Are Dads so easily replaced in a child’s life?

#1 dad?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?

19 comments on “Are Dads so easily replaced in a child’s life?

  1. My ex’s husband once told me that he was “more of a dad to my three girls than I will ever be.” You want to talk about angry.

    We just have to be good men and fathers and insulate our kids from these types of idiotic comments and such. Our kids know in their hearts who their real dads are. You just need to focus on being the great guy you are and remember the old bit about sticks and stones and names. Because that’s all that is.

    Of course it’d be nice to pick up a stick every once in awhile and open up a much needed can of Whoop Ass…. But then we’d be stooping and we’re better than that.

  2. Completely understandable reaction, Dave. And you’ve got the answer: “…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.” Kids know, even if you couldn’t drag it out of them under pain of deprivation of privileges.

  3. Sickening. This story makes my blood run cold. Incredibly insensitive of the counselor. The guy is there, and he’s a guy. That’s it. The counselor has no idea which or how many men might be in your son’s life. There’s an extra man sitting there in the room — so what? There’s no need or call to mention the guy at all, much less to elevate him to second-dad status. It’s totally inappropriate. You took the high road. The kid knows where his support system is. It has nothing to do with this counselor’s ham-handed fumbling attempts to make your ex’s fiance feel comfortable.

    I hope the kids have a name for your ex’s fiance apart from “Dad.” I hope your ex encourages the kids to call him Stan or Bill or Mustafa or whatever his name is. I hope the guy does, too. In your heart you know that you’ve given those kids tremendous love and great values and nothing can change that. It would be nice if more of the other people in the kids’ lives (like their teachers and counselors) acknowledged the huge, gaping gulf in relationship status between you-and-the-kids on one hand and mom’s-new-guy-and-the-kids on the other hand, but this counselor (LIKE SO MANY PEOPLE WHO WORK WITH KIDS, SAD TO SAY) seems to have the emotional intelligence of a can of Diet Coke.

  4. For what it’s worth,it’s not just because you’re a Dad. I’m a Mom and it was my Ex who elevated new-GF to ‘Mom’ status. I actually had to fight with him so that my kids would be with me for our annual Mother’s Day hike.
    But, I love your approach to parenting and your kids are really lucky to have to you. When they’re older and look back, they’ll see what you’ve been for them.

  5. Dave – To all the people who dismiss your extremely valid points as “ranting” I say there should be more fathers out there who are willing to rant. However, I prefer to call it “sticking up for your rights.”
    Fathers have gotten short-changed for years now, and it’s about time some of them are courageous enough to stand up for their rights and demand the respect they deserve. Thanks for being the squeaky wheel, Dave. More correctly, thanks for being a good dad and an advocate for father’s rights as well as the rights of children. We need more people like you who are willing to take a stand.

  6. Yikes – Sounds like a stab to the heart. I can understand why you’re upset. I think the counselor misspoke and I’m glad the fiancee spoke up. My son has had a step mom for over 10 years and a step dad for about the same. For my situation, I try to remember that the better the relationship my son has with his stepmom, or both stepparents, the better my son’s life will be. Thinking of things from that perspective helps me keep my own feelings in check. I agree with @DaddyClaxton. Kids know who their real dad is. I will say that my ex and I always meet each other at our son’s parent teacher conferences without the stepparents. It’s a boundary we’ve set and it works for us. We share the info with our spouses. It’s not to keep the stepparents at bay, but to keep things cleaner, I guess.

  7. What does your son think about this? You might ask him if you can stand to take the attention off yourself long enough. Sounds like it’s pretty much all about you. I notice you have google ads on this thing. Glad you can make some dough as you go through your “issues.” So the counselor misspoke and corrected the mistake…wow!

    I got here through Connie Ragen Green’s sharing of this link on FB. Methinks social media has outgrown its britches.

  8. I side with you on this one, Dave – the only part I disagree with is that she wouldn’t have said something similar if the situation had been reversed. My ex remarried and people say odd things like “I’m glad your son has two moms” on a regular basis. And I am expected to have my son call his stepmother on Mother’s Day. I’ll admit that it rubs me the wrong way, but I just try to remember that my son has lots of adults in his life who care about him, and that is what matters.

  9. You will always be your kids dad & parent. There are not ex-parents in this world. I agree that the counselor is a miss guided fool. She / he doesn’t understand the dynamics between a parent and child.

    A word of caution… Don’t get sucked into the trap of now that there is another male figure in my kids life that you need to spoil / compete / out do the other guy. It will not have the results you desire in the relationship between you and your kids.

    A few weeks ago I listen to a series of interviews with Ron Deal. When he was 2 his father walked out on the family. Between 2 and 12 years old Ron saw his father a total of 48 hours. Once Ron reach 12 years old his father stopped interacting with his kids. Just before one of the interviews, Ron discloses that his mother had sent him a text message saying that his father wanted to talk to him, it had been over 20 years since he last talked with him.

    Ron provides a lot of helpful info on step families, blended families. How to deal with the ex and the ex’s new spouse. All of these thorny, complicated issues.

  10. Looks like I’m in a minority in this crowd. It is becoming increasingly true that kids have multiple fathers and multiple mothers, and there’s no need for anyone’s nose to be put out of joint because the someone refers to a adoptive parent or bioparent or foster parent or surrogate mother or donor-dad, or — horrors! — even a step-parent, using one of the sacred terms “Mom” or “Dad”. And especially if they do so by mistaken, and the mistake is acknowledged.

    And while this guy has apparently not done so, some folks do indeed earn some right to be deemed parents after only a year.

    It seems to me as if: (1) The counselor made a reasonable error that was unfortunate but innocent; (2) You reasonably kept your cool; and (3) The other guy reasonably made a gracious correction that de-escalated a potential problem. Good on all of you, say I; your son is lucky to have such reasonableness in his life.

    But just so you know: There are plenty of kids who *DO* have two dads in their life — and it’s possible that one or more of your children will eventually join their rank. It might be a good idea to start trying that idea on for size if you are so upset by a stranger whose innocent but misguided terminology referred to the prospect. IMHO, when it comes to dads (or moms) 1 is way better than 0, and 2 is often better than 1.

  11. Tough, tough, tough! Both the question(s) you are raising and the situation itself!
    1. I totally agree with your philosophy for raising your kids. And by the comments on this post I’m actually glad to see I, sorry, we are not alone. The other day, as we were discussing the choice of schools for our kids, a friend of mine said (and I totally agree): “While choosing the school my kids will attend, I will obviously look at the academics’ factors; and I want my kids to learn how to count and to read and so on; but more than that I want them to be raise / educated in a healthy way, both physically and mentally, and for that it’s necessary for the school to provide a good environment for kids to learn to be friends and comrades, and to play and run; it is necessary that they will learn to win and to loose. And I’ll definitely look into that!”
    2. As for the counselor, I don’t think it was a reasonable error (even if it was innocent). And although the stats about the multi-types of families will make the roles of “newcomers” more important, I think it’s rude (to say the least) to point it out in front of the father! And even more, if we’re talking about a present father (or mother for that fact). So, I do think she had a very bad moment
    3. The simple fact that it made you very uncomfortable and very upset is the living proof how out to the line she was. And, I would only find it strange, if you weren’t totally pissed off about it!

  12. As Dave’s father I totally agree with him in regard to the insensitive remark made by the counsellor. When watching David (I never call or refer to him as Dave) interact with his three children I am always impressed at his love and patience with them. He was brought up in a loving and caring home where the family was considered as a whole unit. We could discuss everything with him and he had the full support of my late wife, myself and his sister Judi. I have followed his development from a brash know-it-all to a very responsible professional and a very loving and dedicated father who puts his family needs as a number one prioritry and I am very proud and happy to have him as my son. Since my wife, his loving mother died in April 2011 he has called me every day to talk and discuss various matters both business and personal. My daughter also calls me every day. Treat your children as your best friends and you will reap years of love and pleasure.

  13. Is “Dad” interchangeable? Absolutely not. Never. It’s true, children (especially boys) who don’t have a father in their lives will benefit from at least having a strong male influence. But so say they’re interchangble is nothing short of absurd. Sorry to hear that you had to deal with such an unprofessional comment.

  14. Wow! Now I know why you came out such good guy, Dave! Congratulations on you and your father… see, that’s why your father deserves your kindle account 😛

    • He beat you to it! He gave me his kindle device in April. Still trying to figure out how it works! Oh to be computer etc. literate!

  15. I’m wondering why the fiance was there in the first place? BTW, nice job on the piece in the Times.

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