Thank You To The Stepfathers And Other Men Raising Kids Not Their Own

by Michaela Mitchell
Originally Published: 
Three yellow cupcakes shaped as smileys

I told myself I would rather stay a single mom than parade man after man in front of my children, boys whose father walked away years ago and even now gives only paltry excuses and little else for where he is, where he went and why it’s not his fault.

John was the first man I allowed my two boys to meet after months together. It felt right. He was the kind of man I wanted them to be like when they grew up.

I didn’t go out shopping for a father figure for them. Target carries a lot of things, but Dad-in-a-Box isn’t one of them. But I was the lucky woman who found him.

I told myself I would never be the type of woman to sacrifice her children for the sake of a man or love or just my own personal fear of being alone forever, surrounded by 17 cats, cheap Moscato and dog-eared trashy romance novels. (Note: The trick to avoid being the cat lady is to make sure you don’t have any cats.) In the end, I found one of the good ones.

To all the stepfathers, stand-in-fathers, foster fathers and those men who find themselves raising children not their own, thank you. They aren’t your biological children. You have no obligation to them other than your love of their mother, but we are grateful for you each and every day. Even when we forget to say it because, for the love of God, who farted?!

Thank you for caring whether they sit up straight at the dinner table and for refusing to let them lay their head down as if elementary school is the most exhausting thing ever.

Thank you for hating wasted food on dinner plates from children who say, “I’m full” but will put away a gallon of ice cream less than an hour later. You’re tired of saying, “Eat your dinner,” but really we’re glad someone else is finally saying it.

Thank you for not minding the nakedness of small boys who hate clothing but hate showers more, and who have almost no sense of modesty—unless Mom ducks her head into the bathroom. A penis is never covered more quickly than if there’s a chance a mom might see it.

Thank you for celebrating Mother’s Day. Flowers, candy and time to breathe without children clinging to us are exactly what we needed. Who can we petition to make that a monthly thing?

Thank you for knowing what a forced, fake burp sounds like and making them stop, or, when you’re in the right mood, showing them how the big boys do it.

Thank you for enforcing our rules.

Thank you for setting and enforcing consequences for bad behavior. You’re stricter than we are, but it’s what they need, even when their (sometimes) doting Mom doesn’t see it.

Thank you for convincing us to lighten up a little, relax the vise grip we have on them and give them freedom. We’re afraid. They’re our babies. And it’s an uncertain world.

Thank you for caring if they grow up into strong people who understand right and wrong. You telling them “No means no” is more powerful than you realize, even though you’re simply breaking up a wrestling match. They don’t understand that life lesson yet, but we do.

Thank you for giving the shy one time to warm up to you. He really does love you.

Thank you for the kisses you plant on the tops of their heads when they’re not paying attention.

Thank you for letting them hug you as big and tight as they can whenever they want.

Thank you for silly voices, sillier stories, tickle wars and the goofy fun that only a dad can provide.

Thank you for reading bedtime stories, although your voice cracks and shakes from the newness of it all.

Thank you for being a better father to them than their own.

They might not call you “Dad”—yet. But you are. Complete with dad jokes, dad puns and dad bod (you’ve got it, my friend, no matter what your body looks like).

My boys have no idea how fortunate they are that their “Mr. John” ignored the screaming voices of his own past experiences in order to join our family. They don’t know about a time before, a time that made him say he would never raise another man’s child again. He saw something in them, in me and in all of us as a family and took a brave leap into an unknown, uncertain future with a woman who vowed never to sacrifice her children’s well-being for any man. I love and appreciate him more than he will ever know—even when I wish he and the boys would stop all that damn farting.

Thank you, and Happy Father’s Day.

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