The 17-year-old windbreaker

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
In 1992, I was going through what most people would refer to as a "life change."

During this course of change, I joined the Air Force, got married to a wonderful woman and moved overseas for the first time. I also became a stepfather.

After I married my wife Bobbi on May 4, 1992, while in technical school, I took on the challenge of all challenges in being a stepdad to a 14-year-old -- even though I was barely 23 years old myself. I honestly didn't know what to do at first, but over time it became evident that I needed to be a person of influence in whatever way I could.

That 14-year-old's name is Holly Habersetzer. Holly, as I figured out immediately into the marriage, is a very social and active teenage girl. Her personality, alone, is as big and beautiful as any I had seen to that date.

In setting up our household as a family, I knew Holly had been living with a strong set of morales and rules provided her mother long before I came along. So I knew that simply, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I knew within days of becoming a stepdad that I needed not to impose what I knew on Holly, but instead do whatever I could to help her mom continue Holly on the path she was already on. In the long run, that has proven to be the best decision I ever made.

Through constant communication, Holly and I had developed a bond that was loose at best early on, but just six weeks after I became her stepdad I learned it was more solid than I thought. On my first Father's Day in June 1992, Holly bought me a card and a gift -- a simple green and black windbreaker.

It's a pull-over jacket sized as a large. Immediately after I got it from her, I was to say the least...overwhelmed. I didn't expect it because I felt that I had a long way to go to earn her trust. To me, at the time, it was her way of saying, "So far, you are doing okay."

I soon started wearing that jacket all the time. It was like a trophy I wanted to show everyone. In short, it was something that made me happy. Every year since, I take it out once in a while to think about Holly.

Through my last 17 years with Holly, I've learned so much thanks to her. I think it is because of her and my time as her stepdad that my other children are benefitting. I can remember times when Holly needed help with something and it turned out that I was the best person to do that for her. It could have been a ride somewhere, getting her from a bad situation, or just spending time with her. I knew that I always had to be there for her - often with that green and black windbreaker on.

I've never asked Holly to address me as "Dad," just "Scott." Being barely nine years older than her had something to do with that, but in order to earn the title of "Dad," I believe you have to earn it and show that you will be that person for a lifetime.

Several years after our family had grown from three to six with the addition of three more children, and after Holly moved on to start her own family, I went to visit Holly where she lives today in Vermont. I remember being introduced to one of her friends when she said, "This is my dad Scott."

Wow, was I surprised. At that point, I knew I had earned that first Father's Day gift of the green and black windbreaker. I remember giving her a big hug when she said it.

Since 1992, I have kept that jacket. It has shrunk with multiple washes and has faded a bit, but I can't bring myself to ever get rid of it. If there is ever one thing I treasure, it is this jacket. Monetarily, it is not worth much of anything but spiritually, it's worth more than anything I could ever buy or receive because I got it from Holly on my first Father's Day.

Holly's name today is Holly Gale. She's married to a great guy, Tim Gale, and has made me grandfather twice over providing my wife and I with two awesome granddaughters with Lyla and Alison. She's a great mom and great person. She's everything I'd thought she'd be today when I first got to know her back in 1992.

All I can say is "THANK YOU" to Holly for being a great daughter and friend. And thanks to a 17-year-old windbreaker, I always have that reminder of what it means to be a dad and a stepdad. Thanks Holly and Happy Father's Day to all.