Up to the Task and Down for Anything

Posted on May 29, 2019, 11 a.m.

In 2016, the Sociological Journal of Contemporary Sociology published a groundbreaking paper by Dr. Elizabeth Schwartz-Gibbons entitled Improvised Ethics: Normative and Non-normative Parental Behaviours in Blended Families. In it, Dr. Schwartz-Gibbons investigates both theory and praxis of how modern blended families navigate the complications of co-parenting in what she calls ‘hybrid nuclear units.’ Using extensive interviews, Dr. Schwartz-Gibbons developed some fascinating case studies of blended families that yielded her greatest contribution to the field: a newly identified parental figure she called the ‘Step Dude.’ She defines the Step Dude thus:

Whereas the Stepfather identifies more explicitly with established psychoanalytic categories of authority and clearly delineated norms of control, the Step Dude favors an improvised approach to familial engagement, with a predilection for immediate experiential connection, sometimes at the expense of order or entrenched paradigms.

We at Mother’s Brewing Company have ourselves grown up with a few of these Step Dudes and even count at least one among our ranks at the brewery. The Step Dude’s commitment to spontaneity and experience inspired the name of our American lager, itself brewed for easy drinking with whatever you have on your agenda. As we say around here, ‘Step Dude’s Down for Anything.’

The participants in Dr. Schwartz-Gibbons case studies paint a portrait of the Step Dude joie de vivre. In that spirit, we offer here, with the author’s permission, selections from Improvised Ethics as a salute to Step Dudes everywhere. Pour yourself a glass and enjoy.

Guess this would’ve been about ‘93 or so. I was 14. Drove past a few busted up shopping carts in a ditch and my Step Dude pulls over, throws them in the back of his pickup. Spends the weekend replacing some bearings, shoring them up with tie wire and duct tape. Grabs me one evening and says, “They’re road ready. Race you to the bottom of Decker’s Dive.” That was the biggest hill in town. So we’re sitting at the top of that thing and I’m looking down like, “This doesn’t seem safe.” And there goes Step Dude, with a running start. Jumps into the cart and says, “Last one down can suck an egg!” I don’t know how much WD-40 he greased that sucker up with but he starts picking up major speed. I don’t even move from my spot. No way in hell I’m going down that hill. Sure enough, cart gets speed wobbles. Step Dude’s shifting his weight, trying to keep straight. Thing starts careening and he’s laughing like a fool. He’s not even halfway down when the cart jackknifes and throws him clear. Both he and the cart go tumbling ass over elbows all the way to the bottom. I truck down there to see if he’s all right. Looks up me and says, ‘Beat you.’ Broke his collarbone and had some nasty road rash that left a scar. Years later, he and Mom are dropping me off at college and as they’re getting ready to drive off he rolls down the window and says, “Remember: I still beat you.” — -- Damon, Elm Bluff, MO
Step Dude was the one millionth customer at the local Snappy Stop. Prize was a gift card to the convenience store. My Step Dude loved to share, so he took the thing, went to every store in the area and cleaned out their roller grills. He put a folding table on the lawn and loaded it down with hot dogs, taquitos, and a shit ton of chips, pretzels and all the rest. Invited the whole block. Put the speakers in the windows and we had a full-on party until the sun went down. Next year he was elected president of the Neighborhood Association. — -- Stephanie, Rogerstown, AR
We held a family reunion and Step Dude organized a canoe demolition derby. I mean, it was fun. But they were rented canoes. Needless to say, we’re not allowed back at the Sunrise Beach Resort and Marina — -- Brett, Parker, MO
When I moved out, Step Dude started an Instagram so we could stay in touch. I’m not sure that there is a more unflattering collection of selfies online, anywhere. I tried to teach him about angles and filters, but he said, ‘Eh, I look like what I look like.’ But he’s got more followers than I do, so what do I know? You should follow him. — -- Brianne, Turnburg, KS
After watching Blue Planet on Netflix, my Step Dude bought used scuba equipment for himself, Mom, me, and my sister off eBay. We don’t live within a hundred miles of a divable body of water. And he doesn’t even know how to swim. — -- Luis, Freed’s Gulch, AZ
Mom made a crack one night about how she’d always ‘lived life in the fast lane.’ So for her birthday, Step Dude took it upon himself to paint racing stripes on her car. An 04 Camry. Mind you, he didn’t ask first. And had never painted a car before. Couple rolls of masking tape and a few passes of high gloss later the deed was done. Mom was fit to be tied. Laid into him. Until she noticed the color. Step Dude had taken a bottle of her favorite nail polish to the shop and had the color matched exactly. Off course, she had a hell of a time selling it later. — -- Keisha, Grove View, TN
My Step Dude kept me up until, like, three in the morning on a Thursday the twelfth when he figured out I hadn’t seen any Friday the 13th movies. I was excited to get to stay up late on a school night. He rented every one they had at the video store. Bought sodas, popcorn, candy. The whole nine yards. I regretted my decision about thirty minutes into the first one. He laughed like a loon every time I hid my eyes. We made it about halfway through the fourth one before I called it quits. But he called me in sick the next day for school. I ended up skipping our summer family camp trip that year. Still haven’t spent a single night in a cabin or tent since then. But, weirdly, I think that’s what started my obsession with movies. I’m graduating from film school next May and my final project a horror flick, so. And yeah, I gave my Step Dude a cameo. — -- Austin, Randall, TN

While we commend Dr. Schwartz-Gibbons’s contribution to scholarship, you don’t need a PhD to appreciate the influence of Step Dudes everywhere. Step Dudes may embrace the unknown, the absurd, and the off kilter. They may keep you off balance and wondering what comes next. And they may leave you with a few indelible memories or unexpected lessons. Like when a rule needs to be bent. Or a fear confronted. Or even when you simply don’t need a reason to follow your heart. Mother’s Step Dude is brewed in that spirit. Perfect after you pushed through the cramps and crossed the finish line in that first half-marathon. Or if you’re just sitting on the porch swing, holding hands and wordlessly watching the sun set. When you’re tucking into a helping of Grammy’s potato salad at the family reunion. Or taking a chance on the five star curry at that Thai joint everyone’s raving about. Hellbent on hitting every item on your list when you have just twenty-four hours in the city. Or throwing the itinerary out the window and seeing what’s around the next corner. Acting a fool on the dance floor in hopes that that one person notices you. Or ending a first date realizing that four hours of conversation feels like the beginning of an exchange that could go on forever. Step Dude has got your back. Up to the task and down for anything.


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