…Like My Dad Before Me, and His Before Him

Note: I’ve struggled with how to write this in a way that would not offend women who might be in a similar situation.  The thing is that I can’t account for how a woman will feel about this topic and I imagine I would be more offensive by trying.  As a man, I can only speak to how I feel, from the male perspective.  I would love to hear the perspective of anyone who reads this.

A few days ago a beautiful little girl I know turned seven years old.  I couldn’t be there to celebrate it with her and that tore me up inside.  What really destroyed me, however, was that a woman who I thought understood my attachment to this little girl told me in no uncertain terms that she did not, dismissing my feelings in a way that left me, in a word, shattered.  The implication was that I could not be attached to this child in a father/daughter sort of way simply because her and I don’t share genes.  That somehow her biological father was better equipped to feel this way toward her because he contributed to her creation and I was being “silly” (my impression, not her word).

I’ve spent the last week meditating on this, praying about it, trying to put into words my feelings on this particular variety of bull pucky and I keep coming back to one question; how does any man bond with any child this way?

A friend of mine once told me that clan membership in Scotland is passed down from the mother.  The reasoning for this is simple; until the modern age, determining the maternal line of a child was easily verifiable (someone probably saw the child come out) but determining the paternal line was always based primarily on the word and virtue of the mother.  As such, it made sense that if a clan is going to accept a child, it should be the mother’s clan.

So the clan raised the child, right?  No, of course not.  The child’s father would accept the child as his own and love them and raise them as such.  A biological connection was, and still is, not as necessary as an emotional and psychological bond.  That bond is a vow, spoken or unspoken, to provide for, care for, love and protect that child with no expectations, a devotion of your life to put the child ahead of you, their needs above yours.  This is what it means to be a daddy and once that bond is created, no circumstance can end it in the heart of the man.

I didn’t ask to be a dad.  In fact, the responsibility terrified me.  It took me most of my adult life to get to a point where I was comfortable taking responsibility for myself, so I couldn’t imagine taking responsibility for someone else.  Then it changed.  Then a little girl called me “daddy” and changed my heart.  Suddenly everything changed.  I started thinking differently about everything.  I started looking at things differently.  I found myself concerned with how the media affects her.  I found myself wanting to make certain that she had questions answered properly.  I found myself wanting to make certain that she always knew she was loved because of who she is.  I may not have had a part in her conception, but I was ready to take responsibility for the person she would become.

Being a dad isn’t about biology.  I have said for years and will say to my dying day that any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.  This is a choice, and not one to be undertaken lightly.  When a child wants to start calling you “daddy”, that’s not something to allow frivolously.  It’s never something to do to get into the pants of the child’s mother or to make yourself feel good.  It carries a great deal of responsibility because that child has decided that you are someone special, that regardless of whether or not you contributed to their genetic makeup by inseminating an egg or carried them for nine months or nursed them from your bosom, you are someone important, someone they love and trust with their heart.  If you are the type of person who would take that lightly or use it for personal gain or transitory pleasure, then you are not a dad.  A man does not “play daddy”.  To do so is not only insulting to every man who has ever been called that, but risks hurting an innocent child and it is said that he who would harm a child would do better to tie a millstone to his neck and drown.  Any good person who has ever inadvertently hurt a child knows that the reason for this is because you will spend the rest of your life feeling like that millstone is weighing down your heart.  No, a man never “plays daddy” and to accuse a man of such is beyond hurtful and is dismissive of the ability of a man to feel deeply for someone and have the desire to care for someone for a lifetime.  There is a particular variety of boys (I won’t call them men) who will shirk responsibility for their children.  They will take off and run around with other women, possibly creating more children for whom they will not be a dad.  I despise the term “deadbeat dad” because such a thing can’t exist.  They are simply deadbeats.  The worst of these use the lack of easy confirmation of their contribution to the creation of a child to justify shirking their responsibility.  These are boys who will say, in so many words or not, “how do I even know it’s mine?” simultaneously disrespecting the child and the mother by saying that the child is not worthy of their love if they aren’t blood related and questioning the morality of the mother on multiple levels.  These people should never be called “dad” by anyone, ever.  Boys play with other people’s hearts.  Men commit their hearts to others.

Let me make something very clear.  I am a bastard.  Not in the “I’m going screw people over for my own gain” sense, but in the sense that my mother was not married to my biological father when I was conceived.  In fact, she never was.  He has a family with two children to whom I believe he has been a wonderful dad.  If you ever call him my dad, however, I will gently correct you the first time and will be less gentle in subsequent corrections of your error.  Why?  Because it’s an insult to the man to stepped up and created that bond with me.  The man who raised me and never treated me any differently than my brother, his biological son.  It’s an insult to his dad, who helped raise three girls who had no genetic connection to him.  In thirty six and a half years, my biological father has never been a dad to me, and that’s okay.  I have my dad and I love him very much.   He gave me a lot more than I could ever repay and can only hope to pass it along to someone else someday.

In the movie Courageous, the lead character at one point asks his group of men when they knew they were men.  I watched as they went around the table and only one of them gave a solid answer; he knew he was a man when his father told him he was the man of the house whilst he was away.  I thought about it for a few seconds and knew what my answer was;

On a day in late November of 2010 a beautiful little five year old girl called me daddy and I committed to fill that role to the best of my abilities for her for the rest of my days.  That was the day something changed deep in my heart.  That was the day I put aside childish things and became a man.  That was the day I became a dad, like my dad before me and his before him.   That is something that lives in my heart and kills me every day I am apart from that amazing little girl who changed my life forever.