The Council on Contemporary Families notes that of the 30 million fathers living with children under the age of eighteen 11% of those (over 3 million) are considered step-fathers. Additionally, 30 million children live in a step family relationship where the adults are legally married and the vast majority of the step-parents are fathers. In today’s culture with marriages ending at an alarming rate and single motherhood at an all time high the step-father is stitched into the fabric of our society.
Being a biological father intimately involved in his children’s lives, the idea of another man labeled “dad” is an extremely jagged pill to swallow. The ego in me screams out that there should be only one man who my son and daughter view in that light, and I should be that man who get’s their attention each Father’s Day. Rarely does a parent imagine that they could be replaced by someone else or that they must share their special Hallmark day with a stranger. Yet for the last six years it’s this very reality I’ve lived in.
The ink wasn’t dry on the final divorce decree before the ex-wife became openly involved with another man who began spending ample time with my children, within one week of the final alimony payment her suitor moved in with her and the kids and within two years they were married. Almost from the beginning my kids began referring to him as their dad as if he was the only one. Whether this was encouraged is unknown but when I learned of it the poo hit the fan and after a brief ‘come to Jesus meeting’ their other dad has been referred to by his first name every since.
As time moved on I began to notice their new family doing that of any other, they were taking vacations, going to family events and putting up pictures of the four at the park, sporting events, or holiday memories. I started feeling I had become the visiting uncle who stops by to give the parents a break and take the kids for pizza and a movie; which became ironic when another parent once inquired if I was my son’s uncle.
For any divorced parent, the time will eventually come when the ex-spouse brings someone new into the picture. Someone who will be spending time with the kids doing those things traditional families do. It’s been my experience when this does occurs, the other parent often experiences feelings ranging from intimidation to loneliness. Which can be followed by self-doubt and the fear of being replaced.
For the past six years I have struggled as these feelings ebb and flow depending on the circumstance. One might think that time would have allowed me to figure them out, that I might have discovered the key for coming to grips with this reality, but that hasn’t been the case. Fatherhood, it seems, is not that easy.
Regardless of how often I’m told that I’ll always be their ‘real’ father or recognize the rights I have under the law as their biological father I have never been able to completely erase the idea of being the odd-man-out. My kids get a traditional family one weekend and a modern family the next, like actors playing dual roles.
Therapy and faith have helped to put many of these emotions somewhat into perspective, reminding me when they surface that:
- My kids don’t belong to me like a car or a home. They’re only under my care for a short time and will be gone before I realize it.
- There is nothing that I nor anyone else can do. There are some things out of my control.
- My identity is not tied to my children. Being a father is arguably the most important part I play but it is only one part that is far from the whole.
- This should be motivation to be the greatest influence in their lives that I can be.
All the evidence shows that the Trainer loves my kids very much and I know they feel the same about him. He enjoys coaching Bubba’s sports teams which I have let him take the lead one because he is better at it. He does a great deal for them and I know I could be much less fortunate, there are far too many headlines about step-fathers who do everything but love their step-children. The Jap could have gotten involved with an abusive, alcoholic, drug addict or a man who wants to over step his fatherly bounds – fortunately she married neither.
It would be easy to resent that my kids will buy Father’s Day gifts for another man or that they will be thankful for his fatherly influence in their lives. But I’m mature enough to understand how this hurts only me and my kids as I selfishly try to powder my own ego. It’s pointless and helps no one. Today’s father doesn’t have to fit a ready-made mold nor must they be a Ward Cleaver. The current role of father is so much more than sharing a last name or the same eyes, it’s about the love and attention a man gives to a child and I should feel blessed for that instead of intimidated.
So it is with that and the understanding that my children love their step-dad and need the influence that he has on their lives that I am able to wish him a Happy Father’s Day.