I am a single dad. I have twin daughters whom I would describe as thoughtful, smart, funny, spirited, respectful, (insert adjective) young women whom I love more dearly than my own breath. I am also a weekend dad, not by design but by circumstance. I have learned to let go of my desire to be everywhere they are and to know everything revolving around them. It isn’t sustainable. I embrace and own the time I do spend with them and make sure it counts.
Quite by accident, a while back I discovered that my daughters were going to be moving outside the New York City area. It was at a parent-teacher conference. I’ll never forget the look of embarrassment when I asked their teacher to repeat herself: “When they move to New Jersey … I assumed you knew?” No, I didn’t know. I also didn’t know that they would be moving in with Mommy’s boyfriend. Right. Super pissed.
After a few drinks and conversations with God, I summoned the composure to speak to their mother and set up a meeting with the new man in my daughters’ lives. We met alone, and I had no ego in my pockets.
It wasn’t bad. He was respectful and reiterated to me that he cared for my girls. He could never care for them more than I did, but he got an A for effort. Later that week I had a serious talk with my 10-year-old daughters, one that was pivotal in how the new situation would pan out. The response I received both shocked and calmed me: “We like him, Daddy. He is nice.” I trust my girls. I gave them (and their mother) my blessing.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and Mommy is now married, and (even bigger surprise) my daughters have a little sister.
Most times, getting out to New Jersey to visit on a Friday afternoon is tough. The last time, I didn’t time it correctly, and I missed one of my twins’ entire basketball game because of traffic. So this particular weekend, I left three hours early to make sure that didn’t happen again.
I was excited to get to see her play for her school team. The girls on the team ran their offensive plays, dribbled, passed and shot with precision. I didn’t care about anything remotely related to how else the team was doing. I just needed to see my daughter grab the ball and extend her arms and hear a familiar swoosh. That’s all I wanted.
“Come on, move the ball!” came a shout from my left. “Come on, you guys, don’t let her shoot!” The voice held a tone of familiarity. He was a regular. My daughter’s stepfather.
Seeing him was always slightly awkward, but he and I made the best of it that two men could; we made it brief. He respected me and I didn’t want to kill him, which in my opinion was a very even exchange. I am lying. I never wanted to kill him—just have him know that if he ever hurt my daughters, he should fear for his life. I think most fathers would agree with my logic. However, like I said, we kept things brief and it worked.
In this moment, we were rooting for the same little girl in a school gym in New Jersey, and there are worse scenarios. Then it happened: My daughter was about to make her second appearance. I was beyond excited, but I glanced over to gauge my enthusiasm against that of my counterpart.
I was failing. He knew the players’ names and recognized the offense and holes in the defense that they were running, things for which I had no reference. For me as a father, it felt bad not to know something about my daughter’s life, but worse to think that someone else held that information.
After the game, I waited for my daughter to come out of the locker room; her stepfather stood there conversing with the coach. They spoke like this often, it seemed. I guess that he could read my face, sensing a bit of awkwardness, so he introduced me to my daughter’s coach (who was also the school science teacher). Coach didn’t miss a beat, shaking my hand and saying, “Oh, great to meet you. She is a great little girl.”
At this point the girls, as budding teenagers, are a lot more aware. My interactions with their stepdad are usually brief and bland, but I always have to remember that they’re watching. “Hey, thank you. Thanks so much,” I replied.
I have learned that my insecurities cannot be the primary factor in what type of father I am to my daughters. It would cripple me and amplify an awkward situation. I always have to play it cool. A few weeks ago, my coolness broke when my daughter finally revealed to me that after weekends with me, she goes back home to tell her stepdad “what we did on the weekend so he knows he isn’t like you, Daddy.” I smirked. When she then said, “He doesn’t have cool sneakers like you,” I held in a smile. Score one for Dad.
Then I did something I hated.
I put myself in his shoes.
“Why are you going out of your way to be mean to your stepdad? You do know I’ve been a dad for 11 years and he is still getting used to it, right? My daughters are not rude or disrespectful. That is not the person I want you to be.”
Being an adult sucks sometimes, and the thought of helping another man care for my daughters feels intrusive. However, the vision I must work toward is three people dedicated, with the same amount of energy, to their care and development; consistent injections of love from all sides. It is hard, but so is parenting, and they are worth it. All that being said, I did send my daughter a new pair of sneakers—Jordans. Ones I told myself were for good grades but that I knew were to show off to her stepdad. I am hopeful. I am also very human.
Samuel K. Rhind is a creative writer and single father of twin girls. He is currently working on his first major screenplay and novel. He curates the site Athleteandadiva.com for other single fathers in New York. He hails from the planet of Brooklyn, N.Y. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.