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My Beloved is not my daughters’ biological father.  He is their step-father.  They do not call him dad.  They call him by his first name.  When people say, “oh, your dad is here!”  They look over and say “hi, [real first name]!” and do not correct people.  When we are walking down the street, and see him coming from the other way, they run ahead to hug him and say HI!!!  They make him adorable Father’s Day cards with drawings and paintings of people hanging up side down holding onto the floor, b/c the world has turned upside down without him.  They ask me to buy his favorite things when we’re out at the store.  They miss him when he’s gone, and on Thursday evenings – the one night he works later in the evening – they are asking me on an every-15-minute basis when he’ll be home, starting at 6:30.  

But.

Of course there’s a but. 

It’s not always easy.  

Sometimes, it’s far from easy.  

Father’s Day is one of those times.  

Everyone is acutely aware.  We’re aware that there is someone, in another state, who expects this day to celebrate him.  We’re aware that I, the mom of the house, along with almost all of the girls’ friends, have ONE father.  One wonderful, (still) involved man who has always been the focus of my father’s days, and there is a little jealousy (probably from all 3 of them).  

While trying not-to-seem-like-I-am-listening-while-trying-to-listen yesterday as they called the Middle of the Country, I thought I was putting together Ick-Head’s half of the conversation to be “oh, you remembered to call me …” to which they replied, “yeah, I remembered …. well, mom reminded me.”  

So neither situation is perfect for the girls.  They know Beloved’s role is large, but they also know there’s someone else, somewhere else, and they can’t just ignore that.  

And in the more specific, E can fight with Beloved.  She can be super-sensitive, and she can parse things and hold onto things in a very oldest-child “you’re not my father” way.  We’ve come far – so very far – but it isn’t perfect yet, and likely will never be *perfect.*  As her mother, I often feel torn between needing her to behave – to be respectful, and to be emotionally healthy toward others and with herself – and also feeling very protective about her childhood, and her happiness.  And at some point, does it matter if she creates the conflict?  If her memories of childhood include conflict?  Will that be all of her memory?  

Will she remember the good, or just the bad?

I remember a shitload of bad.  I remember my mother throwing sneakers at me from across the room, hitting me in the stomach.  I remember her locking me out of the house (I was 9, and had to “watch” my 6 year old sister and 3 year old brother).  I remember her calling me “ignorant.”  I remember her being thoroughly unreasonable and (truly) verbally abusive.  I remember her making my father cry, with the same behavior.  My father.  Who’d only cried one other time … when his brother died a very untimely (25 years old) death.  Or was it when his father died?  I don’t remember.  One of those funerals.  FUNERALS!!

I’m sure there was more.  There was good.  She talks about it all the time.  “Remember when I used to read to you before you went to bed?”  “Remember when I used to tuck you in every night, even when you were in high school?”  No, mom.  I don’t.  

So one day, when I say, “Remember when you and Beloved did that research project?”  or “remember when you read his stories for him to give him feedback?” or “Remember when we used to watch movies as a family and you and Beloved shared one couch while J and I shared the other?”  That she’ll look at me like I have 3 heads.  Like I’m making things up to hide the arguments about what time she should come home from a friend’s to get ready for softball, about whether the recycling was put in the wrong containers (she accused HIM of that one), about whether she put her bowl in the sink after breakfast.  

And my fear of that – as irrational as it may (or may not) be – it makes Beloved and I fight.  It makes him feel scrutinized and harassed, rather than supported and helped through the admittedly difficult waters of step-parenting.  And I say “I can’t give you both first priority!  My motherhood is my first priority!!”  And then I feel sad to think he – the man who tries so hard, who gives so much, who has pushed himself on so many fronts – feels alone.  

And on Father’s Day, when all emotions are raw, and we’re feeling guilty, we’re feeling torn, we’re feeling like we’ll never be enough … it all comes together.  

And it reminds us that as much as we have so much fun, and as well as we’re doing – sometimes, we have a really hard time.

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