On this Father’s Day, I wanted to take the time out to give a very special shout out to all the fathers out there, especially the ones who are doing the toughest jobs of all – raising your partner’s kids that aren’t yours.
To me, being a dad stepping into the life of his partner’s kids is a very unique challenge, which not all men are suited for. I got to see that first hand in my own situation growing up. I was raised on the day-to-day during my formative years by two people in a common-law relationship. While my parents were unavailable for different reasons (my dad and I are now close), these two people did nearly the impossible: virtually adopt a child and make him part of the family. Now, to my “aunt” this was new, because her youngest child was a teen at the time they took me on board, but for her common-law partner, this was old hat. You see they met when she had two kids, so help raising a third wasn’t any different. Still, I know for him, this time around had some unique challenges when trying to answer this question:
How do you co-parent when the child isn’t either one of yours, but your partner still has the final say?
My uncle worked hard all those years. He was a foreman on roadway projects, and owned a small coffee plot in the neighboring parish that was about 90 minutes away through some of the island’s most mountainous terrain. He would often be gone for days during coffee season, planting and harvesting to make ends meet while my aunt ran the house. I can still remember those days in high school being one of the first students at the school in dark because I got a ride with him as he would leave for work at like 5am each morning. I often remember him just being so exhausted he would come home, eat quietly and watch TV. I never understood why on weekdays when home he was so stuck in his favorite spot in the living room until I was older and worked at my friend’s roofing tiles factory one summer. The exhaustion from manual work is incredible, and he did construction for about 45 years.
We had an interesting and ultimately positive relationship. I cannot recall him every using corporal punishment with me when I stepped out of line – my aunt was good with that. He used to yell a lot when I did screw up and his voice was intimidating enough. However, what stood out the most to me was how strong he was. His strength was how he helped to co parent and raise two of his partner’s children, knowing that they themselves would never have kids together. He taught me a lot about being fair, diplomacy, perspective and above all, the importance of working hard to maintain a family.
I don’t know how my uncle does it, but it must have been hard for him to accept the fact they would never have kids together. He and my aunt were never separating, as much as I always talk of her leaving him over the years when things got rough. Now, in their 70s, he is responsible for her care as Alzheimer’s has set in with my aunt. Without a complaint, he does what he can to look after her in their later years. Even though you can hear the stress and concern in his voice, my uncle continues to handle his business quietly – because her family is his family and he is committed to their relationship.
Culturally, it seems more acceptable for women to raise children that aren’t their own, knowing, while the adjustments and challenges men face in that situation often go unnoticed. It takes a special kind of person, male or female, to raise children who aren’t their own. We have been taught that the one of the highest expression of love is raise a child of both your creation together. It is incredibly tough to raise someone else’s child, especially knowing you won’t have a child of your own with the person for whatever reason (medical or choice). I guess there is this sense of emotional validity or legitimacy that is missing in that situation that can eat away at both genders, especially some men.
Still, it takes a real man to step to the plate to accept his partner and their kids and make them into his own family. This is one example of the real men we should seek to celebrate not only on Fathers Day, but also every day.