The Only Thing Sexier than a Great Dad...
I often hear other moms talk about how much they love watching their partners be great dads to their kids. I’m not generally one to think that men deserve praise for doing what they’re supposed to do when they care for the children they helped make, but in truth, I experience it myself as I watch my partner care for our infant daughter. Like, when he fusses over her car seat straps to make sure they’re just right, I swoon. Seriously. When he deliberates over which solid food we should introduce first, I get heart eyes. I’m not surprised he’s a great dad – when we began dating I was drawn to his kindness and sweetness, and I’m not surprised that these traits shine through in his parenting.
It says something sad about our society that we feel compelled to celebrate this as exceptional rather than expecting it as a norm, and in these days of Trumpian grossness and toxic masculinity, good men being caring, loving, sensitive, dialed-in dads is not just vital for raising healthy kids, but also makes a huge difference in their partners feeling supported and respected. It also sends our kids the imperative message that men are caretakers, men are nurturers, men are engaged partners. But as much as I love watching my partner be a great dad to our daughter, there is one thing I love even more: watching him be a great bonus dad to my son.
My son’s biological father is a peripheral figure in his life. He drifts in, he drifts out. He is inconsistent. He is not present in our child’s life. My son recognizes this, and while it hurts him, he still loves his dad very much. I would never do or say anything to change my son’s feelings about his dad. I know that as he grows and matures, so will his understanding of his dad’s role in his life – though, to be honest, he’s pretty damn insightful about it already, at the tender age of five.
The father who is not peripheral is the man who chooses to be here. That man is my partner. When he and I committed to one another, he understood that my kid and I were a package deal, and, as he said then, he was “all in.” And he has been. He has been here, every day. He has never tried to replace my son’s dad, but has slid gently and quietly, as is consistent with his character, into the role of caretaker—of me, of our baby daughter, and of my son.
During my years as a single mom, my son learned that women can do anything, and that often, they do everything. That was important for him to see. I was proud of the little family that was me and my son, and that my little boy watched me finish graduate school, build a career and take care of us both, on my own. But as our family has grown, I am equally glad that he is now being raised in a home where he sees that both moms and dads take care of kids. And cook. And clean. And go to work. And give hugs, and play, and laugh, and go to back to school night, and t-ball. As much as I love to see them bonding over boxing and Star Wars and the things my son is into that I don’t have too much interest in, the other important thing about this relationship is that my son also finally has an example of how a man should love a woman. Of how to be a man who is a partner. Of how to be a man who is gentle. Of how to be a man who works hard at his job and then comes home and works hard alongside his partner, taking care of a family.
When I see my partner be a great dad to our daughter, it makes my heart happy in countless ways; but when I see my partner be a great dad to my son, it touches a special, protective part of my heart that was so wounded by my ex’s lack of engagement as a father. And though he doesn’t quite understand what it all means yet, I know it helps to ease that wounded part of my son’s heart, as well. I see it in little moments every day: when he stopped considering his family simply as “my mom” and began saying “my parents.” When he teases my partner about his “daditude”. When he calls him “bro,” and kisses his cheek before bed. When he snuggles up as we watch a movie and says, “I feel like you’re a dad to me now.” My greatest hope for my child is that one day, he will have two father figures in his life. I hope that one day his dad will not just show up but really show up, ready to be responsible and present and engaged, and be a true co-parent, and a positive presence in my son’s life. But if that day never comes, I know we will all be okay, and continue to find solace, comfort and joy in the way my partner fathers my kids – the one that he helped me make, and the one he chose to help me raise.