I have never believed in the idea that “it takes a man to raise a man.” What it really takes to raise a child is a loving adult, who is a safe place, who can encourage and support the child to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. A specific gender is not required to do this.
When I started writing this piece, the intention was for it to be a love letter to non-traditional fathers. Honestly though, that term doesn’t really exist anymore. When I do a quick mental survey of my kids’ friends, very few of them live in a home with both of their biological parents. Once upon a time, we thought of a family as a mom and a dad, two children, and a dog. But today’s families look like all kinds of things, and the reality is that love can come from many different places. This Father’s Day, I want to celebrate all the men (and women) who step in to love and support the children in their lives.
For the first six years of my oldest son’s life, I was a single mom, first because his biological dad was deployed to Afghanistan, and then because we divorced. Though his dad wasn’t present, many men poured into Lucas during his early years. My brother was there when he took his first steps. He changed diapers and babysat, gave Lucas baths and read him bedtime stories. I was still studying for my bachelor’s degree when Lucas was born, and on Saturday mornings, I would take him to my in-laws’ house so I could attend a chemistry lab. Often I would return to find Lucas reading and playing with his grandfather. His Papa emigrated to the U.S. from Cameroon. He instilled in Lucas the necessity of a good education and served as his first French teacher. He gave his grandson the desire to travel and to find out more about the world beyond his front door.
When Lucas was four, I started graduate school, and some nights I was in class until 10pm. On those evenings, my dad would pick up Lucas, feed him, take him to karate, and put him to bed before I could even get home. Lucas had his own bedroom in my father’s house. Dad taught my son how to play chess and passed down his sense of style to him. Even after I married my husband, these three men continued to love and influence Lucas and play large roles in his life.
And then there is my husband, Joe. He didn’t have a lot of experience with kids, but when we got married, he hit the ground running. Lucas is 16 now, and for the last 10 years, it’s been Joe who helps with math homework and Joe who is in the stands at practices and games. He’s dispensed life advice, taught Lucas how to shave and how to drive, and took the time to explain to him how to make better choices whenever he made missteps.
A few years ago, Lucas got hurt in a football game. We thought his ankle might be broken because he couldn’t put any weight on it. As Joe helped him down the hall to the x-ray room, I snapped this picture and though I hate that my baby was in pain, it’s one of my all-time favorites because of the relationship it shows between the two of them. They don’t share DNA, but in his heart and soul, Lucas is just as much Joe’s child as his two biological children. Joe is all in for Lucas, all of the time.
I’m not unique in my circumstance. I can think of so many men I know who have stepped in to raise children that they don’t share a biological connection to. Family has nothing to do with genes. Parenthood is about showing up and these men show up every day, in a thousand different ways, to love the kids in their lives.
I also cannot forget the many amazing single moms I know. They teach the shaving and the driving, they instill right from wrong and most importantly, they show up. I have never believed in the idea that “it takes a man to raise a man.” My husband didn’t have a father, and he’s one of the greatest men I know. What it really takes to raise a child is a loving adult, who is a safe place, who can encourage and support a child to believe in themselves and follow their dreams. A specific gender is not required to do this.
Happy Father’s Day to the bonus dads, the grandfathers, uncles, teachers, coaches, big brothers, cousins, friends and mentors who pour into the kids around them. Happy Father’s Day to the single moms, foster parents, and anyone else who feels like this day isn’t for them. It is. Thank you for the way you love the kids in your life.
Fatherhood is generational. They will carry what you have taught them for as long as they live, and in that way, you leave your legacy.
Halley Dean lives in Kansas with her husband, three children, and attack cat. By day, she puts her extensive social media stalking skills to use as a the head of her company’s special investigations unit. She is a would be writer and passionate advocate for social justice, particularly as it pertains to issues involving women and children. She has degrees in American History, Organizational Administration, and Communications, but is often unable to locate her car keys.