The Man You Call Dad Is Not Your Father

by Laura A. Lord
Originally Published: 
A little girl holding her dad's hand with tall grass in the background

The man you call dad, is not your father.

There. I said it.

And one day, I’m going to have to say it out loud, because one day you are going to come to me and you are going to ask. You are going to remember back to when your last name was different and you are going to be old enough to know that it didn’t change just because “mommy and daddy got married.” You are going to notice physical differences. You are going to hear things. You are going to end up in school with your half sister. You have multiple other half siblings out there.

You are half siblings yourselves, and you don’t even know it.

You don’t even know what a step-dad is.

I’m going to have to tell you all of these things.

I am still trying to piece together the story, the mixture of truth and sugar-coated, cherry-picked lies to give you. I’m going to lie to you. I can’t even pretend I won’t. I’m going to lie to you until you are old enough to read the court documents, until you decide to find out for yourselves, because I’m still your mother and I can’t stand the thought of hurting you.

I’m going to tell you, my daughter, that your father was there for me when I was in need. That there are people in this world who need to love broken things, and that he is that kind of person. That he will ignore his own life in an effort to fix those around him, and that when I was broken he wanted to do that for me. I will tell you that it didn’t work, and that we tried so hard to be good parents for you, but that he found someone else who needed him and moved on, as people like that do. I’m going to tell you that he chose your step-dad for you. That he looked at our piecemeal family and said, “Yes. He can adopt her.”

I’m not going to tell you how he stopped showing up. How he stopped calling. How he had a million and one excuses for why he couldn’t come see you. I’m not going to tell you that he had other children, that the woman in his life wanted you and I out of it, that he chose that. I’m not going to tell you any of that and I’m going to pray that you continue to forget any of it happened.

I’m going to tell you, my son, that your father and I were two live grenades bouncing around a room, waiting to blow. I’m going to tell you that we loved fiercely and burnt ourselves out. I’m going to tell you that he was a brave man, who served his country again and again, and became a little less of himself each time he did. I’m going to tell you that he was good enough to step back from your life when he knew that he couldn’t be the kind of father you needed. I’m going to tell you that he called me, he asked for your step-dad to adopt you, to make our family whole.

I’m not going to tell you about all the nasty pieces of our relationship. I’m not going to tell you about the cheating and the drugs, the alcohol and the fights. I’m not going to tell you about being poor and how the church brought us Christmas in big black trash bags. I’m not going to tell you that the last time you saw him you were just learning to walk.

The only father you two know is the one who has raised you.

But I dread the day that I have to tell you the truth, when last names no longer make up for DNA, when you want to find them, to meet them, to discover family you didn’t know you had.

I wish we would be enough, but I know it is coming.

I know we won’t be.

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