Howard married my mother when I was 10. The interesting thing about a second marriage is that the anniversary marks my own relationship with Howard, as well as his marriage to my mother.
From the start I liked Howard and respected him. But it was a couple of decades before I came to appreciate him adequately, and a couple more before I believe I understood him. As has already noted, my family tends to be flamboyant. Howard was not and I thought that was a flaw. It took those decades to see that it was merely different and often a strength.
Howard made the word stepfather a positive. He taught me that a second marriage can mean a wider collection of people to help and that it does not have to mean competition, and with Howard it never did.
He was extremely careful in his role with me... at first.
I remember our moving from Chicago to Dallas, when I was not helping, and he gave me a very disapproving look. He wanted to say something, but he did not.
His first, independent, parental act that I remember was positive. This is someone who would not bend laws or rules, nevermind break them. I had a learner's permit but had failed my driver's exam twice. So he was stuck driving me on dates. When I told him I was ready for one night's escort, he handed me the keys and said to have a good time. I was understandably confused. He said he had decided I needed a vote of confidence.
On the other hand his second independent, parental act was after he caught me driving very badly -- like a typical teenager -- and he quietly told me that we did not need to bother my mother with this, but I was grounded for a month.
I think I learned as much from Howard at the end of our relationship as I did from the start. He took the news of his illness with extraordinary dignity and affirmative acceptance. One day after his operation we took a walk for his exercise and chatted about it. He was not so much private as restrained. He was perfectly comfortable being candid and direct... for a time. Then he said he had enjoyed earlier parts of our chat more, so we returned to more pleasant topics.
He said he was not afraid of dying... He would rather be living, but he was not afraid of dying. He said that 87 was a pretty good age. He told me that he had thought about it when he was 50 and 87 was ok. Of course, from 87, 88 looks a lot better, but he was not afraid of dying.