Daddy. Complex.

Issues with my mother continue to occupy me but, stimulated by situations which my friends are experiencing, my thoughts have recently turned away from mothers and to fathers. In all honesty, pondering fatherhood feels a lot less angsty to me, especially now with my mother’s poor health and my own conflicted sense of responsibility and guilt.

I imagine it’s probably my own lack of a father which has prompted me to consider all the different ways a man can become and actually be a father.

Let me explain.

To begin, there’s my own story. My father knew of my conception and birth, but, discouraged by my mother, he did not pursue a relationship with me. He did, though, offer my mother $1000 for me because he wished to bring me to his brother and wife to raise. This particular uncle and aunt were unable to have their own children and resorted to adoption, acquiring their babies from Ireland directly. When I met these relatives decades after I was born, I learned that my father had told them he thought he had a baby for them – me!

I can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different had that plan come to fruition.

My paternity situation may seem unique, but I’ve learned it most certainly isn’t. In fact, I’m beginning to think that while women who create life have a common trajectory (conception, gestation, birth), the path to becoming a father can have far more curves and twists.

When I first made contact with my father’s family, they knew nothing of me, but completely embraced me as the child of their deceased brother. There was no question in their minds (or hearts) about the identity of my father, which I found pretty amazing, and they never requested dna evidence or a paternity test. A few years ago, I joined 23 and Me and was elated to see the number of family members I had there – many of whom traced their lineage from County Donegal where my father’s family resided. The ”proof” was there for me.

A close friend, who was adopted as an infant, recently received similar proof of her own paternity when she joined a site and provided a saliva sample of her own. Later this month she’ll meet the man who contributed 50% of her dna for the first time and, even though I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy for her opportunity to meet her dad, I’m ever so much more excited for her. Unlike my father, her father was unaware of her existence, a fact to which she’s very sensitive. As she said, she’s known about him for her entire life, while he’s only known about her for weeks.

I know numerous people in my generation who were the reason their parents wed, or at the least when they married. Coincidentally, these same friends (or their oldest sibling, as the case may be) were born prematurely, yet seemingly full sized. Weird, right?

It’s hard to not speculate about how cornered couples must have felt when an unexpected pregnancy placed them in a position where they felt they had no other choice than to “do the right thing” and get married. How many of those unions were fulfilling or lasting? Was the right thing the best thing?

While many peers prompted their own parents to wed, when they found themselves in a position similar to that of their parents they frequently exercised another option – to not marry, but instead to forge forward and coparent without the formality of a marriage license. This kind of arrangement can manifest in very different ways but, in an ideal situation, parents share responsibility for their child in a way in which they’re both comfortable.

I’m sure there are challenges, particularly when there are disparities in emotions felt for one another and differences in financial situations, but I’ve observed adults navigating shared parenting with great success. Children can experience consistent love and support while being raised by two people who recognized that their decision to bear a child didn’t necessarily dictate that they commit to each another beyond their roles as involved coparents.

The manner in which men help to create a new human may be fundamentally the same, but the way that they actually father their children can present in a myriad of ways, many of which are positive, involved and loving. Personally, I’ll always have a sense of loss by my own lack of a father’s physical presence in my life, however, I’ve made my peace with it. It may be complicated, but I most definitely don’t have a daddy complex.

So – what’s your story? Who’s your daddy?

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