down in shame. It wouldn’t matter that he stood in the bathroom for a few minutes, trying to figure out what to say before walking towards her door (not too close), and saying, “hey, you know, it’s no big deal. I didn’t see anything. I should have warned you I was down here. That faucet is fixed now. I’m going back upstairs. It’s really no big deal,” and then walking up the stairs and away from the red-hot shame she knew could be felt for a mile around her person.
She knew he was a good man. She knew she could explain how she knew that if she was given enough time, but it would be things like, “he’s thoughtful about birthday and Christmas gifts,” and “he always asks if I need any money when I go out with friends,” and “he says I can call anytime for anything if I don’t feel safe or I need help,” and everyone would nod at those things and think “yeah, he’s a good guy, I guess. I mean, those are things a good guy would do.” But they wouldn’t really get it. They wouldn’t really know deep in their bones that he was a good guy. Because she’d never be able to explain it. No one would understand. But he was a good guy.
~~~That’s one hour~~~