“He looks just like your husband,” people say about our son. “It’s uncanny.”
Yes, my son resembles his father, the man I married, with his dirty blonde, sun-streaked hair; perfect little button nose; kissable, luscious lips; and strong and tall build. They share a similar demeanor as well, both headstrong, stubborn beasts with potty mouths, brilliantly complicated minds, and hearts of gold. Men who have the ability to charm a stranger in a second or break a heart by merely refusing a kiss.
But he also looks like his biological father.
A few months before my son brightened up the world with his infectious smile, back when I was single and pregnant, my now-husband and I fell in love for the second time.
As the sperm donor in question had relieved himself of all responsibility early on in my pregnancy, I was planning on following in the footsteps of so many honorable women I know and parenting my son solo. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t feel as sorry for myself as I did for the little boy who was going to have a mother that loved him to the moon and back, and a father who wrote him off when he just a speck on the ultrasound. So many single mothers are doing a brilliant job raising children on their own, but many of them have confessed to me the difficulties of playing both roles and how helplessly painful it can be when their child questions why daddy doesn’t love them.
But I reassured myself that we are living in a progressive society, and my son would be growing up with kids who had same-sex parents, single mothers who were artificially inseminated, single fathers raising children whose mothers bailed and walked out on them, and many adopted children as well, all loved and appreciated just as much as those who were the products of nuclear families.
I still hoped that eventually I would meet a man who could love us both, but considering my bad history with the male species, I had my doubts.
And really, why would any man choose to raise another man’s child as his own? “I love you, so of course I would love anything and anyone that is part of you,” Nick, my college boyfriend who unexpectedly came back into my life, told me when I asked him this shortly before Jackson was born. During those last six weeks of my pregnancy, he put his hands on my swelling belly and felt all those kicks and punches, he purchased a stroller and white elephant piggy bank for his little boy, and poured over baby name books with me for hours until we selected the name Jackson Alexander, not only because we liked the name, but also because we liked the way it sounded with his last name, Groth.
On the day Jackson was born, Nick held my hand in the hospital room, took the first photos of our crying little infant, and bravely snipped the umbilical cord. “Ten fingers and ten toes,” he texted his mother, as I lay in the hospital bed in absolute awe, while my little miracle baby suckled my breast for nourishment.
Nearly a year later, Jackson’s first word would be “dada.” Nick is usually the first person he talks about in the morning, and the last before he goes to bed. He cuddles with him, and kisses him, and tells him that he loves him without solicitation (I, on the other hand, usually have to beg).
While many men fight to be relieved of parental duty, my husband fought for it. The three of us stood before a judge, shortly after we were married, and my husband accepted full legal and financial responsibility for a child he didn’t create. This means that even if we were to get divorced, he would still be Jackson’s father as much as I am his mother, and that Jackson’s birth certificate has been legally changed. Nick’s name, birthplace, and birth date were placed in the “father” space, which was initially left blank.
“He’s a better man than I,” one of my male friends said to me about my husband, in disbelief that he so seamlessly stepped into the role of Jackson’s father.
Until I married one, I failed to appreciate these kinds of men, and there are so many out there.
My friend Andy is a single dad who is graciously raising his own son, and also the children of his fiancée, whose dad isn’t in the picture.
“I know it’s a cliché,” he recently told me after reading an article I had written about Jackson’s sperm donor, “but pray for him. He’s missing out on the single best thing a man can do ever. Your husband is the lucky one.”
And my friend Matt, whose girlfriend’s ex-husband died suddenly a few months back, leaving behind a 5-year-old son who idolized him. “I’m his only dad now,” he told me. “I’m just trying to show up, pay attention, and never let him forget that he is loved.”
My cousin Lyndsay was lovingly fathered by Jack, the man her mother married after her biological father walked out on them. Years later she pursued a relationship with her biological father for a brief moment, before realizing that he wasn’t worth it. “He’s not my father,” she told me. “Jack is.”
My other cousin was also blessed with a father who didn’t share her DNA, and from a young age loved her as much as he loved the son who did.
This Father’s Day, I want to honor my husband, the love of my life, my best friend, and my son’s real father, as well as all the other men out there who not only had a choice to love a child who wasn’t their own flesh and blood, but who graciously love them as if they were. You are making the world a better place, one life at a time.