Explaining to My Kids That I Don’t Have a Dad

The Tough StuffA few weeks ago I encountered one of my most difficult parenting moments to date: my son point-blank asked me why I don’t have a dad. Or rather, he said to me, “Where’s your daddy? Why don’t you have one?”

He asked in such a way that I knew he’d been thinking about it. He asked me carefully, while snuggled up next to me as we watched some random YouTube video. There was no correlation between what we were doing at that exact moment, or anything happening in general in our family, to warrant such an interest. Nothing other than the obvious.

At five years old, I suppose one starts to take in a little more than their ABCs and making it to the toilet on time. He’s always been a sensitive soul with big, wise eyes that take in more than I likely understand as a mere observer.

He turned those inquisitive, cautious eyes towards me, in the moment that he found the words he wanted to ask.

Words to ask questions that I knew would come but never really gave it enough thought as to how I would actually answer. I don’t even know how to answer questions about my biological dad myself, other than, “I don’t know.”

So is that what I’m supposed to tell my son? My daughter, when she surely begins to ask as well? They know what their family looks like, they know what their dad’s family looks like. Siblings, mothers, and fathers. My son especially, is realizing that his mama’s family doesn’t quite add up in the same ways.

To tell my five-year-old son the truth, to answer matter-of-factly that I don’t know where my dad is because I’ve never met him feels weird. But it’s the truth. Sure, there’s plenty more to that story — much of which I don’t even know. It is not only my story to tell.

But now … now I realize it’s his story too. One that I’m not going to lie about, I decided after a few seconds of staring off into space after he asked me. I wanted to tell him things. Things that would make him smile and not make him feel awkward, or myself awkward. I’m done with feeling awkward about my family problems. I’m done speaking in hushed tones or not talking at all because we don’t talk about that kind of stuff.

Well, I do. My son has a mother who experienced those kinds of things, things that make other people feel awkward to the point where they don’t want to hear or talk about it.

Does he need to know about all of those things? Most certainly not. But he’s going to learn about some of them naturally. Organically. Like this DAD business.

I don’t know if I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I’m supposed to change the subject without answering his questions, but I’m going to go with my gut telling me not to avoid it. Especially not when it comes to his or his sister’s curiosity about why they don’t have a grandpa on my side of the family. They’re smart, they’re resilient, and it’s not my job to lie to them because it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

It’s my job to paint new, far more brilliant pictures of life as we live it together. Right now. As a family of our own. I don’t need a dad anymore to make the hurt of not having one go away. I’m a mom now, who is too busy in the everyday and gracefully (as I can) entering into a new era of discovery with my kids; which includes letting them into bits and pieces of my past without letting them feel too much of that pain.

So I told him I don’t know my dad, that I had never met him. That maybe one day it would be cool to find him but that I was a mom now who had everything I needed. My boy didn’t look confused or sad. He didn’t ask me anymore questions. He just looked at me a little bit and said, “Oh. That’s okay Mama, you’re right.”

And an imaginary little foot drop-kicked me in the stomach and I cried big, fat, ugly tears long after he was in bed that night. That’s it, that’s all. The next day was the usual sweet madness that it always is and questions about dads were forgotten.

Parenting, man, it’s one of the biggest triggers around and I know I haven’t seen the last of such yet. Which is fine, really. It’s good for me to ponder these things alone, because for the first time in years I’m able to avail myself of a fabulous escape: my family.

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