I am not a father. As life turned out, I just never got around to it.
But I am a stepfather. It’s the next best thing, and this is an open letter to all the other ‘not-a-fathers’.
Let me tell you about me.
When I met my partner of 13 years, she had a son. He was three years old. I’ve loved seeing him grow up - going through milestones such as preschool, primary school and now into high school. Experiencing our relationship grow as he did. I was a stranger, and he was just a little kid. I love how we now have these great adult conversations. I like how he interacts with me. He asks me about my day. He’s interested. He cares about me now, and we care about each other.
I never intended to take the place of his father, because his dad’s still around. The stepdad role is different, but not too different. I’ve loved travelling with him on overseas holidays. Showing him different cultures and tasting different cuisines, watching his understanding of the world and of his place in it expand massively with every moment. He’s such a good kid. He’s respectful and, more importantly (at least for my ego), he reckons I’m pretty damn funny.
I grew up with step-parents too. So, I’ve been on both sides of this equation. I was real tough on mine, hated when they told me what to do and did the whole “you’re not my dad” thing on the regular. Knowing what it’s like, the toughest thing for me is to discipline him. I struggle to even ask him to clean his room. It doesn’t feel like it’s my place, even though he has never treated me like I treated my step-parents. It’s a really hard balance to strike, but my partner constantly tells me that I am the adult, and he needs to respect me. Having her on my side is a massive help in navigating this thing, and I’m constantly grateful for her letting me be a part of her kid’s life.
I think we have a great relationship. I love making him laugh by being an idiot. I like to fill in the gaps. His father is very planned and process-driven, so my attention is a different experience, a counterpoint. I love that I’m the comedian, and probably more focused on him having a good time and just being comfortable being a kid and acting his age around me. More so than he could be with his dad.
My stepson has shown interest in being a carpenter, and since that’s my trade it gives me some kudos in our relationship. It’s a great feeling that he’s keen to know what I do and how to do it, and I can definitely show him a thing or two.
As his dad is still a very present father, we don’t get to spend Father’s Day together. But I’ll still wind up with a gift card and maybe some undies. And that’s OK with me, because it’s up to our step-kids to decide what role we play. How much of a dad they need us to be.
So, have fun with it. Don’t try to take their dad’s place. Act adult when you need to, but have fun doing it as well. You’re in a unique and really special position and, despite what I said at the start of this letter about being ‘next best’, being a stepdad is its own special thing, and you should never feel like you’re in second place in your kid’s heart.
Like my dad said to me, don’t be a ‘gunna’ person. Don’t make empty promises. Follow through on what you say you are going to do. That’s the most important thing you’ll ever teach them.
Thanks for reading, happy Father’s Day, and don’t forget that means you too.
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The Dad Edit
An open letter to all dads
An open letter to a new dad
An open letter to a single dad
An open letter to a granddad
An open letter to a step dad
An open letter to a working dad
An open letter to a stay at home dad
An open letter to dads without a dad