My husband and I started dating just over three years ago, in June of 2016. I had been divorced for almost four months, and one night a friend texted me, “Do you want to meet my friend, [DH (Dear Husband)]? He’s awkward, speaks three languages, and doesn’t know how to talk to women. But [my wife] and I think you’d be a good fit.” Despite this less-than-glowing review of his friend, I agreed to meet DH, and last July, that friend’s wife was matron of honor at our wedding.
In April we brought a new son into the family: my husband’s first biological child. We are both “new” parents, in the sense that this is our first child together, and that we are new to parenting this son. But we are, neither of us, “first-time” parents.
I have two sons from my previous marriage, currently ages 15 and 11. DH has been involved in their lives from a few months after we started dating. For all our boys, he has played games they want to play, helped them through overwhelm and panic attacks, given meds for illness, stayed with them through late-night ER visits, and picked up meds from the pharmacy afterward.
For our big boys, he has assisted with schoolwork, refereed fights with brothers and friends, purchased Christmas and birthday and just-because gifts, attended awards ceremonies and school open houses, made favorite meals, fought over brushing teeth and bedtimes, and listened to all their hopes and dreams and helped to make (some of) them come true.
He has, in every way that matters, been a father to all our boys. Our big boys sometimes call him their “bonus-dad”. Our youngest calls him “Apja”. He calls each of them “my son”.
My mom and dad adopted me when I was 18. I had lived with them for a little less than a year at that point, and before that, they were houseparents in the group home I was in. But my parents are the only home I’ve ever really known, so naturally, I called Dad to wish him happy Father’s Day. During that call, my dad said, “And tell [DH] happy first Father’s Day!”
To say that this is DH’s first Father’s Day devalues his contribution in our big boys’ lives. He’s not their biological father, and he’s certainly not their Dad. But he’s been a father to them, cared for and provided for them. And he has flipped his life upside down and backwards, multiple times, to do what was best for them, even when it was certainly not best for him — or even for him and me. He is our big boys’ step-dad, yes, but he is no less their father simply because he didn’t contribute to their gene pool.
For my dad to say that this is DH’s first Father’s Day devalues my dad’s contribution in my life. He’s not my biological father, and he can’t take the place of my biological parent. But he has been my father, cared for and provided for me. He and my mother flipped their lives and household upside down and backwards to be able to take me into their home, even when it was not best for him — or for the family he and my mom already had together. He is my adopted father, yes, but he is no less my father simply because he didn’t contribute to my gene pool.
I told Dad, “I’ll pass along your well wishes, but it’s not his first Father’s Day.” My father just hummed an agreement, and the conversation moved on. I’m grateful: he didn’t defend what he had said, and he didn’t apologize. By not defending the “first Father’s Day” comment as “well, his first as a biological parent”, and by not apologizing, Dad acknowledged that adoptive and step parents are real parents as much as biological parents are, and he acknowledged there is a difference worth mentioning.
It’s worth mentioning that this child will celebrate every Father’s Day with DH. It’s worth mentioning that this child will not blush and apologize the first time he accidentally calls DH “Dad”. It’s worth mentioning that most children are chosen by their parents (whether through choosing to keep your biological child, choosing to adopt, or choosing to marry a person with kids), but this son, unlike his brothers, will not have to choose DH as a father.
How do we acknowledge this difference without devaluing the part that adoptive and step parents play in their children’s lives? Although the difference is worth mentioning, is it also necessary to mention it?
Szivem, happy Father’s Day to you! Feels a bit different this year, no? BTW, your youngest could use a diaper change…