Sunday is Father’s Day. While most of the comments we foster and adoptive dads receive are cordial and respectful, there are always a handful that are not. Here’s a little insight into things you shouldn’t say to foster and adoptive dads on this special day.
I’ll begin with a short story. Several years ago, my brother-in-law was enjoying a nice Father’s Day at their new church in a town he and his family had just moved to. Only a few months before, they had finalized the adoption of their two children, a sibling group they had fostered for several years prior. Then came the comment that took his breath away: “Happy Father’s Day. I mean, you’re like a pseudo-father right? Happy Pseudo Father’s Day!” If someone would have walked around the corner and dumped cold water over his head, he would have been less shocked.
Can you say yikes on so many levels? As if he were a pinch hitter for the real dad in his kids’ lives. Every time I hear comments like that, I want to stand up and scream: WE’RE OUR KIDS’ REAL FATHERS JUST LIKE BIOLOGICAL DADS ARE FOR THEIRS! Maybe I should though. Perhaps the element of surprise would cure the idiocy of hurtful statements made to us, even the ones that are “well-meaning.” I’ll use the power of written word instead.
In an effort to help (and cure the idiocy), here is a list of things you should never, ever, ever say to foster and adoptive dads on Father’s Day (or any day for that matter):
1. “I know you’re not their real dad, but happy Father’s Day all the same.”
I know. This one sounds too shocking to be true! But, trust me, I’ve had this said to me in the past, and many of my friends have heard this one as well. It’s almost too much for words. To give people the very slight benefit of the doubt, they probably mean well, but their wording is completely incorrect. The fact is, we are our kid’s real fathers. Biology and resemblance are not what makes us fathers; sacrifice and commitment are.
2. “I bet this day is hard for you since you don’t have any kids of your own.”
When I heard this comment several years ago, my response was to say nothing and just stare at the person saying it. Mostly because I was in shock. The other reason was my own disbelief that someone would actually think to say something like this. My response prompted a momentary deer-in-headlights stare as they considered the weight of the words they had just spoken. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can say is nothing at all.
3. “Do your kids miss their dad today?”
If you are caring for children through foster care, they may miss their biological dad on Father’s Day. But that, in no way, diminishes how special this day is for you, or for them, with you. For several years I was a foster dad and my wife made it a point to make sure that both dads (me and their biological dad) were celebrated. As an adoptive father, this would just be offensive. Plus, my kids would look at you like you were crazy (like my son did the time a therapist asked him if he was behaving the way he was because he missed his “real” mom and dad. True story.).
4. “Happy Pseudo Father’s Day!”
As I explained earlier, this is not cool! It’s hurtful. My brother-in-law was hurt by this because it downplayed the significant role he was playing in his kid’s lives. As if he was a stand-in for the real father. And just because he was, at the time, fostering his kids and had not yet finalized their adoption, it in no way meant he was not being a father to them. He was a father and then some! Foster dads, in particular, may not be the biological parent of their children, nor caring for them forever, but that are still a father-figure in their children’s lives.
5. “Happy Adopted Father’s Day.”
Here’s another statement you may not believe is uttered to us, but it is. I heard this one in the first year of fatherhood. I laughed it off back then, but today I would probably confront the issue. I don’t need the title “adopted” in front of my name, even if I may use this word from time to time for the sake of identification. While adoption is something I did to bring permanency to my children, I am a dad, plain and simple. There’s no need to clarify what kind of dad I am by adding the word “adopted.”
6. “I’d say Happy Father’s Day, but adoption is probably more your wife’s thing than yours, right?”
This statement assumes so much about you and me, I don’t know where to begin. I was talking to a friend a few years ago, who actually had this gem said to him. It hurt him deeply, too, because it came from someone he thought was a close friend. The painful part of a comment like this is the assumption that he’s not dialed into his kids, or that adoption isn’t his thing because he’s a guy. Maybe adoption was his wife’s idea in the beginning (like it was for me), but that in no way entitles anyone to assume he’s checked out or not dialed into being a father.
7. “Those poor kids! It must be hard to be away from their dad on Father’s Day!”
This is right in line with #3 above. First of all, I am their dad. Second, how do you know if this is hard for them or not? Maybe this is a very sensitive topic for the children, but maybe it’s not. Maybe in their heart, they feel immense gratitude for the life and parents they have! Maybe they don’t have any thoughts about it at all. Maybe, just maybe, it’s none of your business what they are thinking or feeling. Making an assumption on their emotional state, or calling them “poor kids” is disrespectful. Just stop. Please stop.
This list could easily be 700 things you shouldn’t say to foster and adoptive dads on Father’s Day. The same goes for moms on Mother’s Day. In fact, some of the worst comments we’ve heard spoken to foster and adoptive parents have been made to moms on Mother’s Day. It breaks our heart and makes us angry.
If you’re reading this and have said any one of these things or something similar, stop and seek wisdom. Also, seek forgiveness if you can. This is a new day and you always have new start. Most parents will extend grace. We’ve always been willing to forgive and forget, and always will.
If you’re a foster or adoptive parent who’s been wounded by one or more of these statements, I encourage you to share this post and have a conversation with the person you’re sharing it with. You can never make progress or build bridges of understanding if you’re not willing to show up and work to make it happen.