Father’s Day is my favourite day of the year. Period.
Father’s Day has not been a national holiday as long as Mother’s Day (1972 vs. 1910), but today’s more involved dads don’t care about history – we love our kids. I treasure the hand crafted gifts my children make for me at school and feel incredibly privileged to be a father.
On Father’s Day, I reflect on not only how lucky I am, but how unlucky other men are; the guys that are unable to become fathers through the cruelness and tribulations of the human reproductive system or relationships. However, some of those men do become dads when they meet a single mom with children.
“Dad” is an awesome title, but it should not be reserved for only the biological dad. “Dad” can be perfect for any man playing a significant role in the life of a child; uncles, grandpas, and perhaps most importantly, step-dads. Today, I want to focus and salute all the step-dads behaving "dadly".
Frederick Buechner declared that when a child is born, a father is also born. As a father, you love your children instantly and unconditionally. But when you become a step-parent, you CHOOSE to love someone else’s child as your own. You choose to develop a relationship with that child and invest time.
Ray Johnson said it best, “It takes a strong man to accept somebody else’s children and step up to the plate another man left on the table...”
In many blended families this weekend, Sunday will be spent with biological dad. He gets top billing, and perhaps rightly so, but let’s not forget the other dad that plays a big role in many kids lives.
Being a step-dad doesn’t come with nine months of prep time. You usually parachute into a family unit with children at various stages of development. Like skipping the puppy years with a new dog, some step-dads may love missing out on the diaper years, while others wish they had more time during the critical years to develop a relationship with their new step-child. As I wrote about a few years ago, in an article “Loving My Red-Headed Step-Child” (that was later published in the book “Dad’s Behaving Dadly”), my step-son already has a great father! I am not trying to replace a dad, just simply wanting to be another positive ‘dadly’ influence in his life.
Most step-dads arrive into a child’s life like an awesome new playmate: someone that always wants to throw a ball or bounce on a trampoline. This play-based relationship usually evolves into a more parental role as one roof begins to house all the children. My step-son and I are carving out our own unique relationship. Like step-dads everywhere, I try to be present everyday and make deposits to my step-son’s emotional bank account. I want to earn his respect, not demand it.
Sometimes step-dads are the only dad present and participating in the life of young child, so they grow into their ‘dad’ title naturally. Frankly, I would never insist that my step-son calls me “Dad”. I don’t care if he calls me “Daddy-Jeff”, “Bald-Dad”, or just “Jeff” – just don’t call me “not involved” or “not present”. I want to lay the careful foundation for our relationship now so that when the storms of the teenage years hit, I will be another safe harbour for him. I want to be a strong male role model and the beacon for guidance, morality, ethics, and love. You may not share genetics with your step-children, but you can share a relationship and a connection.
I do honestly believe, if done well, children of divorce can receive MORE love as they may have two additional parental figures that will love them, help guide them, and be there in their life. We have had weekend soccer games with four excited adults cheering! Step-parenting can have great benefits. Just this past week, mom was at work, dad was at work, but I was able to attend and videotape the daytime talent show recital!
So this weekend, let’s celebrate all male parental figures. In your circle of friends, reach out to a step-dad and tell him what an awesome job he is doing. If you are a dad, that has the blessing of another dad in your child’s life, reach out to him and thank him for being there! Step-parenting is not always an easy role, but very rewarding!
While it’s easier to become a father that to be one, for these supermen, the choice to love another’s as your own is even more incredible.
TAKE AWAY POINT – Don’t forget step-dads and their contributions on Father’s Day. While the children may be spending time with their biological dad, make sure their step-dad gets his kudos because he is also awesome. You cannot love mom and ignore the inherent responsibilities of her children. Step-dads choose to love.
Until next time...
I was driving in a bad mood. I don’t even remember what was wrong. I guess something in my entitled, privileged life wasn’t working out the way I wanted. Even the smiling, cooing eight-month old baby in the back seat couldn’t break up the dark gloomy clouds over my head.
In a row of at least eight cars, we waited for our turn to turn left. Up ahead, I saw the begging, bearded, dirty man on the median touting his handwritten cardboard sign; a sign that likely said something about being hungry and needing money. In a split second, I judged everything about him; his relative abilities, mental state, education level, and general worth as a human being.
I pleaded with the left turn arrow to stay green so I wouldn’t have to decide if I was giving him money. “Please please, one more car – keep going, oh come on moron!” Perhaps it was divine intervention, but the white haired man in front of me obeyed the yellow light and chose to wait.
Ironically enough, we pulled up right along side the beggar; he was about two feet from our car. Instead of acknowledging the existence of another human in close proximity, I chose to suddenly fumble with something in the glove box.
But my son saw him. My son made eye contact with him. I heard “ba ba ba ba ba” as he pointed to the smiling man who waved back.
Still in an ugly foul mood, I said, “Yes Eli, he should be working, he does have two arms and two legs that work! Instead of that sign, he could be holding a pizza sign or advertise something and get paid!”
But that wasn’t what my innocent son was saying at all.
I saw the nuisance. He saw the person.
Suddenly, I was horribly ashamed of myself and my judgments. An embarrassed wave of enlightenment washed over me. God only knows the circumstances that brought this man to this point in his life. He is someone’s son or brother, maybe husband or father. Who am I to judge this man and his worth?
An angry car horn from somewhere behind me snapped me out of my epiphany. But I have never forgotten how I felt in that moment. I wanted to stop my car and hug that man. But I didn’t.
My roly-poly baby son reminded me that everyone deserves respect and love. Babies are laughing, jiggling masses that radiate innocent, pure love. Babies are a little like dogs that way. They don’t judge a person’s worth by what they do for a living, they love regardless.
Researchers at Princeton discovered that, in a blink of an eye, upon seeing a new face, our adult brains decide whether a person is attractive, trustworthy, and potentially how educated a person is. Babies do not do this. They see a new face, and they smile.
Sitting in a taxi with my son in San Francisco, I was reminded again of that shameful left turn moment. Our taxi driver, with his thick Indian accent and head dress, was an imposing man at first glance. We could have stayed in awkward silence as my son slept, but this time, I turned my judgment into curiosity and learned all about this amazing, intelligent man from Sri Lanka who was working two jobs to bring the rest of his family to America.
H. Jackson Brown Jr. said it best, “Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.” As a parent, I want to teach my children about the world, but if I am present and attuned, my children might just teach me the most valuable lessons of all.
TAKE AWAY POINT - Be aware of the snap judgments you make everyday and remember to love like a baby does.
Until next time.
When my ex-wife came out four years ago, I knew MY world was never going to be the same, but I quickly realized that my children’s world was about to look very different too. Gone was the dream of the “white-picket-fence-perfect-million-dollar family”. This odd idyllic image was to be replaced by pickups and drop-offs to two different houses, each with two different bedrooms, two sets of clothes, and two sets of toys.
This is the reality for many blended families, sharing the responsibilities of raising children (I hate the word ‘custody’). Unlike other divorce situations that are extremely bitter and/or nasty, ours has been an easier road (but not without our share of storms over the past four years). With any separation, it is critical to keep the best interests of the kids at the forefront of any decision making. One of the most challenging aspects of a ‘successful divorce with kids’ is shelving the personal emotions one might feel against their former partner. You must do what is best for the kids (sometimes perhaps through clenched teeth and bitter unsent texts) to minimize the collateral damage to the innocent children, especially in the early days of the divorce, when emotions are much more raw.
Given our work and life structure right now, we arrived at a working separation agreement where the children would be with me Monday to Friday and with their mother Friday to Monday morning. These ‘transition’ days can sometimes carry a little sadness and anxiety (and that’s just for us parents). While mom and I share parenting values and a friendship, within these two different living arrangements, there are also two different parenting philosophies. Behaviours and choices that are permitted or happen in one house, do not happen in the other. And the kids know it!
Mom and I have open dialogue about issues and challenges with our son and daughter (now 9 and 7) and share ideas on what is working, but of course, I can only control what happens in this house (ha, ‘control’, what an illusion!)
At this house, during the busy week of activities and school, the kids have chores and expectations of helping out, firm bedtimes, and homework. We need that structure to survive and thrive. We all need to pitch in because there are three extra people at this house (my new partner, her son, and our new baby). At mom’s house, because her time is largely on the weekends, there is more freedom and ease with time with later bedtimes, paid chores, and increased screen time.
“I like Mommy’s house better!” is a line we do hear occasionally, and while it naturally stings a little (because I think I’m super cool), it is not powerful enough to warrant change. From the outside, one house IS more fun. If I was a kid, I would prefer the house with little homework or responsibility. However, in our house, we are looking long term - we believe we are teaching life lessons, work ethics, and how to be a good person. And I am certain; mom feels the same way about her rules. I don’t think the kids tell me they like Mommy’s house better to hurt me. Usually they say it out of frustration or when they are called on their poor behaviour or choices.
A variable worth noting is that in our busy home with four children, there are two parents who can divide and conquer as well as support and bolster each other when disciplining the children. My ex-wife did have a partner for awhile for ‘backup’, but she is now parenting alone and as hard as it is to admit, my children do take advantage. My son, who is the oldest, has much more decision making power at mom’s house than here and who doesn’t love power?
I guess we could cave and try to win the “Our house is better” title, but we believe in the long term benefits of our philosophy; doing what is best for the kids. By her own admission, mom wants to “reel it in” and have more structure on weekends and bring the houses into more alignment of expectations and responsibilities.
On transition days for children of divorce, there is definitely a “changing of regime” that kids may find initially confusing (Who is in charge? Which rules are in play?), but children are smart and learn to adapt to whatever regime is “governing”. However, birthday parties and school events, where both mom and I are in attendance, can prove challenging and almost funny as they try to ‘work the room’ to get the answer they want from one of us. Thankfully, we are usually on the same page, “No, your mom is right, cotton candy is not a good choice right before bed!”
As any separated parent with shared access can tell you, it is not easy navigating a constantly changing landscape of life and co-parenting. There are high highs and low lows. Single parents may find have new partners, which can have its own unique challenges for children and families to navigate. New jobs, partners, and schedules can all wreak havoc on the fragile family norm between two houses. As children get older, their needs will change and one living arrangement might benefit them more.
TAKEAWAY POINT – If you are in a blended family situation and enjoy shared responsibly for raising your children, try to keep the big picture in mind. Your house may not be the fun house, but it may be the stability and predictability of your house that forms a solid foundation for your children. Strive for open communication with your ex-partner about the rules in each of your houses. Each household does not have to be a carbon copy of the other, but the more similar the expectations and rules, the easier life can be for the children as they go from one home to the other. It is not a competition for who can be the fun house, rather a coordinated effort to raise respectful, confident, resilient children.
If you are a blended family with older kids, does it get easier?
Any tips you can pass along for navigating “I like Mommy’s/Daddy’s house better?”
Until next time...
Last Sunday, I was the host and DJ for the 10th Annual Father Daughter Dance, a dance that started back in 2005 with only 17 dads. We thought 17 dads coming was cool, but this year we were at capacity with over 175 dads, together in one room, each with one, two, or even three daughters for an unforgettable night of family memories with 400 other enthusiastic people. This year we were sold out a week early! Imagining a sell out 10 years ago was a foolish pipe dream, but this dance is a small example of how much more involved fathers are today.
As a DJ, you cannot imagine a more positive and happy vibe in a room. From the giggles in the photo booth and ‘hair salons’, to the silly dancing on the floor, these Dads GET IT! As their beaming daughters gaze up and marvel, these dads proudly embrace the role of hero!
The Father-Daughter bond is so important to the development of a strong, confident woman. Over the past few years, I have written many articles about this bond, but today, I want to touch on a few keys points inspired by the amazing moments I witnessed on Sunday.
First of all, we had 175 dads in one place to dance! As tough as it is to say, part of the magic of this night is no moms allowed. There are no women for shy, goofy, non-dancing dads to be self-conscious in front of. Let’s face it, very few men are fantastic confident dancers; most of us are just OK, safe with our limited repertoire of dance moves. Sure we can bust out the odd hand clapping shimmy moonwalk, or the C3PO robot with the faulty arm, but keeping the beat for an extended time (and looking cool) is tough work. Maybe it’s how we are raised and socialized; most men don’t phone and invite each other out for a night of dancing.
“Hey Brock, what are you doing tonight? Oh, putting in a new transmission eh? Me? Oh well, I feel like dancing tonight, do you want... hello.... Brock???”
But at this dance, by the end of the night, almost ever dad is on the floor, but it usually starts with one “Wiggle Dad”.
Many years ago, we took our children to see the Wiggles, those wickedly talented Australian guys. At the concert, parents were encouraged to get up and dance with their families. Understandably, most of us were too cool for school and politely declined the Wiggle’s offer and stayed planted in our seats. However, in our section, while we all sat safe, one dad and his daughter danced like there was no tomorrow. He was up and ‘committed to dance’ and what he lacked in dance rhythm and coordination, he more than made up for in enthusiasm. His daughter loved it and was right there with him.
I am sure his dancing angered a few dads, “Well, if he does it, then do we all have to?” But what his dancing did was give us fence-sitting dads the green light to be goofy and step out of our comfort zone for our kids. I found myself standing and grooving away, who cares if I default to the the Carleton with my Caucasian overbite, nothing and no one else mattered – all that mattered was having fun with my children. I won’t see these other people again, but I will see my son and daughter again. If I did see any of other people, what would they say? “Nice Dancing”? or “Cool Dad”? I may not love dancing, but I do love my kids.
I often think about “Wiggle Dad” and his impact on me, the rest of my seating section, and my thoughts on parenting. The world needs Wiggle Dads, to show the other nervous self-conscious dads that everything is going to be awesome. Life is short. These are the good old days right now, soak it up! We have at least 15-20 Wiggle Dads at our dance every year. You can witness their exuberance and zany attitude rubbing off and inspiring even the most nervous, withdrawn, or stodgy dads.
I want to mention that we intentionally leave the wording on our Father Daughter Dance posters ambiguous. We never really specify the age of the daughters. We have had 18 month olds up to 14 year olds attend and have a blast. If a teenage daughter still wants to come and have fun with her cool dad, then all the power to them, major win for dad!! We also never specify dress code or WHO can bring a little girl. She may come on the arm of a step dad, grandpa, uncle, or family friend. The dance is open to any man playing a significant role in the life of a young girl.
The diverse cross section of men attending is astounding and awesome; white/blue collar, gay/straight, old/young, men in suits/men in jeans. None of that matters, because for one night, they are united in a huge public display of modern fatherhood, and more specifically, they were united by their love for their daughters.
These guys get it.
As a dad, you are first man your daughter will love. You set the bar for every man she will ever encounter. He will be judged by the standard you will set. How high will you set the bar? The thousands of interactions you will share with your daughter will help shape her into the woman she will become. Everything matters; how you talk to (and with) your daughter, how you ask her opinion and feelings, how you listen to her, and how you talk about her to other people. She will learn that she has a voice that is equal to a man’s and needs to be listened to. The amazing woman that, if you play your cards right, you may be lucky enough to walk down a wedding aisle as she gets married to someone very much like you, in personality, character, and love for her. Heck, she may even want a fun Father Daughter Dance at her wedding, to relive one of her best childhood memories!
Although I mentioned it numerous times throughout the dance, I want to thank all the wonderful families that support our Father Daughter Dance. You are inspiring and incredible. I love running into you and your daughters around town and hearing about your experience at the dance and how much you are looking forward to the next one! That is why we do it!
If you want to be the first to know about the next dance, please add your name to the list @ www.thedadvibe.com.
If you are in the Okanagan and want to help sponsor the dance or help our little committee of four dads, then please email me [email protected] for more info.
And if you want ideas on how to host a Father-Daughter Dance in your community, I would love to help you create more amazing family memories!
Until next time...
Read more The Dad Vibe articles
- Naked in front of kids? Apr 24
- Spousal resentment meter Apr 10
- '50 Shades of You' Mar 13
- How to raise a kid no one likes Feb 13
- Daddy's gone? Where? Jan 16
- My step-dad struggles Dec 5
- I know why you two fight: Part 2 Nov 21
- I know why you two fight Nov 7
- Dads do it differently! Oct 24
- The day I lost my daughter Sep 12
- Talk to your kids for 7 Minutes? Aug 15
- A stranger touched my child... Jul 25
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