This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in June 2014:
The first time Mom introduced us to him, he likes to joke, “she claimed you were circus dwarves.”
Not too long after that, Tom Berger became stepfather to me and my brother, Don.
I don’t know if he was ready to be a father. I certainly wasn’t ready to be a stepson. And although we loved each other in our own ways, I’m not sure we liked each other very much for a long time.
It’s never been for a lack of him trying.
I was kind of a jerk as a kid, but I blame that on divided loyalties – torn between undeniable ties to my biological father and the need to support my mother’s choice to invite an interloper into our house.
But here’s the thing: As much as I may physically resemble my father, Tom’s always been my dad. And I’m his son, even if it’s not by blood. I say this while 12-year-old me inside my mind covers his ears and closes his eyes and hums the theme to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
Sorry, kid. I am who I am today because of him.
When I was a child, he brought home George Carlin vinyl records and let me listen to them – even the one with the seven awful words. He showed us Monty Python on PBS. He introduced me to the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, Ursula K. LeGuin, Frank Herbert, J.R.R. Tolkien and Ray Bradbury. He told stories. He asked questions.
He helped me get my first real job at Walt Disney World, where he worked as an investigator in the security division. We often rode to work together. I’d read books to him along the way.
He took me to Enterprise 1701, the old tabletop gaming store in Orlando, and got Dungeons & Dragons manuals so I could try my hand at running adventures. He gave me my first curve ball as a referee, announcing during a game that his character suddenly rode upon a giant slug named Bernie and was using it to smash down my castle wall.
He hooked me on computer adventure games, from Zork to Ultima to Wizardry.
He’s been there through good and bad. He saw me graduate from Winter Park High School, Valencia Community College and the University of South Florida. Helped me struggle clear of the wreckage of my first marriage. He backed my decision to change careers from journalism to computer game design. Didn’t roll his eyes when I came back to the print media field. He supported Catherine and me in our effort to adopt John Michael. Well, John Michael Thomas Platt, to be precise.
Tom was adopted as a child. I remember sitting at the dinner table and hearing discussion about him legally adopting us. I didn’t know then that he’d been adopted. I didn’t know then that we’d share so much in common or that I’d go into the world with his curiosity, his sense of humor, his fondness for amusing others.
I remember hating the idea and raging at the thought of it.
Like I said, I was kind of a jerk.
He told me once that I’d be lucky to have more than a few great friends in my lifetime.
I’m proud now to count him among the greatest.
I’ve always loved him, but now I’m sure: I like my dad a lot.
Wes Platt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.