Reflections on Fatherhood: Faithful Over That Which Belongs to Another Man
Before I was a husband I was a father. But before I was a father of my own I became a surrogate to another’s by design, if not directly by choice. Within five minutes of first meeting my wife she told me that five years ago, she dropped out of college at nineteen to have her child. In that same five minutes she also told me she was on the Dean’s List at Fordham University where she was finishing her degree at night. After a few dates I learned she made a solid seventeen thousand dollars more per year than I did. And although her parents were divorced, she spent her formative years growing up under the same roof with both her parents. Nothing was wrong with her. I didn’t get it. Why did she have a kid?
Back then I made it a policy to steer clear of women with children who weren’t divorcees. I was full of the prejudices that I’m sure many men still have. Women with children got drama. What are they smoking that would make them go through with having a child without a man? Why would they put themselves through that? Or even better, why would they put a child through that?Clearly, I didn’t have a clue.
Even though I’ve always had my mother’s love, back then I had no idea what it meant for a mother to love her child, or to create and carry a life inside her. I still don’t, but now as a witness with a front-row seat to this I can say I’m awed by it.
As my relationship grew from casual to serious, I had a decision to make: either stick to my misguided guns or take a chance and go down a path where I’d never been before.
For purely superficial reasons I opted for the latter. My wife was too fine for me to let her simply walk away on a “technicality.” But with my decision came a mountain of challenges and tasks to overcome. The first and most difficult of them being convincing then assuring her that vulnerability was not a weakness. The second was filling the deep chip on her shoulder that came with wearing the pants and the heels at the same time, all the time, for her little family of two. These two challenges were often interchangeable and often a source of misery for me.
What I had to learn was that when building a life with a woman with a child, the child is as much a part of her as a limb or even a vital organ — such as her heart. By no means did this mean there wasn’t room for me. But I did have to make this room. I also took an active role in the life of my son-to-be. With a little bit (actually a lot) of patience I earned the trust of an amazing little boy.
As with most things, this was easier said than done. It’s easy to feel left out, even rejected when courting a mom you don’t have a child with. And it’s easy for her to forget that she is human too — deserving of all the excitement and joy a relationship can bring — and responsible for contributing her share as well. Determining where this happy medium lies will be the test of any relationship. It requires many conversations and plenty of understanding to get there. But keep in mind it’s not about playing second fiddle. A child is not a fiddle. Anyone who believes otherwise is in for a rude awakening.
The little boy of my life is not so little anymore and now he calls me “Dad.” I’ve sown seeds into him that bear daily fruit. He’s an expert swimmer, a strong skier, a monster on the football field and as competitive as he wants to be on the basketball court. But more importantly, he’s well mannered and respectful. I love that he’s a teenager who isn’t afraid to ask questions and I love that I’m not afraid to answer him, no matter how awkward the question might be. Not too long ago on our way into a restaurant, a woman dropped her shopping bags on the sidewalk. My son ran to her, picked up her belongings and asked her if she had everything. This is something I would’ve done had I seen her first. Seeing him beat me to the punch made me smile.
Eric Payne is author of Dad: As Easy as A, B, C: 26 Do’s and Don’ts for Dads and two other books. Check out his site http://www.makesmewannaholler.com/ and Follow him on twitter @epaynethedad