Challenging perceptions is something I’m entirely comfortably with. To be a single dad is to be a minority; there doesn’t seem to be a huge number around, in comparison with single mums. That’s the nature of the beast, I suppose; children will often live with their mum as the primary carer, with either equal or reduced contact from the dad.
However, single dads do exist; we’re out there, and I’m in a different position, I suppose, because I chose to be this way. I never conceived my son during a passionate tryst – I can’t even type that without chuckling – and went into this entire adoption process without considering waiting to have a partner.
But I am a dad now, and am thrilled to know that I can contribute to a child’s life. I’ve caught the odd glance when I’m at the school gates, waiting for my son to finish school – I’m not daft, I’ve seen it often enough already to know what’s going through their heads; Is he actually a single dad? Is mum out to work? What’s he doing here every single day?
It almost feels like the expectations of a dad is to go out to work, pay the bills, and do the mum a favour and occasionally pick the kids up from school when there’s no-one else to do it. I don’t see any other dad picking up their kids daily, so maybe that is a fairly accurate division of labour; I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m merely pointing out that, when something different comes along, we shouldn’t be shocked – intrigued, sure, but not shocked, as we can allow for different lifestyles to be equally valid … can’t we?
Sometimes, if my son and I are in shops and we’re slightly apart – I’m investigating something healthy in Tesco whilst he has managed to sniff out the chocolate three hundred yards away – he’s struck up a momentary conversation with something. He does love to chat. Once or twice, I’ve heard the person he’s talking to say, “Where’s your mum?” The confusion written across my son’s face is there for all to see, and it immediately flusters the questioner – especially when I then go over (I’ve been watching carefully all along) and place a protective arm around my son’s shoulder.
We’re also at the delicate stage in proceedings where the adoption process hasn’t been completed yet; we are in limbo as the application has been submitted, the court are processing all that they need to process, and the social workers are writing reports on us to make sure the judge knows everything she needs to know.
So the word “adoption” is still very much alive in our vocabulary right now; in time, of course, it won’t be. We’ll go days – weeks, even – without even thinking to mention it, because we’ll be a family just like any other. We are already, of course; we do everything that a normal family does, just with the added bureaucracy of needing to fit into “the system”.
Fortunately, my son seems to have claimed his new status rather well. It’s early days, of course, but I’m delighted to watch his progress; every day is a genuine pleasure. He does, perhaps because of the high-profile nature of his life changes, take pleasure in telling people that he’s adopted. It’s always said with an apparent sense of pride – at least, that’s how I’m hearing it – and there’s no embarrassment or shame.
Of that, I’m glad. He shouldn’t be ashamed at how he’s got to where he is, but neither should he feel obligated to tell people that he’s adopted. I’ve made the point to him that he shouldn’t be compelled to share his story with anyone should he not want to. I know his story (although there are moments I’d rather not), and he knows he can talk to me any time he likes. But of course there are things I can’t or won’t tell him yet; he’s still at primary school, and I want him to enjoy his childhood.
He doesn’t fully understand that yet – that I’m keeping things back so that he can absorb them slowly, with the right context – but I hope one day he does. I’m always as honest with him as I can be, and he knows that there are things I won’t yet share. He deserves to know it all, but he also deserves to be unencumbered by it during the innocence of his childhood; I want to help preserve that for as long as humanly possible, because he deserves it and because I love him more than I can say.
He can also share his adoption story as much as he wants, without feeling compelled to filter out some sections whilst he’s forming those important early memories with good friends at his new school. Kids needs friends, and my son is making some brilliant relationships; we bumped into one today down the town, and seeing his face light up made it all worthwhile.
The story of his life is his to tell, of course it is; I’m merely the caretaker of it. He will have more experiences as he grows older, many of which I’ll be a part of and some of which I won’t – especially when he is a teenager and out with his friends or partner, and those are the experiences I won’t necessarily want to know about in all the gory detail. Some things are best left unsaid – but the best things are what we do say.