Family / Parenting

Choosing To Go By “Dad”

[I originally wrote this piece about my partner choosing to go by “dad” right before Leo’s first birthday.  Now he’s two and a half and not a lot has changed.  It still feels right, we are still fortunate to be surrounded by people that are supportive, and we are still aware that it’s early in the parenting journey.]

 

Regular readers of the blog know that since Leo was born, my partner, jb, has chosen to go by “Dad” rather than some variation of mother.  I won’t go into too much detail about her gender identity or why “mom” wasn’t an option because it’s more complex than this introductory paragraph allows and, well, it’s not my story to tell; but basically it boils down to the fact that jb feels more like a dad than a mom.  (If you are interested in reading more about the intersection of gender and parenthood, I highly recommend checking out Lesbian Dad.)  We considered adopting a completely different name, as so many genderqueer parents have, but none felt right.  The popular “baba” is what jb grew up calling her grandmother, and she would never be able to think of it as anything else.  The rest similarly didn’t resonate; too feminine, felt like co-opting a culture that’s not ours, sounds like dad anyway…

We’d begun thinking about what she would go by to our kids way before we had even conceived, but were never able to come to an answer that felt completely right.  When our due date was right around the corner, we really began to feel the pressure.  If we were completely honest, we had to admit that the only thing that sounded and felt right was “dad”.  In a perfect world she would be our child’s dad and no one would bat an eye.  But we don’t live in a vacuum, and we worried about how this would affect our child and how it would affect us.  Still, our options were limited: Choose something that we weren’t comfortable with or risk making some other people uncomfortable.  So we jumped in and went with “dad.”

Now that we are almost a year (where did the time go?!) into this parenting gig, I thought it might be a good time to give an update on how the whole “dad” thing is going.  Of course in the grand scheme of things, we are just beginning, but I’d also say that we are getting a taste of what’s it’s like to live as a perceived to be same sex couple who answer to “mom” and “dad.”

From Leo’s perspective, there’s nothing to report on.  Jb as his dad is all he’s ever known and he hasn’t encountered anyone who might make him feel ashamed or badly about the unconventionality of that moniker.  Even if he had, he wouldn’t understand.  It’s beautiful really.  I wish I could draw this stage out for him a while longer.

For jb and I, it fits like a glove.  It rolls off the tongue and captures much of who she is to our family.  Sometimes it feels funny to pair up female pronouns with “dad” and “father” and in those cases we just use male pronouns.  I do have some feelings around conforming to heteronormative roles, but I’m pretty sure that for every way we conform there are at least two ways we challenge them.

As for our families, we were initially met with a little resistance.  There were some reactions that it was too “weird” and concern for Leo as he grows up.  After that first reaction we were pleasantly surprised when everyone jumped on board pretty seamlessly once Leo came along.  There was an innocent stumble or two, but very quickly everyone was effortlessly saying things like, “Where did your daddy go?” or “I bet your daddy picked out that shirt!” to Leo. Sometimes the pronouns will trip up an otherwise smooth sentence, but it’s always momentary and we assure whoever is speaking that however it comes out is fine by us.

Our experience with authority figures and/or professionals has been pretty limited, but of the few situations we’ve been in no one has batted an eye at jb as “dad”.  We’ve dealt with two pediatrician’s offices (and the front desk people, nurses, medical assistants and doctors who work there) who have been great about it.  The librarians at the libraries we frequent haven’t skipped a beat.  Teachers of baby classes we’ve taken Leo to haven’t hesitated to use “dad” for jb.  From time to time there is an assumption that jb goes by mom, but we gently correct and move on.  I can genuinely say that as long people are coming from a respectful place and making an effort to understand our family’s constitution, we are hard to offend and we have yet to deal with someone bent on offending.

 

Who is left?  New people we meet? Other parents?  Friends?  The answer is the same.  We really haven’t encountered any negativity.  I do realize that we live in a large city, in a progressive neighborhood.  We are blessed with supportive families.  We choose to surround ourselves with like-minded people.  We are still just beginning our parenting journey.  We are lucky.  There are lots of factors that make our situation unique, but I do think it’s worth sharing that things have been working out so far.

I’m still feeling good about the decision to choose the name that suits jb best.  I do realize that there is a long road ahead and the hardest part will be as Leo’s awareness meets society’s prejudice.  We already had a bump at that crossroads, though, with the whole lesbian parents thing.  I think we will figure out how to navigate any adversity that comes up and carve a path that works for our family.  For now, Leo loves his daddy and that’s enough.

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  1. There is so much I love about this! As much now as when I read it at West Philly Mama. I love “I’m pretty sure that for every way we conform there are at least two ways we challenge them.” I also love that you “gently corrtct and move on.”

    I think it’s so true (we’ve found, with the less challenging “Baba”) that few people are hell-bent on disrespecting us, and so our work is mainly to take the opportunity to educate. Which is a gift to all of us.

    Thank you for reposting this here!!!

  2. I LOVE this. My partner wanted to go by first names to avoid this conundrum. But I wanted to be a mama. So we compromised and made me “Mama Firstname” and partner “Firstname Mom” figuring the kids would eventually drop the second part of each. They haven’t stopped calling me Mama Shannon yet, but they did–entirely on their own–nicname their other parent something that sounds like “Kiki” but we spell “Cece” (as my older daughter spells it in her invented way. We figure, it’s her name, her spelling).

    Meanwhile my partner is “Uncle Cole” to a couple of kids even though we use female pronouns and my kids have a female (butch) “uncle” too (one of my bffs).

    And just to make things more fun, I’ll add that I was a lesbian stepmother years ago and the toddler who had always known his only parent as “mommy” began, when he started talking, to call me “daddy”–though mommy was a butch all the way and I was a femme (also rather by a lot). He just realized that other kids with two parents called them mommy and daddy and he already had a mommy. In a year or so, he wrapped his head around gender and started calling me his “other mommy.”

    But anyway, kids and parents and gender and all of it–the kids don’t give a flip, do they? If only everyone else would also mind their own biz.

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