“We used to have a dad named BDad. Then he left, so we got a new dad named Max.”
The way D2 tells the story, family members are sorta like car parts. When one stops working how you want it to, you throw it out and get a new one. That’s not really what happened, but he was only three when all this started, so I can understand how he could see it that way. It’s not like he remembers too much from that time, anyway.
He sort of remembers the first time he met me, when I was picking up the family from the shop after their car broke down. He got so excited he ran into the road to greet me and give me a hug. What he doesn’t remember is that it was the first and last hug I would get from him for months after that, during which I could maybe get a hi5 on a good day.
He doesn’t remember refusing to talk to me when he was in a bad mood for a few months, until he could see that I was a trustworthy grown up and not going to make fun of him for being a grump.
He doesn’t remember refusing to say goodnight to me the first fifty or so times I was there at bedtime.
These are good boundaries for a kid to have with a new person. A kid does not need to hug unknown grown ups on demand. A kid does not need to trust every grown up they meet. A kid does not need to accept random people into their bedtime rituals. It took a long time for D2 to be open and affectionate with me, but when he was, it was because I had earned it.
I earned it by being honest with the kids. By listening to and accepting their feelings when something came up, especially when BDad stopped coming around. I earned it by sitting in the bathroom reading books with a grumpy blond kid who refused to poop on the potty, and by cleaning deodorant off his teeth when a game of “smell this!” went horribly wrong, and by teaching him how to read in spite of himself.
If I dropped off the face of the Earth for two years, I would expect to have to do it all again (hopefully with less poop the second time around, since they would be older). It doesn’t matter if it was because I was kidnapped by aliens, held in jail for a crime I didn’t commit, stranded on an island, in a coma, whatever. That doesn’t matter to kids. All they know is that you’re not there, and they can’t do anything to change that. Kids are not responsible for maintaining relationships with adults.
The kids have been trying to sort out this “two dads” issue. For a while, D2 maintained that BDad was their “real dad” and I was the “other dad” or “second dad.” BCat said no, since I do all the work, I get to be the “real dad,” and since BDad essentially quit the family he has to be the “old dad.” BigD doesn’t get into the argument, but he was the first one to stop calling BDad “Daddy.”
MDL and I have tried to explain that some kids can just have one mom and two dads and that is okay. They know some kids that have two moms, and that makes sense to them, but apparently the idea of two dads was super out there. However, no amount of persuasion will convince these kids that BDad and I can both be their dad.
Recently, D2 has since changed his mind and joined BCat’s team. All of them now call BDad by his first name, though not usually to his face, since he expressed that it upsets him.
We try to have as many helpful, emotionally healthy, supportive grown ups in the kids’ lives as possible. My parents see the kids frequently. We have a handful of friends who come over for holidays and the kids’ parties and will email back and forth so the kids can practice writing and typing. They need all the adults on their side they can get. I am not trying to cut BDad out of their lives.
I think it would be great if he could live in the same city as us and see them once a week. They could do regular things, like go to the park or the library, instead of shoving four weeks worth of fun into a two hour outing. It would be amazing if he tried to do a lesson with them for school, any subject. Those kids deserve all the benefits of having two dads.
But really, they’re right. They’re not stupid, and a handful of fun every few weeks isn’t fooling them. The kids don’t actually have two dads. They could have, but effectively, they don’t, and that hurts them.
There’s nothing we can do to change that. I’m in no position to try a “man to man” type pep talk. On the kids’ part, no amount of crying, persuading, or nasty emails (which BCat has sent a few times) is going to make one bit of difference. Maybe BDad will come around. Probably not. The only thing I can do is continue to be a good example.
But it doesn’t mean they don’t need him, too.