Her voice cracked as she began to speak, so I knew it was going to be bad news.
Saturday, Dec. 30, at 12:28 a.m. I got a phone call from my little sister Ashley that changed how the rest of my life would look from here on out. She explained that our stepdad, Steve, went on a hunting trip with some friends and the trailer he was sleeping in caught fire and burned to ground. He never made it out.
Her words crushed me. They were impossible, unbearable, unhearable. There was no “step” in “stepfather,” not for Steve. He was a loving father to me and my siblings. He was my Papa Bear. Hugging him was like hugging a big warm bear.
My heart shattered into a million pieces the moment I got the news. Hour by long hour, I still keep trying to accept this as reality.
I woke up every hour of that first night in hopes that, each time, I’d wake up from my nightmare.
I knew without a doubt that he loved us. He was proud of his three kids. He kept our pictures by his bedside.
Like any family, we experienced some division and difficult times. The two of us had an unfortunate falling out when I was a teenager, but with tears in his eyes, he gave me the sincerest apology I have ever received.
We both apologized to each other and through that experience, he taught me how to truly forgive, without reservation. We went on to build a new relationship based on healing and love.
As the years went on, he would make the long journey often to Fort Stockton from East Texas to see me. Our bond grew stronger each time he came out here to visit. If I never moved to Fort Stockton, I would have never developed such a close relationship with him. He loved coming out here.
He was a charter member of the local Vein Cutter BBQ team and he loved competing in the annual barbecue cook-off in Pecos.
In 2016, the team won the Grand Champion title for the overall competition. He was so proud of that win, and his happiness was radiant when he was with his band of brothers, the ones who called him “Steve-o.”
He was such a chill and simple man. He was laid back, and loved a good jam session. Whether it was playing his favorite tunes off his iPhone or grabbing an acoustic guitar to play a song himself.
The day after that phone call, I sat at my kitchen table with loved ones, and we played the rock music he loved in his honor.
When the first song came on, it instantly tugged on my heart strings. I closed my eyes, because that way, I could see him sitting in the empty chair beside me. His Oakley shades covered his eyes, and he was sipping on his favorite, a cold green bottle of Heineken. It was like he was there jamming with us like he used to.
And then, in what I’d thought was a randomly selected song, the chorus sang, “Cause me, I'm rusted and weathered.” I leaned back in my chair in complete awe. Earlier that morning, I had been scrolling through his pictures on social media and on one, the caption read, “Rusted and weathered”.
My father-in-law didn't know to play “Weathered” by Creed, and my thoughts were too cloudy to connect the dots when the song started playing.
The chorus rolled in and yanked me up in surprise. It was like Papa Bear wanted me to vibe out to the song the way he would have.
The Bible says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I know God arranged that serendipitous moment to comfort me as I mourned such an unexpected loss.
Steven Jon Hanson had a Viking beard and his freckled skin told his life’s stories, in the ink of his tattoos.
He loved my mom and built her a home with his bare hands. Every board and nail he put into place. He loved his three kids, and loved his nephew Bryan and niece Jill like they were his own.
He loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing, his dogs and old Jeeps.
Of all the words I’ve heard since the night he died, my brother Nate’s words have stuck with me the most: “He was a man who loved.”
Rest in peace, Papa Bear.
On behalf of your wife Cyndi, your son Nate, your daughter Ashley, your granddaughter Nicole, your grandson Weston, your family and friends: We miss you more than you know.