STEPPED UP by Ralph Harper


The Urgency for Fatherhood


A straight-talking memoir about a stepfather’s sometimes rocky but always loving relationship with the blue-eyed stepson who stole his heart.

In his lively debut, Harper, an African-American, doesn’t dwell on racial differences between himself and his stepson, Cody, whose biological father is Caucasian, but skin color isn’t really what makes this relationship unique. What stands out is Harper’s heartfelt bond with Cody—the two met when Cody was 3—and his determination to remain an active stepfather, even after his marriage to Cody’s mother ended in divorce. With an amiable voice, the author cobbles together the story of his life with Cody over the years, discussing child-rearing topics, especially discipline. Harper doesn’t claim to be an expert on the subject—his methods were sometimes spur-of-the-moment attempts to teach Cody “life lessons.” Once, he paddled Cody, and he now seems to regret it, since he spends a great deal of time explaining it. When the precocious Cody wouldn’t take his schoolwork seriously, Harper forced him to write “My education is my number-one priority” a thousand times. There’s some rambling in the narrative and quite a bit of repetition as Harper drives his points home, but the overall story remains vivid. The author also analyzes underlying emotional reasons why he stayed in Cody’s life: “My relationship with Cody has turned out to be an amazingly important personal journey for me because, sadly, my other children became victims to certain women’s respective ‘right to choose.’ ” Additionally, his relationship with his own father in Alabama wasn’t ideal. Regardless of whether readers agree with Harper’s personal views or parenting style, most will agree that he admirably filled a role which Cody’s biological father, who rarely enters the scene, did not. Harper’s central message is not that families with blood relations are better than blended families; rather, this is a soapbox call for fathers to “man up” because, writes Harper, children need them, and it’s never too late to make amends.

An earnest, touching story of a man and his stepson.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1490320717
Page count: 282pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:


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