I am a step father, a step dad, and it’s obviously not always been this way. I thought I’d share some thoughts on what it’s like to become an “instant father”. But first, I think I better introduce three wonderful people to you.
S is the oldest, in her mid thirties, and was given up for adoption at birth by my ex-wife before I knew her (my ex-wife). S found us when she was 17 or 18 and she and I have been in touch ever since, though she became estranged from my ex several years ago. I never had the chance to be a parent to her, but she knows that I will always be there for her, and that I have loved her unconditionally since the day we met.
E is my 20 year old step daughter, and her brother H is 11. I’ve only recently properly come into their lives, though I’ve known their mother Dee (and consequently have known of both E and H) for 18 years. They both have regular contact with their Dad, and H stays with him every other night. E has only just, in the last couple of weeks, left home to live with her man. Again, I have unconditional love for both E and H: they’re a product of their mother so how could I not love them too?
Dee and I have talked a number of times about what it’s like for me to suddenly become a parent, a role model, and I’ve taken this opportunity to try to answer some of the questions she’s posed.
Have you always wanted children?
Yes, I think there’s always been that desire, and as time has gone by I’ve increasingly felt that I’ve been missing out on something special. (I was right by the way – the last few months have surpassed my wildest dreams.) I won’t go into why my ex and I never had children of our own, or even looked at fostering / adoption – let’s just say it was complicated and leave it at that.
What does being a ‘dad’ mean to you?
For me it’s always been about trying to be a positive role model while supporting and protecting the children. It’s a huge responsibility, shaping the morals and standards of a young person, and doing so in such a way that it gives them the best possible start in life. In terms of this relationship, it has the added dimension of working with and supporting Dee, helping to reinforce her standards and her ways of parenting: she’s had the experience of bringing children up for years, and I haven’t.
What does your idea of being a father figure look like, what did it involve?
I can’t say that I gave it a lot of thought before it happened. My intention from the outset was to get to know the children, to take an interest in what they did and what they thought, and to take things from there. I’m the one coming into their lives, and I took the view that it was up to me to adapt into their routines rather than the other way around.
I know that some people have difficulty in accepting or adapting to a relationship where children are part of the “package”, and where they try to pretend the children aren’t there. To me, that’s just wrong. I always took the view that Dee’s priorities would be her children over me, and I was comfortable with that.
What are the ‘good’ things and what are the ‘bad’ things about becoming a parent? e.g. what worries you?
I think I’m very fortunate in that there haven’t been any bad things. E and H have (I think) accepted me into their lives: I know that doesn’t always happen with step parents but they’ve been brilliant. I’ve not had to deal with any bad behaviour, and we’ve never had to consider “good cop / bad cop” scenarios or anything like that.
What worries me most is letting them or Dee down, either through inaction or poor decision making on my part. I see the opportunity that I’ve been given as a wonderful thing with great responsibility. I know I’ll make mistakes, but I know that I’ll learn quickly, and won’t make the same mistake twice.
How do you imagine being a step-parent being different to being a biological dad?
I think there are only a couple of things which are really different. First, I’ve obviously not gone through the pregnancy, birth and early childhood phases, where so many changes happen so quickly and where there are so many challenges. Things like first steps, first words, first day at school etc, not to mention the midnight feeds, worry about illnesses when the child is too young to tell you what’s going wrong, potty training etc. That all creates a bond which can and should never be broken: no matter how physically or mentally tiring it is I imagine the rewards are fabulous.
The second perhaps seems a bit trivial compared to the first. I’ll never be called “Dad”, “Pop”, “Pa” or anything like that, and have to accept that I’ll only ever be called by my name. E and H call their father “Dad” and that’s exactly as it should be. I’m not trying to replace him in their lives, and am really pleased that they are still so close to him. E used a quote from the film Mama Mia, “You can never have enough dads”, and I was very touched by that.
I think too though that becoming a step dad has given me some wonderful experiences which “real”parents might not feel in the same way. For example, when Dee was out to dinner one night with friends, E and I had dinner together in town: she didn’t have to spend her evening with me but chose to do so, and it meant the world to me. On another occasion, H heard that I’d had a bad day at the office and spontaneously hugged me, because hugs are good and make the world a better place. That also made me quite emotional. Would I have felt the same if they were my biological children? I don’t know, but I do know that they made me feel special.
In summary, I feel incredibly privileged to have been given this opportunity, and intend to make the most of it.