FamilyLife Blended® Podcast

99: Growing Up Blended: Changing the Course of Your Family Legacy

with Fred and Anita Von Canon | November 21, 2022
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Growing up in an unstable blended home with 7 stepmoms and 11 marriages between his parents left Fred Von Canon determined to change his legacy. Listen to his conversation with Ron Deal as he and his wife Anita describe their passion and commitment toward creating a godly home in their own blended family.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Ron Deal

    Ron L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series of books including the bestselling Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart (with Dr. Gary Chapman), The Smart Stepfamily: 7 Steps to a Healthy Family, and Preparing to Blend. Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist, popular conference speaker, and host of the FamilyLife Blended podcast. He and his wife, Nan, have three sons and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Learn more at

Growing up in an unstable blended home with 7 stepmoms left Fred Von Canon determined to change his legacy. Listen to his conversation with Ron Deal as he & his wife Anita describe their commitment toward creating a godly home in their own blended family.

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99: Growing Up Blended: Changing the Course of Your Family Legacy

With Fred and Anita Von Canon
November 21, 2022
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Fred: My dad was/he was trying to get to where he could go and be without any of us to kind of free up and go for a little bit of a time. He was always forever picking up hitchhikers. And in that era—we're talking about in the seventies—that wasn't really that abnormal, but he picked up a couple guys, befriended them. They wound up staying with us and so he thought, “Well, heck, this is a perfect situation,” so he took off for a few weeks. We had the—the hitchhikers were our/were the adult supervision for a few weeks.

Ron: Welcome to the FamilyLife Blended podcast. I'm Ron Deal. This blended podcast helps, well, we hope it helps blended families, and those who love them, to pursue the relationships that matter most.

You are about to hear a story that is a little hard to hear, but there's something really good in it for all of us to learn. We'll get to that in just a minute.

Before we jump in, I’ve got to share with you some feedback we got from a listener. This woman said, “This podcast is a blended family must listen.” That's what she called it. She went on to say, “So much information and inspiration on how to make a blended family work. I didn't know what I didn't know.” I know! I mean, there's so much in life that I don't know, and there's always something else to learn. And when it comes to blended families, there's stuff you don't know. It's different than biological family living. And so that's why we’re here. We’re trying to help you learn a little bit more about that.

If you don't know, we're a donor supported ministry, a nonprofit, so every dollar that you may offer to support what we do is tax deductible. Sometimes people ask me, “So what are we giving to?” Well, yes, you're giving to production costs for this podcast, but this podcast is just the beginning of what FamilyLife Blended offers. We're the largest non-profit educational ministry in the country, with live events, resources, virtual events, training that we offer to couples and to pastors and ministry leaders.

This podcast is really just the beginning. If you're not familiar with us, please check us out, Just click around; you'll learn a little bit more about us. And if you are familiar with us and this podcast is helpful for you, pay it forward if you would, and just make it possible for us to reach somebody else. Again, the show notes will tell you how you can do that.

Hey, ladies, got to let you know our next Women and Blended Families livestream is next week—the week after this podcast releases anyway—Tuesday, November 29th, 2022, and it's our Christmas special edition. Now, our first women and blended families livestream—it goes out on YouTube® and Facebook®—it was a huge hit, so we're doing it again. Don't miss this one.

Again, it'll be hosted by Gayla Grace. You hear her voice on a regular basis on this podcast. She'll be joined by Lori McGregor and Cheryl Shumake. It's really a lot of fun and very encouraging, and it's free. Hello! It's free. We'd love to have you join us. Invite some people to log in, but you’ve got to get connected to the right place. So look at the show notes; it'll tell you how to get connected.

And if you're listening to this podcast and Tuesday, November 29th has already come and gone, and you're going, “I missed it.” Hey, it's YouTube; it's out there somewhere.
Facebook—you can find it.

Okay, I don't know if you noticed in the title, but this is episode number 99 of the FamilyLife Blended podcast—99. One more and guess what that makes?—100. You got it; 100 episodes. Now, if you've only listened to one, think about all the stuff you've missed. We would love for you to subscribe and make sure you're getting, but just open your app right now or go on our website and just scroll through the other titles. I guarantee you there's going to be something in there that's going to be helpful for you; get familiar with all that we have produced in this podcast.

Now, you're going to notice a theme as you scroll through those titles, and it's similar to the title of today, Growing Up Blended; and then you'll see somebody's name afterwards. We're going to be talking today with Yvonne Cannons about Fred's journey growing up blended.

This is a subject we return to over and over again on this podcast. Let me tell you why. Because I firmly believe that parents and stepparents, that pastors and counselors and teachers, everyone alike, needs to know what it's like to be a kid growing up in a blended family.

What we do is we talk to somebody who's lived that life, who's now a little older, has some perspective, can look back on what life brought to them, and they're just telling their story as they experienced it. And we now get to reflect on that and say, “Okay, what are the takeaways? What can we learn? What is this? What are the implications of this for a parent or for a stepparent or a grandparent or a friend who's trying to, you know, help a family out a little bit?”

That's what we do on this series of podcasts, Growing up Blended. Your job is to just imagine what it's like to be your child or your stepchild as you listen to this, and then apply whatever insights you gain to your family situation.

We've also learned there's a bonus for those of you who grew up in a blended family yourself. We have a lot of people who write to us and tell us. People bump into me at live events and just say, “You know, I'm getting so much perspective on my own life, looking back at my life growing up blended and wow, that's a bonus.” And so, who knows? Maybe that will be helpful for you today. We're just sharing journeys here. That's what it's all about today, so thanks for being with us.

Fred Von Canon and his wife, Anita, are with me today. Hey guys. Thanks for being here; appreciate you being here with us. They're a blended family, and Fred grew up in one, as I said a little while ago. They've been married 21 years. Fred had three kids when they got together. They've had two more together, so a total of five. Anita, let me just ask you, tell us a little bit about the five kids as we're jumping in.

Anita: Yes, so I always say if people ask, that we have two plus three kids. The three, I say, came as a package deal when I said, “I do, I do, I do, I do.” They were all teenagers. We jumped right into exciting times of parenting when we got married. Let's see; we have Anthony is the oldest and he just turned 40. Stanton is about to be 38. Leslie is about to be 36. Then we have Maggie, who's 18 and just went off to college and Morgan, who is about to be 17 and is in high school/a junior in high school.

Ron: Wow, 18 and 17. So mom, you just sent your 18-year-old off to college. How are you feeling about that?

Anita: Yes, we're good. We're good. [Laughter] No, we're really proud of her. She's going to do really great. We've worked hard for 18 years to get to this place where she's ready to launch and to do what she was made to do.

Ron: Well, that's great. I know when we sent our kids off, you know, you have that two sides, you know, just side by side. There's that excitement and enthusiasm for them, and at the same time missing them. There's just not as many people around the dinner table and it's like it shows up over and over. You realize they're not here. This is what we prayed for and they're not here. We wish that maybe they still were. So, yes, good luck with all of that.

Anita: Thanks.

Ron: Here's one of the things as we sort of dive in, you guys—well, let me put it this way. You have different families of origin that you grew up in. If I have this right, Anita, your parents have been married and are still married 56 years, something like that.

Anita: Mm-hmm.

Ron: And Fred, you're/between your parents, there are 11 different marriages.

Fred: Yes. Yes, not the traditional path. My dad was married eight times and my mom three times, so yes, there's a lot of marriage, a lot of divorce, a lot of murder and suicide. There’re all kinds of stuff that ended marriages, but yes, 11 of them.

Ron: Wow. Okay, so immediately, this just feels a little tough to hear. I have to ask you; I've heard you tell a little bit of your story in a public way. Is it tough to tell this story for you?

Fred: Yes and no. I mean, it is a little bit, but at the same time, I know there's people that can benefit from it. I think Anita likes when I tell it because she picks up something new each time that I've maybe forgot to say before. It's good for me to hear other stories too, so that you feel like, “Oh, okay, so that was crazy, but at least I'm not the only one.”
There's a little bit of comfort in numbers even though it is kind of a crazy story, but, no, I don't mind. I don't mind as a precautionary to certain people, to make other people feel like, you know, yes, there's other craziness in this world.

So yes, the good outweighs the bad in telling it. It hurts a little bit, but, you know, I, when you're/when you grow up, no matter how you grow up, honestly, if you grow up, you know the Cleavers, if you grow up like we did, if you, no matter how you grow up when you're in it, that's your normal. I mean, everything else is abnormal. You're the normal, right? You just have a frame of reference of you, because that's all you know.

And then as you get a little older, and that could be, you know, 10 or it could be 30 as you're looking back on things and going, “Huh,”—you know, that type of thing. As you have more perspective, you have more perspective, and you have more time and more layers of the onion to peel back and trying to understand what and why and all that type of thing. But when you're going through it, it's just, it's your normal. As crazy as it may be, it's still your normal.

Ron: I'm glad you mentioned Anita hearing your story because as we go through this, from time to time, Anita, I'm just going to check in with you because one of the things you get to help us to do is kind of put a different set of eyes on Fred's narrative.
You get to talk about “Here's the implications for us in our marriage,” and “Here's the things that have rippled over into our family—things we've learned, lessons, takeaways, positive things, and maybe some things that “Yes, we're having to figure out how to deal with that.’” And so, we'll be checking in with you from time to time.

Fred, let's just go back to the beginning, whatever that is for you. Again, the point of this Growing Up Blended is for you to sort of tell it from the experience that you had as a child, not so much your now grown, mature adult self, but as it from a kid's point of view. What do you remember about your family, first? Just walk us down that road.

Fred: Well, as a kid we moved a lot and so just always moving, always getting used to a new place and new people, and then moving again. I always say we moved a lot at night. My dad wasn't the greatest at taking care of—he left in some cases because he may have owed somebody something or he may have slept with their wife or something. So there was just situations where we would get at about dinner time; then we would get a U-Haul and pack it up and be gone by the time it got light.

Again, as a kid, I didn't think anything about it. I just assumed that's how everybody moved. And, you know, not really the case as it turns out, but when we were growing up, it's stuff you look back on now that seems a little crazy.

We had situations where we would be, even though we had—well, our mom and then seven stepmoms—we had along the way. There was never really that much time where we, it felt like anyway, that we had a stepmom around. Our mom and dad were split when we were—I have a brother that's a year older; brother that's a year younger—so we were two, three, and four; or one, two, and three. I mean, we were basically really small, so we don't remember her until now, later in life. But the stepmoms would kind of come in for maybe—feels like just a few months at a time and then they'd be gone.

Most of the time/a lot of the time, it was just growing up with my dad, who was a very—you know, his way or the highway—very strong disciplinarian. We got literally a belt whipping pretty much every day of our life. That was something, again, I just assumed every other kid did. He would always be traveling. He would want to go somewhere, so he'd leave.

We have a half-brother—we have lots of half brothers and sisters, as you might imagine. We had a half-brother that came and stayed with us some a few summers and like when we were, you know, eight, nine, ten, eleven. So there would be four boys there, and him, and he would take off and go to Missouri. We lived in southwest Virginia at the time, and he would go to Missouri for a couple weeks. He would leave us there for a couple weeks on our own.

Then he got to where he would take two of us with him and leave two of us at home. So, you know, we might be—we had 300 acres, a bunch of cattle. We had chores that we did every morning for an hour/hour and a half and then, in the evening when we got home from school—and we were on dirt roads forever. It was about an hour school bus ride so when we get home, we'd do our chores. But we would be on our own for a couple weeks at a time when we were nine and ten years old.

Ron: Wow. Okay, let me slow down just a little bit there. You're a young kid and you've got a younger brother. Sometimes there's somebody older who's there with you; sometimes there's not. How did that go? Like whom took care of whom and how did life work when you guys were left alone?

Fred: Well, for the most part we just, as you can imagine, what a few nine- and ten-year-old boys would do to a house in a couple weeks, but we always knew when he would/he was coming home. He had it set, and this isn't cell phone era, so we just had to kind of remember when, “Oh, he's coming home Thursday” or whatever.

So we'd spend that whole day trying to, or the day before, trying to clean up the mess that we'd made for a couple weeks. But we didn't—again, it was just weird. We didn't think much about it being abnormal because it's just what we knew. And so, he left us enough food and food for the animals and so we just went through the same routine we would do if he was there or not.

So, you know, it allowed us, if that's one way to look at it, or required us to grow up a lot quicker than most, and not in a way that like I think kids today are being pushed into growing up in a sexual way. We grew up in just a maturity, responsibility way and so it was just, it was different.

I don't know that—I mean, we fought all the time, so he would come back and there would be something broken or whatever. My little brother was slower than I thought he was. We had an old TV, and I had a shooter marble I was throwing at him, and I didn't/I led him too much and threw it through the TV. He came back one time, and our old black and white TV was/had a hole through it. So, you know, there's always stuff like that, but that might have been the case if he was there too, so it didn't feel like that much different. We didn't think anything about it being different.

When he would want to go there was one time—I don't know if I told you this story—that was/he was trying to get to where he could go and be without any of us to kind of free up and go for a little bit of a time. He was always forever picking up hitchhikers. And in that era—we're talking about in the seventies—that wasn't really that abnormal. A lot of people would pick up hitchhikers and a lot of people would hitchhike. But he picked up a couple guys, befriended them. They wound up staying with us and so he thought, “Well, heck, this is a perfect situation,” so he took off for a few weeks. We had the—the hitchhikers were our/were the adult supervision for a few weeks and so we wound up—

Ron: Were they reliable, dependable? Did they take good care of you guys?

Fred: No, they just/they kind of partied the whole time and we wound up sleeping out in the barn because they kicked us out of the house.

Ron: So, okay, okay, slow, Fred, Fred, this is not normal stuff, right?

Fred: I know.

Ron: I realize it was normal for you. You didn't know any different.

Fred: Right.

Ron: You guys just sort of took care of each other and this is the way life works. And that's true for all of us. We all have things—quirks in our family, whatever it is—where you just didn't know anybody's life was any different than that. But I’ve got to ask if you ever, even as a child, began to question, is Dad looking out for us? Can we really trust him?

Fred: We always felt like that—and it sounds strange juxtaposed to what I was just saying—we did feel like he had our back as it were, or he would look out for us because, you know he was kind of this intimidating figure and if we ever talked about something that was happening or if he ever got a sense that somebody was going to take/do something to us, he would kind of make it clear that that wasn't going to happen.

We always felt, in that regard, kind of protected. But looking back on it, even, it was kind of just strange how you—and when you start talking, when you have friends that want to come over and sleep over or you go to their house or something, that's when things like, “Huh, you guys, this is different. Then you try/then your brain starts processing, “Which is normal? This or that?” you know. Or if somebody comes out to our place and sees how we live, you know, it was like, huh. They're saying to themselves and sometimes out loud.

Ron: Right.

Fred: It was—you know, we lived in very, very, very rural, poor situations and so we didn't really get out a lot. Again, we had a TV briefly until I—

Ron: —until you threw a marble through it?

Fred: Yes, until my brother slowed down and I missed him. [Laughter] We just didn't have anything, so we didn't really get out and see the world a lot. All we saw was the chores. We had cattle and sheep and pigs and chickens, and they needed our attention and so we didn't really get a chance to kind of compare with reality until a little later in life.

Ron: Anita, I'm wondering, you know, we can't always draw a straight line from things that happened to us in childhood to adulthood, but I'm wondering, does he have a flaming independent side? Does he have high expectations for kids and chores? I'm just curious. [Laughter]

Anita: Well, we definitely live a different life. We always joke that he's country mouse and I'm city mouse, so there is definitely a balance, and our children are growing up more city suburban mice. They definitely don't have the chores that he speaks of and that he, you know, I think at some level lovingly remembers, but then also like, you know, you see it's kind of like, “Wait, what?” [Laughter]

Ron: Yes.

Anita: There's definitely the strong disciplinarian. Discipline is a really big important thing in our house and having integrity. I think that's some of what you'll probably get to. Like, as the pendulum swings in life. You know you grow up one way and then you're like, “I'm going to do it different.”

Ron: That's well said.

Anita: And integrity, I mean, I think of my husband and I—unwavering integrity is probably the first thing I would say, which I think if you start to think about unraveling what his dad was, it's a little different.

Ron: Fred, I'm wondering about your mother, your biological mother; where was she? And the stepmoms; had they started coming into your life when you're nine, ten, eleven years of age during these years where you're left alone sometimes?

Fred: Yes. We—so my mom actually lives in the house she was born in, in Fayetteville, Arkansas. So we didn't—and this is, again, there's a lot of fog with this. It may just be because of too many concussions playing ball or just because my mind wants to put it out; I don't know. But the first time I remember seeing my mom, she showed up when we lived in southwest Missouri, very rural area, but not far from Fayetteville.

She found us and this is in the mid-seventies, I guess, maybe mid to late seventies. She found us and just showed up at the door and said, “Hi, I'm your mom,” which was really weird because we had either been explicitly told or not led to believe differently when we surmised that she was dead. That's what we always thought all along, was that she wasn't alive and that's why he's marrying again and doing all this, you know, that kind of thing. It just didn't dawn on us that she was around, and I don't know, again, if we were told that or just, we, you know, we started believing it and he didn't lead us away from it, but that's just where we were.

It was really odd when she shows up and says, “Hi, I'm your mom.” I was on Team Dad at that point, and so it just, you know, I didn't really click with her and so that was an interesting time. My brother that's a year older, very much did. In fact, went down and went to high school down there for a year. They're still very close; he lives in Fayetteville as well.

I'm much closer with her now. We—you know, I don't say reconciled; we never really had differences. We just didn't know each other, right? Now we definitely go and see her and talk to her as much as we can. And she's been out here. When I ran for office a couple years ago, she came out to help at the polls when she was 80, so that was awesome.


So she's kind of back in our lives a little bit in the last, since our girls have been around, so the last 20 years or so. So that's been good. I don't—I mean, I just remember vaguely stepmom here, stepmom there. We’d just start to get attached a little bit and then they'd be gone. And so, it probably—I'm sure psychologically that has some bearing on, you know, how much attached—but I feel like I get to. Maybe it affected my brothers differently, but I don't feel like it made me less interested or able to attach and, you know, to people.

But back to your earlier thing, I do have high expectations for people to do what they're supposed to do and that probably leads from that and really taking ownership of something. “Here is your job. It has to get done. It doesn't matter what else gets done; this has to get done.” That type of thinking is kind of how we grew up and so that's taken with me into adulthood. So when we're hiring somebody or whatever, I just expect a take ownership of what you've got, right, and you shouldn't have to be babysat about doing whatever your job is. It might be chores for the girls; it might be whatever, but that's probably something that's carried forward.

Ron: You know, I will connect for the listener that that is a common attribute that we see of children who have a fractured family experience where their parents perhaps live in different homes, or one of their parents has died, more responsibility tends to be cascaded down on kids. Kids who grow up in that sort of environment tend to be independent and self-reliant and go-getters when they get to be adults because there's something in them. They've just learned how to do that.

Contrast that to a child who grows up with somebody doing something for them all the time and never having to cook a meal or drive themself to school even, which is a trend we're seeing more and more today with young people, interestingly enough, not getting their driver's license.

What I'm saying is sometimes there's good things that come about as a result of the responsibilities. You might even have called them burdens back then, and yet it helps to/makes you grow up in some ways that maybe you would not have. That can really lend itself to being helpful in adulthood.

I'm curious though, about these attachments. You mentioned, stepmoms coming into your life—just that journey of here's somebody new. I mean, put words on that. How did you trust yourself with them, or to them, I should say. Or, how did you think about stepmother, stepmothers in your case, in terms of how they related to you?


Fred: I don't think I really did would be the short answer to that. It, again, it was just—you know, he was really good at running them off. He was, again, very physical with us, so I suspect he probably was with them, and it was—a lot of this was short-lived and he would have either taken their money or their dignity or whatever and then, you know, ran them off kind of a thing.

I remember vaguely some, but I don't remember that level, you know, like, or could even put my finger on it, was there trust there or how that worked? I think for the most part we were just there. We were kind of pawns in some cases. I think probably a little bit of bait to help find the next one, you know, “Oh this poor dad raising three boys,” that kind of thing.

Ron: Wow.

Fred: You know, we, we weren't very much involved in a relationship with the stepmoms.

Ron: Okay, so this may feel like an odd question, but what did you learn about romance, about relationships, about acting in a trustworthy manner with someone in a close romantic or intimate relationship? What did you learn from watching Dad have that kind of serial relationships with other women?

Fred: Well, there was never any formal like instruction or anything, but what I learned by evidence, in looking back at it, is that I did not have any solid sense or grounding into what should be the prerequisites and parameters for a marriage. None. In fact, I got married at 19 years old. Looking back on it clear, just trying to get out of there when, you know, I met someone—had never really had serious girlfriend and just went like that. [Finger snap] Here we go and four months later we were married and thinking, and her too to some degree, but certainly me, that, “Hey, we got this figured out; us against the world. Everybody else is selling us short. They don't know what we know. We can do this” kind of a thing.

That's the mentality that I had but I'm sure a lot of that is based on just seeing that, “Hey, if it didn't work out,” even though I didn't have this in the front of my mind, I'm sure it was in the back of my mind “If this doesn't work out, there's other people out there,” kind of thing.

It was a completely different way of thinking about things than certainly I do now. And it's a completely different way of thinking about it than we learned through some FamilyLife resources and different things and different people. Like how this, and really, you know I think at some level I knew this, but to your question is what was modeled was very much not that. And so, it gave a kind of an implicit excuse to do that.

Even though a large part of me knew that that was not the way it should go, and the divorce wasn't my idea, it was a very, very difficult time with two-, four- and six-year-old kids to get divorced. I was wrecked. I was a Navy pilot at the time going through flight school, and basically, I got discharged out of the Navy because of depression. I wasn't able to/I had no interest in continuing that or doing anything like that. And it was just, I was wrecked to use today's terminology.

That's when I decided—and I'm 27 years old and been married for 7 1/2 years—and decided then that “I don't know if I'll ever get married again. I know I'm never going through this again.” That type of thing.

That then starts a process of like, how should this be? And bringing out things that I've known and bringing out things that I knew and saying, “There is a right way to do this and there's clearly a wrong way to do this.” And so, it certainly—you know you don't want to have to live a lesson like that firsthand. You'd love to learn it secondhand—see somebody make mistakes and then you don't make them. But sometimes, people make those same mistakes before they learn but fortunately for me it was, I'm a maybe a quicker study than he was.

Ron: Okay, so those lessons learned leads to relationship with Anita. I want to come back to both of you in just a minute and talk about commitment and some of the things that you guys have learned are helpful for a relationship.

But before I do that, let me just say to our listener, you know every single one of us listening to this story should be able to, and can go, think back to the implicit messages you got from the family you grew up in. The things that you quote learned, if I could put it in air quotes, I would say the things you learned about how to do relationships that you didn't know you were learning. It just sort of was/it just sort of became the expectation. It became your idea of what it is to be a husband or a wife, or father or mother or whatever roles you put yourselves in.

There are things we call them rules. The rules for how to do relationships. You bring that into your marriage and family as an adult, and sometimes you reap the benefits of those, and sometimes you run into brick walls with those rules.

I think the beautiful takeaway here is, “Yes, that happens to all of us.” And then we slow down, and we go, “Okay, let me rethink. What are the better blueprints for how to do relationships in life?”

And, obviously, we believe at FamilyLife that God's laid out some incredible blueprints for how to do life. I'll just share it with you guys recently, Nan and I recorded some radio with FamilyLife Today, our sister broadcast and podcast. And we were talking about the role of shame in our lives. I grew up in an incredibly, I would say, healthy, functional, family—loving, built on Christian attitudes and attributes.

And yet, shame was a parenting strategy that was utilized, and it left a lot of residue on me that, you know, it made me want to win everybody's approval, and made other people's opinions of me my idol, and that's stuff that I am still unpacking at age 55—turn 56 this month, so I'll just call it 56. It's still there and it's that, okay, I’ve got to see this for what it is. I have to say, “What's the impact on my life? What do I want to keep? What do I want to let go of? And by all means, God, please help me see my life, myself through your eyes not through the eyes of a 14-year-old who's just brought it with him.”

And so, every one of us listening right now, that's part of the journey I think of growing up and growing into Christ. He helps us with those things.

I'd love to hear from both of you, just what are some of those things you've learned, life has taught you guys, that makes for good marriage, good family, and commitment? I want to just start with that because, Fred, you were noting how obviously, commitment was not something you saw demonstrated by your father. And so, your first relationship/first marriage, you sort of had that in the back of your mind: “Well, if this doesn't work out, there's always something else.” What would commitments say to that attitude?

Anita: Yes, that's not going to work for committed marriage. [Laughter] That's not going to be a good foundation or a reference point.

I think that's part of our story too, is I come in with a completely different background. Not only have my parents been married for almost 56 years, but they still live in the house that I came home from the hospital in 47 years ago.

Ron: Wow.

Anita: I mean, it couldn't be two more different perspectives that we came from. And even just sitting here thinking like, “What did I implicitly learn just from growing up in that house?” I think honestly, one of the things I think I see for us is, obviously there's the marriage, but even more so to me is family and just how I grew up with a brother and a two parent, you know white picket fence kind of house, and cousins and aunts and uncles, grandmas, and, you know, everybody in close proximity and like getting together for holidays and very traditions based family, you know, And so like, there's things that just, they happen every year because, well, they happen every year,

And so that was also something that wasn't modeled for Fred and was not a part of the picture growing up. You know, what do birthdays look like and holidays and all of that. He can tell you stories that are different than mine and so then going forward into the like, “Okay, so what's it going to look like now?” The five kids now even different than like the first three.

Ron: Anita, let me just follow up real quick. There's a lot of people listening right now who are in your shoes. They didn't grow up in a blended family, but they married into one and they married into complexity, and they instantly became a stepparent like you did, and you married a man who has extended family. I don't even know how many people, we could count half-brothers, whatever the case is.

Fred: Neither do I. [Laughter]

Ron: Yes, neither does he and so what adjustment did you have to make, like stepping into that complexity?

Anita: I think, well just to be willing to adjust and to welcome everybody. I think it's really interesting, like, I know this is all about FamilyLife Blended and growing up blended and, but I think—like, not only that is people—we all have that story. We all have a background, but like, just who we are, right? Like, so we have two different stories growing up, but we're still both as adults, very relational people. We both really see people and know people quickly. And so, I think that's something—you know, we're both very open people. One of us extroverted, one of us in a more introverted fashion.

But like, I would think that people would say our home now is an open-door policy. And part of that was by design for the children to always feel welcome, to always have a place in our home even though they never grew up in our place. I mean, when we got married, only one of them lived with us full-time.

Ron: Only one of your stepchildren lived full-time? Okay.

Anita: And the other two—

Ron: —were leaving pretty soon.

Anita: Yes. Well, we got married and the youngest, Leslie, she was starting high school. The middle stayed with his mom for a while to finish out high school where that was, and then the oldest was already off to college. And so just really, I mean already almost at launching points, but wanting them—knowing that I wanted them as the mother of our home to know there was a place for them. The door was always open. Open and there's a lot of people, not just them, who would say that this is a place where the door is always open.

Fred: That's something I would say that I didn't expect at all and even when it was happening, I was probably a little resistant to it, maybe more than a little. [Laughter] What she's talking about is so true. We never had this concept of like family other than just us boys, you know? That was it. And so, because there was just no—my dad was the youngest by far and so all of our cousins lived—

Anita: He was a blended family.

Fred: Yes—lived a long way away and we just didn't know any of our family. And then we didn't have—I talked about being poor. We didn't celebrate birthdays because there was nothing. You know there was no presents, no nothing. We didn't have, you know Christmas. We didn't have anything like that.

To then get married and go into someone who's—you know where those traditions and all that is very important,  it took a little coming around to it and not because I didn't want to, just because that was so unnatural almost, which again, that was my normal. I'm the one that's abnormal and the rest of the world is, you know but I still had to kind of come around to it. She's done an unbelievable job of normalizing and housebreaking, you know, my/me and my family to a large degree.

You said it earlier when you talked about rules. That's perfect because there are kind of just basic rules for things, right? If you've never been taught those rules—we were taught certain rules like, you know, if you don't do what I tell you, you're going to get a whipping kind of stuff. We were taught those type of very actionable rules, but like rules for life, I couldn't tell you any that we learned growing up. So we had to learn them, which comes with a lot of pain and suffering. We had to learn them on our own.

That's the thing that I will forever be grateful of FamilyLife is when I think November, October, November, November, late October of how many years ago?  Six/seven years ago we attended eight—yes, you're right, 2014. It was the fall of 2014 we attended an Art of Marriage that Chris and Mary Herndon led in Greensboro. It was attached to a C12, a business conference and so we tacked on this. We thought, “Yes, let's do that.” We were there with another couple, and they wanted to do it. We stayed there and did it. And that whole day and a half that we did this Art of Marriage. You know it well.

There's six sessions and we went through them. I can't even tell you how many times that just hearing something that is so basic and so, like, “Duh,”  but really hearing it for the first time and hearing it in the context of that, and as a 52-year-old, hearing somebody tell me the rules for the first time.

Now, it doesn't mean that I shouldn't have figured out a lot of these rules on my own, and did, and you know we've been married for 20 years, and I think the rules have been pretty good, but I'm just saying it was so impactful. So, like, literally, life changing, impactful that to hear all those people talk about just simple biblical truths and how they relate to marriage was literally the biggest game changer weekend in my life.

And as it turns out, we get home and on Monday morning we get the call that my dad had passed away.

Ron: Oh wow. Oh, my goodness. How ironic and well timed that that happened in your life.

Well, that is the fun part of my job is getting to help people understand some basic things about blended family living. It's fun to be able to share those things, like our video series, The Smart Stepfamily, for example, does just that. It just sort of walks through the elementary basic principles and yet, the advanced principles of growing your blended family. And that's just one of many things that we are able to offer people.

You know it occurs to me as you're talking, those of us who believe in that the Bible is the inspired word of God understand that they're not rules, as in, “Alright, do this or else.” You know the threat that you lived under with your dad. But it's more of the “I want to protect you or provide for you. I want blessing to come to your life. And if you want blessing, here's a way to do it.” There's so much in the scriptures that talk to us about basic attitudes and things to do and things not to do that grow relationships. And so that's a fun part of what we get to do here.

Okay. Fred, I’ve got to just ask this last question. You alluded earlier to murder and suicide, I think. You don't have to tell those stories, but is there a story there? You know you kind of teased our audience and if they're like me, they're wondering, “Okay, what's that story all about?” Is there something there you could share?

Fred: When we were in southwest Virginia, the stepmom that we had there, she had multiple sclerosis, so she was in bed a lot and we hear a gunshot. Next thing that we know—we had a cattle truck, a big cattle truck that hauled cattle and our dad ran us all out to the cattle truck. “Get in the truck, not in the cab, but in the bed.” And that's where we spent the next several hours as the police were there, and everybody was there. That was an interesting evening. We were probably eight or nine years old and that was one that kind of sticks with you.

Ron: Tragic.

Fred: And then, my mom was married to my dad. Just, you know, for the three of us boys and then she was she married/she remarried and was married a long time to a guy and wound up leaving him for a really, you know, bad guy. He really just character wise and he just wasn't a good guy. Her husband finally talked her into coming home and then she did, she came home. Then the other guy came into the home and shot her husband and murdered him. So that's how that marriage ended.
Ron: Wow. You know those are tragic stories. Things like that leave a residue on your heart. It may not be huge for you because you may not have had a strong attachment to those people, but it just sort of is there. One of the things I know you guys are trying to do is change your legacy.

Fred: That's it. That's exactly it.

Ron: Tell us a little bit about that passion in you to make your family story different than the one you had.

Fred: This would be one of those times where, when I can't, if I—

Anita: I'll just pick up from you.

Fred: If I get choked up, you go. [Laughter]

That was probably the biggest—if I had to point to one thing in that Art of Marriage eight years ago, it would be the idea and the concept and the just really intentional thinking about legacy. I don't know that many people—maybe people do; I didn't. I'll just start with me. I never thought about my legacy in a formal way, like sitting and thinking, “What do you want your legacy to be?” I mean, you make decisions in the micro that affect the macro, right? But I never really thought about it like on purpose “What do you want your legacy to be?” and “What is it up until now?”

I think that's probably normal for most people. They just live their life as, you know, whatever the best they think they can and that is their legacy. They don't think about the fact that they can be intentional about it. And hearing that at the Art of Marriage in that last session and going through that, it just, man, oh man, it was tough to do that—because just knowing what my dad's legacy is, was heartbreaking. That that is his legacy is just leaving really a wave/a tidal wave of destruction in his wake.

You know he was the smartest, good looking, strong—I mean, he had everything going for him and just wasted it on everything being instant gratification. Whether it was some wheeler dealer business deal or whether it was some woman or whatever, everything was instant gratification that I saw firsthand and really started thinking about it starting that day, eight years ago, of what that really means and what is his legacy.

And then more importantly, “Oh my gosh, what's my legacy going to be?” What is it? If I died today, what is it?” and “What if we drew a line in the sand and say, ‘This is what we're going to be intentional about.’” Not because I want some statue or something, but just because I want to be intentional about what we're leaving and how people see: what was that person about? I know what my dad was about. I don't want to be about those things. And so, it was, man, that hit me like a ten-pound hammer that day and it's been front and center, front and center, literally every day, every day since.

Anita: Yes.

Ron: Anita, what would you add to that?

Anita: Just that we really wanted to be intentional about marriage and the role of marriage in building the family and knowing that there was a lot to overcome from his past, growing up as a child, from the early years of his adult life, and the first marriage, and then—you know, again, this was eight years ago. We were already married for over a decade, and we had, I would say we had a good marriage; that I had no complaints. He figured it out but kind of in that, like just going with the flow one day after the next and not really being too intentional about it.

A lot changed then. I think we're very different in our purpose and our focus and our mission, as a couple and as a family, what we're all about. Serving others has always been something like I grew up with, but then like serving others in this capacity of marriage ministry, family ministry, reaching out to people to let them know that just because it was a certain way, it doesn't have to be a certain way.

Ron: Fred, Anita, thank you so much for being with me today. I appreciate it.

Fred: Absolutely.

Ron: And to our listener, if you want to know more about them, just look at the show notes. And if you want to leave us a question or a suggestion for a future podcast episode, feel free to do that as well. And by all means, if you have not yet subscribed to FamilyLife Blended, please do that. We want you to catch every episode so that it can be a blessing to your life as well. And if this has been helpful to you, would you do me a favor and just share it with somebody, whoever comes to mind right now? Just forward the podcast to them and encourage them to listen to it.

Don't forget, the next Women and Blended Families Christmas special is coming up very soon. It'll be on Facebook and YouTube livestream, next week, Tuesday, November 29th, 2022. The show notes will tell you how to be a part of that.

Okay, next time, on FamilyLife Blended, we hit episode 100 and Gayla Grace is going to be here with me. We're going to take you behind the scenes, or we're going to be talking about some of the things that we have learned doing these interviews/these 100 interviews. I hope you will be with me for that.

I'm Ron Deal; thanks for listening. And I hope this was a blessing to you.

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