How we got to this point is straightforward enough, Leo was here first. I met David when Leo was already home and they had been a family for about a year. I was to be the new addition, not Leo. Given our relationship was just beginning, it was premature to have Leo begin referring to me in a parenting role, but rather just as a person — Derek. A person that seemed like a good fit for the family, but one that might not go the distance. We dated for about a year and then moved in together and never looked back. Now 9 years have passed and this topic has not been up for discussion or debate since. Time flies.
Why, then, rock this boat now? The why is me. The why is because here we are with months to go before I am officially, legally, most sincerely his ‘dad,’ and I care. Leo has not brought this up, and given I have an adult son from a previous marriage, my reasoning doesn’t include any particular need to check-off a “be someone’s dad” bucket-list wish list item. No, my reasons are as follows:
Parent, not BFF
As we sprint toward the tween years, the parenting boundary-setting role becomes more important. We, like many parents, face challenges setting and enforcing limits with Leo and any additional leverage may help. I do not want to become our family’s version of the appeals court and have Leo view David as the parenting supreme court. Yes, success in this regard requires more than changing how Leo refers to me. David and I must continue to communicate in a single and consistent voice and enforce consequences without regard to blow-back. One’s children can be amazing teachers when it comes to parenting shortfalls and Leo has helped identify a variety of ‘areas needing improvement’ that we are addressing.
We’ve got a great big event coming up that provides a unique opportunity to make a change. We can use our wedding to teach about commitment, about family, and about all of the many issues that were tossed about by social conservatives during the recent same-sex marriage debate — like so much red meat. We are proud of our family and want Leo to be as proud of his family as any kid. I want him to have the vocabulary to do that with, in any setting, and under any circumstance.
It’s important to me
Early on in our relationship it did not feel appropriate. Now it does. Not being called dad makes me feel a little less visible sometimes, and I admit to being bothered by it. I have to say, I’ve not ever overheard Leo stumble in explaining his family make-up to anyone. In fact, he made this poster in kindergarten that is about as clear and authentic as one could ask him to be.
Unpalatable parent naming options
Our time in Portland exposed us to a wide array of arrangements and terminology ranging from first names only to “Dad and Father” to “Daddy and Papa.”
Other options: Dad & Daddy, Pop & Papa, Daddy & Poppy, Dad & Pa (ugh!)
I feel he’s too old for some of the options, and I’m too old for most of the others. Of these, I guess I like “Dad and Pop,” but given “Dad” is already taken that leaves me with the balloon exploding sound. There aren’t many other combinations from which to choose, and he’s old enough to be included in the decision making, so we will see. My preference is to be Dad. You know – one of two. There are not that many situations when this would be confusing, and when Leo might need to introduce us it could be more along the lines of, “these are my dads,” or “these are my parents.”
Ultimately, it is the person behind the name that truly matters. Most importantly, I want Leo to know that I am proud to have him call me dad; and that his dads are glad to call him our son.