“Will we be meeting Grady’s dad?”
Questions like this have always made me squirm a little, even though they really shouldn’t. I know you didn’t mean to strike a nerve, and the question was asked merely so you could understand our family dynamic a little better. I wasn’t the least bit offended, honestly. So I gave you the most succinct answer I could:
“Oh, I thought y’all’d met Danny already…”
“No, not Danny. I meant his real dad.”
That term, real dad, always hits me with a bit of a sting. Although he wasn’t there the day my son was born–nor was he there for the first two and a half years to help raise him–he’s here now, and he will be for as long as our son needs a real dad.
What defines a “real dad,” anyway?
To me, a real dad is the guy who is there to act as an ally for a child. He’s the man who teaches the important lessons, like how to fart real loud, and how to tell when Mom’s about to lose her ever lovin’ mind.
Ok, I don’t personally consider those to be very important lessons, but for whatever reason, they do. Moving on…
A real dad is the person who is there for the emotions that are so strong, they just can’t be contained. He’s there to wipe the tears, share the laughs, and give a stern look whenever necessary.
He experiences the disappointment that comes with failure, just as his child does. He’s there to encourage and help his child through the failures, and reassure his child that failure is part of the journey to success. He gets to feel that child’s successes in his heart as though they were his own, and he celebrates them more than anyone.
Real dads hurt when their children hurt, and teach them how to express that pain.
Real dads are the ones who are there to serve as role models for our children.
A child reaches for their real dad when they are hurt, sad, or looking for comforting arms to wrap them up.
My son’s real dad is the one who has been there to teach him the lessons I can’t. His real dad is the one who has taught him to play foosball, ping-pong, and how to most efficiently eat edamame.
A real dad will teach our children to listen to their fears, while still pushing themselves to try new things.
He doesn’t cower away from tantrums. He faces a child’s emotional outbursts without hesitation. He backs Mom up when she puts her foot down, even if he doesn’t 100% agree. He stands up to the pouty face, the eyebrow furrow, and the eyeroll.
What did the person you call my son’s “real dad” do for us? Nothing beyond basic biology. He contributed to half of my son’s DNA, and then he left.
Biology is not what makes a man a real dad. For two and a half years, I was both my son’s mom and his real dad. The person you refer to as his “real dad” was not there to change diapers. He didn’t experience the colic, the sleepless nights, or the stress of a child who was failing to reach milestones. He didn’t offer a dollar to help cover medical bills, nor did he offer a shoulder to cry on. He will never be a confidante for my son. He is not the person I would ever want my son to call “dad,” because he did nothing to earn that privilege.
There are real dads out there with many other names: Grandpa, Uncle, Brother, Friend, Mister. Even Mom.
My son’s real dad is Danny. He’ll even proudly tell you that he’s his Danny. His Danny chose to be his real dad, when his “real dad” decided the job description sounded too tough.
“Oh, you mean his biological father? No. You won’t be meeting him. But Danny is his real dad.”