Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and like Mother’s Day, it is a holiday fraught with emotion. I am sure some will be happily celebrating and remembering while others feel pain, resentment, anger, embarrassment, regret or a host of other feelings. Sadly, we seem to frequently hear about fathers who are absent or otherwise not living up to their responsibilities. The upcoming Father’s Day may be sad or a reminder of the void for many people. Today, however, I would like to recognize the dads who didn’t have to be–the dads who are not just taking on responsibility for kids who may not be biologically theirs but loving them too.
Families come in infinite forms, and there are many step-dads, foster dads, uncles, fathers-in-law, grandpas, neighbors, boyfriends, and friends who are stepping in, filling the gaps, and making an important difference for kids (and sometimes for grown-up kids too). I know not every story is happy and no human is perfect, but if you had one of these special men who made a positive impact in your life or in your kids’ lives, I’d like to encourage you to recognize him this Father’s Day or sometime soon if you haven’t already.
In recent years, my own dad has shared with me that he regrets not telling his step-dad how much he meant to him. My dad’s father was killed in a car accident when my dad was young, and my grandma remarried a man named Merle who took on the role of dad to my dad and my aunts. He was the only grandpa I ever knew. As a positive response to the regret my dad feels about his situation, I’d like to take this opportunity to honor one of these special “dads who didn’t have to be” who is in my life. I would love to read your stories of special men in the comments below or email me at email@example.com.
Terry and I started dating over nine years ago, and only a few dates in he asked me about my intentions for the long-term. He recognized that I was a never-married, never-had-kids woman and wanted me to know that he had two almost grown children at the time, and that he did not want to start over or have more children at that stage of his life. He wanted to break things off early on if we had different plans and goals for the future. I had always assumed I would have children someday and wanted children, but by the time I met Terry, I figured “that ship had sailed” and I had begun to interpret that maybe God’s plan for me was that all the kids I had taught over the years were my children or maybe even that Terry’s kids might be the ones I had been waiting for, not that I would have my own. I did have a vague feeling that God may have something else planned for me, but Terry and I decided to continue dating. My answer to his question did not scare him off.
Five years into our relationship, a situation unfolded wherein I was asked about taking custody of three children. Three young children. I had no doubt that this was absolutely what I was supposed to do. I didn’t quite know how I was going to do it, but I knew it was God’s plan for me. What about Terry? His plan was “no more children.” We talked about the developing situation, and he agreed that being there for these children was definitely the right thing for me to do. I reminded him that he said he did not want more children, and I assured him that he was free to go if he chose. He had warned me upfront. His response, “Sometimes God’s plans are different from ours.” We adopted a one-day-at-a-time and we’ll-see-what-happens approach for our relationship as we delved into parenting these three precious children who were then 5, 3, and 1.
What has happened over the past five years, and for what am I so very thankful?
- Terry took it in stride that the kids changed his name from TeRRy to Tey-yee immediately. In the past year, he has taken it in stride that Tey-yee is being replaced by Dada or Dad more and more often.
- Terry has taken almost full responsibility as family doctor and dentist. If a kid has a cut or a wart or a bug bite or a bad cough, Doctor Tey-yee knows what to do. He has also taken it on as his mission to make sure every loose tooth makes its way out.
- In the first few years, Terry took on most of the responsibility for puke clean-up since I have a sympathy puking and gagging problem. I have learned how to cope better in recent years, so I can usually handle the job on my own now, but oy those first few… And one of the kids struggles with car sickness. 🙁
- My youngest daughter came to live with me about 9 months after the other two were already here. I brought her home from out of state on an airplane. The baby was quite traumatized to suddenly be in a strange place with strange people, so she desperately clung to me, especially when this strange Terry guy came to pick us up at the airport. After I put her in her car seat for the drive home, she realized that she was no longer attached to me, so she began to scream. Loudly. I tried to comfort her and touch her from the front seat, so she would know I was still there, but the screaming continued. The drive home is about 1 1/2 hours… Finally, Terry suddenly started singing “If you’re happy and you know it” very loudly from the front seat. I think the baby was stunned as we sang verse after verse. She calmed down and even went to sleep. Since then, “If you’re happy and you know it” has saved us a few times.
- Terry can fix anything, or so the kids think. If a toy is broken, they immediately plan to bring it to him. He has mended dolls and trucks and dress-up rings. This past spring he even fixed a torn hemline on my oldest daughter’s dress right before the spring music concert at school. He used a stapler to do it, but he fixed it and got ‘er done. Terry can also fix vans and sinks and leaks and squeaks and most anything you can imagine.
- Our church does a Pinewood Derby for all ages and genders every winter. Guess who does this project with the kids? And guess who has taken the race day off from work each year just so he can be there for the big race? Though we haven’t broken any speed records, he has made a Lightning McQueen car, a pink lightning car, a bubblegum car, a butterfly car, and an Elsa car. And the kids couldn’t be any prouder.
- When the kids first came to live with me, one of the social workers advised us that bonding and attachment would happen best with the kids if we were ASAP (as silly as possible). Guess who handled that task with ease?
- My kids would probably be barefoot if it weren’t for Terry. Shoes just don’t get a lot of notice from me, and I don’t do a lot of shopping outside of going to the grocery store. I know. You are probably questioning some things about me right now. Terry is actually the shopper in this relationship. He is an avid thrift store shopper. He goes to all of them weekly to see if he can discover any new treasures. And his treasures are often shoes–pink high tops, light-up tennis shoes, church shoes. It is amazing what he can find.
- If Terry is not shopping in person at thrift stores, he is scouring the ads on Craigslist. Bikes, beds, toys, you name it, he’s found it. When I learned that the kids would definitely be coming to live with me, I told Terry I would need to trade my little Mazda Protege in for a mini van. He went right to work looking for a good van. By the time I returned from my out of state trip to get the kids, he had a van ready for me to buy and pick up. His ongoing project has been to find a camper. He has fond memories of camping in the past and would like the kids to experience it too.
- Machine gun, tickle machine, hide and seek…these are a few of the kids’ favorite things. And I don’t need to worry that my son is missing out on “boy stuff” because he lives in a house full of girls. Terry and Joe wrestle and rough-house and punch each other and fart on each other plenty.
- Terry devised the “Two Penny Challenge.” When the kids would get a little noisy and overwhelming, he would have them line up on the couch and then tell them that a “Two Penny Challenge” was about to start. Whoever could stay quiet the longest received two pennies at the end of it. This was pure genius! We got peace and quiet for at least 10-15 minutes, and it only cost us $.02. The kids thought they were going to be rich just for being quiet.
- My youngest and Terry got off to a rocky start. I think she may have been unaccustomed to being around men or maybe even afraid of them, but she did not like it whenever Terry came around. Terry was undaunted. He would hold her and tell her over and over again that he loved her. Fast forward to now: the youngest will go to blows over the one she calls, “My Tey-yee” and will knock you out before giving up her turn to sit by Tey-yee at the table or church or anywhere else. He is her favorite buddy.
- Terry has taken on the responsibility of being the Mother’s Day (and birthday and Christmas) shopping chaperone and adviser with the kids. For my first Mother’s Day, he secretly took the kids to a studio to get a photograph taken of the three of them together. In the meantime, he did some restoration of an old barn window that we had salvaged from my grandma’s farm after she died and made it into a picture frame for the photos he had taken. Yes, it was an emotional first Mother’s Day.
- We do not have cable television at home, but Terry had it installed at his house a while back. He LOVES shows such as American Pickers. The youngest child got into the habit of going to Terry’s and watching a show called Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood before she went to afternoon preschool. When Terry caught on that she loved the show so much, guess who suddenly started recording all of the episodes? And guess who will often give up American Pickers just so the kids can see Daniel Tiger’s newest adventures?
- After watching her episode of Daniel Tiger, the preschooler has a routine of getting a snack of what she calls “peanuts.” The peanuts are actually cashews and Terry keeps them on hand for her. This little one is known for coming up with crazy stuff out of the blue. Randomly one day when she was kissing him goodbye before school, she suddenly says, “Goodbye, Peanut Pants.” The name has stuck, and she randomly pulls it out for him on the phone and in person.
- Sometimes the kids stay over night at Terry’s house, and guess what they get most excited about? Breakfast. Terry serves peanut butter toast and a cup of chocolate milk for breakfast. He calls it Terry’s Specialty, and the kids think it is the greatest thing ever. The other option is chocolate cereal. Either way, the Cheerios at home are not nearly that exciting. Terry recently had surgery on his ankle and we all stayed over night at his house several nights in a row just to help him and keep an eye on him for the first few days after the surgery. As we were picking up Terry after his surgery, Joe was kind of orally going over our plans for the rest of the day and next few days. One of the first things he thought of was, “Terry probably won’t be able to make Terry’s Specialty, and YOU can’t do it. Maybe we will just have to have chocolate cereal.” “You are so right, Son. Mommy would never be able to handle something as complex as making toast.”
- Chocodiles. One day a few years ago we were going to go for a drive into the mountains and Terry decided to stop at a Hostess store to buy Chocodiles. He had fond memories of them from his younger years and wanted to share them with the kids. They are basically a chocolate Twinkie. The kids became HUGE fans and the experience was seared into their memories. We stopped and ate the chocodiles at a park along our route. Since then, that park has been renamed “Chocodile Park” by the kids. The Hostess store has since gone out of business, but the kids will point it out when we pass by where it used to be and say, “Remember that one time when Terry bought us Chocodiles?”
- Early on in our dating relationship, Terry informed me that he “had walls.” I have teased him about this comment for years, especially when I see him wrapped around certain little fingers. He always responds with a wink or a twinkle in his eye and says that he didn’t know “his walls didn’t go all the way to the ground and these little buggers crawled in underneath.”
- Terry saves the day. We have run out of gas. We had to evacuate our house due to carbon monoxide. Our van broke down on the side of the road. I have had mice. I had snakes in my garage. I had snakes IN MY HOUSE. I have had flooding. He does not even hesitate. Sometimes he laughs, but he does not hesitate to come and help us.
- Terry loves their mommy. In spite of her darkest days, her flaws, her failings, and her breach of the “no more kids” agreement, he is still here.
- Without fail, Terry says the words, “I love you” to the kids every single day. I think he says “knucklehead” every day too.
- In preparation for writing this post, I asked the kids what they like most about Terry:
“He fixes stuff, is nice, takes care of us, and loves us.” ~Anastasia, age 9
“He takes care of us. And Terry’s Specialty.” ~Joe, age 7
“Everything. He loves me. He is so so funny.” ~Angelina, age 5
No, Terry is not perfect. No dad is. Sometimes he is too hard and sometimes he is too soft. Sometimes he is too quick to accuse and assign “talking time out.” He’ll be the first one to admit that he sometimes yells too much… He has been laughed on, cried on, puked on, peed on, sneezed on, bled on, climbed on, and loved on. He is here everyday doing the best he can as a dad. And he doesn’t have to be. I am so blessed that he is.
*Remember, if you have a story of a special man in your or your kids’ lives, please share it in the comments section or email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear about him. Most of all, if you know of a special dad who didn’t have to be, let him know what he has meant to you.
*This song doesn’t exactly apply to our situation, but it is what inspired my title. “He Didn’t Have to Be” by Brad Paisley