Who Stands-In for Dad?
Parenting.com writer Christine Coppa is a single mother whose ex has moved on – and is now living elsewhere with a new wife and child. Coppa received an invitation for a Father’s Day party at her son’s school, and wrestles with the idea of “stand-ins” for her son’s father. It’s a great little story, and I ended up reading a couple of Coppa’s other linked stories on the topic.
One line resonates with me more than others: “I’m JD’s mom and dad.”
I think I know where she’s coming from – that Coppa fills the roles of both parents because she’s the only parent. But…allow me to argue that she doesn’t. Even an absent father is a father – and you can’t replace a father’s absence with a mother. The opposite is true – you can’t fill a mother’s absence with a father. While it sounds like I’m about to unravel into a tirade about traditional families – believe me, I’m not – I’m only speaking in terms of the “figure”, not the person or the gender.
So, in Coppa’s son’s situation – I feel like it’s important for him to acknowledge what she struggles with in the story – that JD has a father, and his father is choosing to be elsewhere. In a perfect world, JD will realize, with Coppa’s mothering help, that all of the other people she’s mentioned that would be thrilled to attend the event with JD – her two brothers and her father – are great male figures. But I think it’s important, somewhere along the way, for JD to know, deep in his heart, that his father chooses to be elsewhere. This will – and should – affect him. And someday (we’re talkin’ mid-20s), he should hold his father accountable.
Though the gender activities of fatherhood – playing baseball, watching sports, wrestling, are silly to think of as gender-based, and can be fulfilled by, well, anyone – I think it’s important to separate the idea of the gender role. The role differs from the activities immensely. The role of a father is something that I’d argue is ingrained in our humanity, and the statistics seem to show. If your dad is there when you’re born, you grow up one way. If your dad isn’t there, you grow up another. Now, now, don’t get pissy with me – I know that an absent father is “better” than an abusive present one. I’m just doing the ol’ no-things-considered angle. Otherwise known as “on paper.” On paper, if you grow up fatherless, even with other males present, you struggle with certain things emotionally and socially.
Coppa’s other line that resonates with me: “Life goes on. But you don’t forget. It’s not being stuck, or bitter — it’s being human.”
That’s it. And the best lesson is to teach your son to be human – not to stock all of his emotions away, waiting someday to come out inappropriately, but to share with JD’s uncle and grandfather that he’s going to struggle with this – and to offer support where they can. And somewhere along the line will be the uncomfortable talk that no separated-single-parent wants to have – the one that includes “why do you think _____ left?” Usually the kid says “I don’t know,” and that’s the opportunity for the parent to say “well, it was nothing you did, kiddo.” Et cetera. So – Coppa, I’m assuming, has the harder days ahead of her. While her son is “coming of age,” he’ll wonder himself why dad isn’t around. And it’ll be Coppa’s true test of motherhood to remember her own words – Don’t forget. Don’t be bitter. “It’s being human.”
Will an uncle or a grandfather ever truly “replace” a father? Nah, but I think they’re great stand-ins.
Good luck, Christine! So far, you sound awesome and JD will, I’m sure, grow up to be awesome as well.