Sunday, 17 June 2012
Of Solo Mums on Father's Day
You see, I want DS2 to have a notion of 'Daddy' as someone who loves and cares for you, who plays with you, who is there for you. I can put all the male role models in his path I like, which might give him a sense of how to be a man - but it's not going to give him the sense of the kind of dad I'd like him to be to his kids. At the moment his only notion of dad is the man who comes to take his brother away every couple of weeks, and I can't let him think that that's all it is. So today MummyDaddy is officially born.
I'm very aware in taking this on that mums and dads do different things - I do think they are distinctly different roles. More than that, I think that the role that usually goes along with our sex is the one that will come to us most instinctively and naturally - not that it'll be easy, just that it'll be more familiar. However, I do think that people can learn the other role - mums can learn to be dads, and dads can learn to be mums - but only if we start by acknowledging that there is something different to learn and it may not come as easily as the 'traditional' role - and may even contradict it sometimes. I think this was always DS1's dad's problem - he just saw mums and dads as being the same, each instantly capable of doing everything needed to fully care for their kid without having to make any effort or acknowledge the differences. He, like a lot of people our society, can't get his head around the concept of equal and different. (I often think that just the acceptance of that concept would improve the world immeasurably.) So here's my take on being a dad: I accept that being a dad is different to being a mum, and I'm doing my best to learn how to do it so I can be the best dad I can be for DS2. I'll never be a man, but at least I can have a good go at doing the kinds of things good dads do well.
There is obviously a lot of discussion in the Solo Mum community about dads. (I prefer the UK term Solo Mum to the US Choice Mom - because I've yet to meet a 'choice' mum who felt it was a 'choice' rather than just the default option when they found themselves wanting a child with no suitable man in sight, despite their best attempts to find one.) I love my fellow Solo Mum bloggers takes on it - do have a look at Creating Motherhood - celebrating the dad that W will be come - and Midlife Singlemum's Five things I want you to know about your father. for a couple of different approaches which are both very moving.
Although every Solo Mum deals with it their own way, the literature on the subject suggests that it's not 'good' to call your child's donor their dad or father, although I know several Solo Mums that do. Personally, I have less of a problem with donors being called a 'father'. The dictionary definition of 'to father' has that specific meaning for a start, and also 'father' always has that Victorian ring about it to me - like someone kind but distant, which sort of fits. For me, I do have a problem with donors being called dad, because it seems to me that to be a dad involves so much more than just conception. It's someone you have a relationship with, who shapes - in whatever way - how you grow.
I had a really interesting discussion at the UK Solo Mum's conference with a mum who had used the term 'donor dad'. It hadn't been intentional, but it seemed to her at the time the best way of explaining it to her pre-school child, whose friends were asking questions - and kids that age with no other experience will always respond to 'I don't have a dad' with 'But everyone has a dad!'. I explained to her my notion that a dad was about much more than conception, and she argued that since so many kids in her child's class had absent fathers who they still called dad, it was only using the term in the way everyone else in the class did. This is, of course, true, but as I said to her, it's not the notion of dad that I want my kids growing up with - and so I've chosen to define it differently for them. Not that I'm judging her for her choice, it's just not mine. It means that when they're old enough I'll need to explain to my kids that other children might call someone who isn't there for them at all their dad, but that's not how we define it in our house. I think every mum knows what's right for her child and if in our case it means being very specific about how we define important words, then so be it.
My other problem with calling a donor a dad is that it's always felt to me really insulting to the dads in couples who have had to use a donor to conceive. It feels like it somehow denigrates the role of these amazing dads - who must have had one hell of a journey to fatherhood - who just don't happen to be biological fathers. It's not that donor's aren't important - they really are - our children owe their existence and half their genetic heritage to these men, and what they've done is generous beyond measure, particularly open identity donors. However, being a donor, is not being a dad. That's something that happens in the relationship between dads and their kids, something that builds and grows over years and is a much, much bigger commitment - and I don't think it's fair to dads who take on that commitment to be seen as somehow lesser dads because they aren't genetically related. I'm adopted and my dad is no less my dad because we don't share genetics.
On Friday, just in time for Father's Day, a book I'd made online for DS2 arrived. We've called it The Story of Me and it explains how he came to be and addresses the dad and donor issue, in an age appropriate way for him. Although there are books out there, they're pretty much all about a mum by themselves wanting a baby - no mention of a brother who wanted a sibling - so we wrote our own. We used old photos, and DS1 did the drawings - his illustration of 'all different kinds of families' was so beautiful - children with 2 dads, 2 mums, a Mum and Dad and only Grandparents all featured. I love that book and I'm really proud of the words I've found. (I would love to share it on this blog at some point, but right now it feels like it needs to just belong to us). The important thing, is that DS2 loves it - he loves looking at the old pictures of me and DS1 before he was born, and himself when he was new born - and when he gets to the donor page he loves to point at the pictures of his donor and say 'who's that?' and I tell him it's his donor when he was little, and his donor when he was a grown up. In the book it says about DS1 going to his dad's, and then says 'But I don't have a separate daddy, so Mummy gets to be my Daddy too!' And that's what we're celebrating today.
At the UK Solo Mums' conference I met another mum in my situation - older child with dad, younger children donor conceived - and she also used MummyDaddy with her youngest. Interesting that the same situation led to the same conclusion, but not surprising. In our situation, our donor-conceived children see their older sibling heading off to their dad's on a regular basis, so I guess we needed to address it maybe sooner than other Solo Mums. This way, there is the possibility that they may not feel they've got less than their sibling, just that their parenting comes in a different package.
So Happy Father's Day to all the MummyDaddy's out there, or however you want to define yourself if you happen to be doing the job of both Mum and Dad, I hope you've all got to celebrate the dad part of what you do in style!