Every third Sunday of June since my son was born I have been showered with messages of “Happy Father’s Day!” The first year it happened, my son was only a couple of months old and I was truly touched that my friends cared and acknowledged I was doing the work of two, even if it was my choice to do so. The next year, I returned the favor to my fellow single moms (whether by choice or by circumstance), celebrating the fact that we got to be greedy and had at least two days of the year to be thanked for our hard work.
Things were a little different when my son turned two. Unusually bright and observant for his age, he had already started noticing that kids had dads. In addition to the stories he was read at bedtime and the Nick Jr. shows about families, he, of course, had friends with dads. He wasn’t quite able to formulate the questions or put the pieces together…but his little brain was trying to work it out. One night, a few months after his birthday, he was in the bath and started saying “Mommy! Daddy! Mommy! Daddy!” followed by contagious giggling. This was the first time I had ever heard him say the word daddy. Instinct took over and I decided to ask him, “What’s a daddy?” His response? “A daddy is a man who is kind of a teacher and a friend and lives in a house.”
I almost cried. I thought this was the most beautiful and astute description of what a father was. This was also a wonderful example of how my son makes sense of his world. Obviously, daddies are men. The teacher part was a direct reference to his friend Abby’s dad…who looked like (at least to my son) the teacher in his book “Biscuit Goes to School.” The friend part was referring to his “Uncle David,” a family friend and father of his friend Keegan…who takes care of the rough housing and whatever the toddler equivalent is to scratching, spitting and talking about the bitches duties with my son – as all good friends do. As for the house part…well, both those dads live in houses.
That’s when the “Happy Father’s Day!” messages started to feel a little weird.
It would be several more months before we would have the daddy discussion again…which was still way sooner than I had intended. When I started my journey to single motherhood, inevitably I wrestled with the prospect of “the daddy question.” My plan was to be honest and truthful. Of course, that was predicated on having gone through a few other milestone conversations such as “why do some kids have daddies” and “where do babies come from”. So when my son woke me up at 6:30 am a month shy of his third birthday with the question “Are you my mommy and my daddy?” my plan was shot to hell.
If I had paid attention, I had warning of this conversation a few weeks earlier. We were at the park and a little girl asked me where my son’s dad was. It was then I knew I was woefully unprepared for this question – from children that weren’t mine. That’s when I made mistake number one and responded “He’s not here.” I had just lied to a total stranger’s child…and mine, since he was standing right there. I won’t bore you with my internal freakout, but I had decided to correct my lie with the truth. However, before I could say anything my son responded to the little girl, “My daddy’s at work!”
What the fuck? No, really, that was my response. Luckily, I didn’t say it out loud.
Over the next few days, I would learn that my son had a really great relationship with his non-existent daddy. When I relayed the story to the nanny, she informed me that he often drove his daddy to work when at the park riding his bike, and picked him up on his way home. At least his daddy has a job…and lets his son drive the car.
After a few conversations with a fellow SMC (single mom by choice), I realized that he was, once again, making sense of his world. All the other kids’ dads were at work when at the park…so, of course, his must be, too.
I learned the issue still had to be dealt with that early morning in March. I reminded my son that I was his mommy. He asked, again, if I was his mommy and daddy. I then told him he did not have a daddy. That statement resulted in a two minute back in forth of me responding, “No, you don’t” to his “Yes, I DO have a daddy! I DO! He’s at work!” At 6:30 am in the morning, I was beginning to really wish that this was true, so I could call the asshole and tell him to come home and talk to his son so that I could sleep! Instead, instinct took over and I told my son the truth….the truth that I hadn’t planned on revealing until several years later. I said, “You don’t have a daddy, you have a donor.”
That was the first moment of quiet I had heard since he had shattered my morning slumber.
“What’s a donor?” he asked.
“A donor is a very nice man who you’ll get to meet when you’re a man,” I said calmly…and quite surprisingly. That wasn’t the answer I had planned when I was picking out sperm donors.
As he processed the information, I began trying to calculate exactly how I was going to explain to a not yet three year old the complexities of how babies are made, and how at almost 40 I wanted to be a mother more than I wanted to be a wife and…FUUUUCK! Why was he asking me this now? I hadn’t even had my coffee yet!
Instead he said, “Oh! I have a donor!“…I’m hungry! I want some raisin toast.” He then jumped out of bed and headed for the kitchen. I followed, because that was where the coffee was.
On this Father’s Day eve, I think back to the question of my now three year old. I’m sure at some point I’ll write about my thoughts on gender roles and the artificial constructs of what society feels is the role of a mother or father or if I think a child is lacking with only one parent (okay, on that last one, the hint is, NO!). Today, I just want to say this: There are mothers and there are fathers. How they do what they do is truly an individual choice. Some of them do what they do with someone else, some do it alone. In any case, they are still one or the other (and if you’re wondering which, a really smart two year old told me once that a daddy is a man).
If on the third Sunday of June you wish to acknowledge the parenting efforts of a single mom (by choice or by circumstance), by all means, do so. While you’re at it, give her a shout out on Monday, too…and the third Sunday of July, or the 20th of November. It will always be appreciated, trust me. But for this single mother by choice, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day. I say to all those who I know mean well, and send me the good wishes from their heart, I am not a father. I am a mommy…and that’s what I will continue to be on Father’s Day…and everyday thereafter.
However, feel free to still send gifts.