There have been some interesting posts and articles going around the web these days on mothers (and I think I'll be posting on this topic soon) but it can be harder to find a meaningful discussion of fatherhood. I think this stems from our confusion over what it means to be father and specifically, what it means to be a good father. I say confusion because, as a society, we've been in flux over our definition of fatherhood and how it differs from motherhood and how both differ from parenthood. I personally think men can (and do) mother but many father and this is an important role that is different from "parenting." I also think it goes beyond "being a good provider" or "delivering life lessons" or "playing sports and being active with the kids." These are the responses I get from students when we discuss fatherhood in my classes. Interestingly, most depictions/descriptions of fathers are with sons not daughters, but that's another story.
But let's get back to b. b is a natural father. From the day I met him I knew he was someone who should have children. He has heard that many times. I'm not sure what gives people that impression about him but I think is is due, in part, to his patience and his calm and gentle demeanor. b and I were very careful about deciding when in our dating life we should introduce him to Boy. Boy was 9 when we first started dating and well into 10 before b came into his life. b delayed this meeting longer than I wanted because he knew once he met Boy he wouldn't be able to stand losing him, should we break up.
My mother likes to say what an amazing stepfather b is, and this is true. Step-parenting is incredibly difficult, especially when the child is older and has both parents in the picture. b and Boy have a warm, rich, and genuine relationship. They love each other and are able to express that love to each other. b has walked that very thin line step-parents have to walk with grace and finesse.
But to me b represents what any father, step or otherwise, should be. Sure b did a lot of fatherly tasks, like teaching Boy how to shave and how to drive (including how to drive stick) but I thought I'd describe a few moments from our past that illustrate his fathering qualities.
- On one of our first "threesome dates" we went kayaking in the sound. Boy was very big into fishing at that time and let him bring his rod and promised he would have a chance to use it. We had a long drive to the water and then a few hours of paddling and at the end of the long day we stopped at a pier to let Boy fish. It was hot and late and we were all tired. Boy has always been the type where nothing comes easy and within minutes his line was hopelessly tangled. We still had a long drive home and I knew b wanted to hit the road soon but he took the rod without a word, sat down on the dock and started slowly and methodically untying the knot. Boy hovered over and around him, anxious that he would somehow be blamed/shamed, b just handed him back the rod and told him to try again.
- We moved into our first house together and Boy had to start a new school (after two years of dreadful school experiences) about 6 weeks into the start of the new semester. Boy and I toured the school the week before his start date and he knew where everything was. On his first day of school we drove him there but he felt it was important that he enter the school on his own. b and I sat in the car and watched his frail little figure, shoulders schlumped, trudge dutifully into the building. It was a sight to break your heart and I was close to tears. I felt a little silly being so overprotective and turned towards b, trying to put on a brave front, only to see tears streaming down his face.
- The house we bought was right in the middle of Snow Valley and that first winter we got hit with several storms. We had a long steep (really cool) driveway that b and I would shovel every time the weather dumped on us. In February of that year, shortly before we got married (for us it was house and child first, marriage second) b came down with a really bad case of pneumonia. Of course we got hit with a snowstorm and Boy had to come out and help me with the drive. As we shoveled we talked about b and I reassured him that b would get better soon. At one point Boy turned to me, put down his shovel, and said "Mom, we're keeping him, right? I mean you're not going to change your mind about him, are you?" And I reassured him, that yes, b would be with us forever, and he was happy. And so am I.