My ex, her fiancée and I attended a meeting at school with a counselor, a check-in meeting about how my son is doing in school. He’s had a rather rough journey, as a lot of boys do in an era when school is more about cerebral activities and passive cooperation than actively running around, having lots of physical activities and just plain doing stuff. You can tell what my philosophy of raising boys is in a sentence, right? Yes to reading, yes to intellectual activities and homework, but yes also to sports, running around, skateboards, bikes, basketball and anything else that lets them push, break, kick, hit and generally raise a ruckus.
Anyway, so we’re in this meeting and it’s me, my son’s Mom, her new fiancée (who only showed up in her life a year ago) and the counselor. She’s explaining to us how G- is doing well and on just about every front growing and maturing.
Except there are a few issues, and we can deal with them. He is the youngest boy in his class and that puts him rather a bit behind the proverbial 8-ball with peer pressure and being able to measure up physically to the other boys, but nothing dramatic. Finally.
I should add here that another part of my philosophy of raising boys is that they’re going to spend a lot of time measuring themselves against others, both peers and everyone else. So let them. Create an environment where they can excel in something, like free throws in basketball or running the fastest or hitting a ball the furthest, then let them all do the same things and realize that some of ’em are better at specific things than others. And for goodness sake, let them lose at some things too. Life’s about positive and negative experiences, about your boss saying “you’re not doing well, we need to figure something out” and your significant other saying those terrifying four words “we need to talk” just as much as it’s about winning a trophy, having the highest test score and being celebrated. If we can’t raise boys — and girls! — to be resilient enough to handle both, we’re doing them a huge, huge disservice.
So we’re in this meeting and in a misguided attempt to be inclusive of the new adult in the room, the counselor says “and now that he’ll have two dads in his life…”, looking at Matt.
What the $#@* are you talking about? the voice in my head swears, even as I sit and passively observe.
“I don’t think that’s quite accurate” he says, to his credit. She realizes her blunder and quickly apologizes, saying that I’ll “always be dad and nothing can replace that” and that she meant that he has two men in his life.
By that point I was done. I was ready to walk out of the meeting. Stupid $#@$#. Very upsetting.
But being a good parent and a good cog in the machine, I didn’t say anything else, and the meeting proceeded.
Still, even days later, I’m upset about this. Is “man in a child’s life” and “dad” interchangable? Are we active, devoted fathers no more important than any other man who would be in our children’s lives?
I’m upset because it’s also my perception that the counselor would never have said “now that he has two moms…” if my girlfriend would have been present, even if we were engaged, even if she lived with me, but being a dad? yeah, that’s a role that’s apparently quite easily replaced. Just add a penis and you’re good to go.
I accept that it’s a very sensitive issue for me — in case you haven’t figured that out by reading my blog — so I posted on a Dads group on Facebook for a reality check. I described the situation briefly and here’s what my fellow Dads had to say:
RJ – Very familiar with this situation, Dave. What’s worse is when your High School Senior sends the graduation invitations announcing the graduation from the Ex’s house and her boyfriend is named on the invitation… Ouch! What happened to the other 17 years??? He gets the credit, I pay the bill.
DF – You’re ranting, but rightfully so. It’s hard to come to grips with a stepfather in your kids’ life, especially when he is so abruptly (and wrongly) elevated to peer status with you. I’m glad she recanted, but it was still an insensitive thing to say.
JA – Agreed. You are ranting, but I think awareness must be raised: In most cases there is only one dad. I wonder the best way to handle this in a face to face setting. I picture raised eyebrows and a “Really?” look.
So yeah, maybe I am more than a bit upset about this situation, but I still can’t quite get over the fact that I devote fifteen years of my life to being the best Dad I can be, change my life, my career, my values, my way of speaking, my car, my state of residence to make their lives the best possible and this other dude just shows up out of the blue and within twelve months has been elevated to “Dad” to my children, even if just for a moment?
I’ll just have to keep on this path and trust that my kids are plenty smart enough to know the difference between someone who has been their rock, the structure and foundation of their lives since before they were even born and the new guy.
What dya think? Am I out on a limb here, or do I have reason to be upset? What would you have done if you were in this meeting?