Father’s Day

Last Sunday was Father’s Day in the UK. It’s one of those days that gives me conflicted opinions.

On the one hand: it feels like it may only exist to supplement sales of triangular chocolate and alcoholic beverages. On the other hand: I happen to like both of those things! What self-respecting father is going to refuse a free Toblerone and bottle of Kraken? And possibly a valid-today-only licence to eat too much steak and then spend the afternoon asleep on the sofa? That’s my very definition of the perfect Sunday!

This one was a bit different, though: it was my first Father’s Day as a foster parent.

Our foster daughter has been with us for ten months. She attached to my wife quickly, having almost no emotional ties to her real mother. But she idolises her father, and as a consequence it has taken rather longer for her to warm to me.

I do all the father-daughter things with her that I do with my other daughter (I don’t want to say “my real daughter”, but you know what I mean). We do bike-riding, and reading, and drawing and colouring, and have a good time together … but then she remembers that she has a dad already, feels guilty for enjoying herself, and withdraws.

I’ve learned to not take it personally – she needs to learn to cope with her misplaced feelings of guilt and disloyalty (it’s tragic that she knows those feelings but doesn’t know the words) in her own time. It’s certainly not going to affect how much love we show her. We’re here to show her what a loving family is about – you don’t attach conditions to that. I’m hardly going to refuse to help her with homework because I might not get a hug, am I?

With that in mind: this was an extra-special Sunday morning because I had an extra hug and a kiss and hand-drawn card for the mantelpiece.

It was a big deal for me – and for her too. And I was surprised how much it affected me. I hadn’t expected anything from her, because I know she still misses her dad. She’s still trying to process her situation.

It reinforces that I am now a father to three children. If anyone asks: yes, those three are mine. Not “two of them are mine, and that one over there is on loan from the council”. Not “two, and a rental”. Three.

You have no idea how difficult it is to look for an image on “Fatherhood” that isn’t so vile it affects my blood sugar levels. Fortunately there’s always the “Vader and Son” cartoons.

This week there was an article in our local paper about a couple hereabouts who cannot conceive, declaring that IVF is their “only hope”.

I must be careful here; I cannot hope to comprehend the pain felt by couples who really want to have a child but cannot. It would be insulting to try. I don’t want to appear trite, or to trivialise what they’re going through.

But if you are in that position: consider carefully that IVF might not be your only option. And it might not even be your best option, either! Not by a long shot.

There is an unspoken sentiment that you don’t have a “proper” family unless you made it yourself. That you can’t truly call yourself a parent unless a child fell out of your fanny.

Please trust me when I tell you: that’s baloney. In fact, I’d say it’s evil. Let’s call this out for the rubbish it is right now.

To foster or adopt is not to grudgingly accept something from the Bargain Bin because you couldn’t do any better. You’re not making-do with defective, B-grade stock. Fostering or adoption are not lower tiers of family, and you’re not a pretend-parent if you go that route.

In fact, if you try it you’re going to understand something special: that “family” is so much more than biology and genetics.

I love all my children very much. They all depend on us, and they’re all part of the family. They all keep my wife and I perpetually flip-flopping between states of extreme worry and intense pride. And it doesn’t make any difference that one of them didn’t fall out of my wife’s Fandango. Actually, I’m rather pleased that one of my children might be spared the genetic booby-prize of my ridiculous nose.

There is a whole world of children who need loving homes. People – yes people – who could have their lives transformed because you give them a family. Because you show them that rather than being unwanted, they deserve the very best. In turn, you get to learn new things about yourself and your depths of compassion.

That feels pretty special to me. That seems more intentional than the traditional method of creating a family. The child you take into your home will know that they were wanted.

My foster daughter is special. She’s my constant reminder that family is more than biology. And that’s not a reminder I want to keep to myself.

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