On the surface it doesn’t seem like we are suffering as a result – especially not here in Tanzania where I have all the child care, household help, car maintaining, and gardening assistance I could ever need.
But of course, those are only some of the ways in which a Daddy would be useful – the ways in which a Daddy might be useful to me.
A few months ago, Jaden started calling the father of some friends of his “Daddy.” After several explanations that Phil is Graham and Miles’ Daddy, but not ours, he stopped. But then he embarked on a month of calling a whole range of men in our lives “Daddy” – the young man who works at his pre-school, another father of one of his friends, and finally – the icing on the cake – he called my friend, Alfred, who was visiting Tanzania from FHI “Daddy”. (You need to know Al to understand why this was the “icing on the cake”.)
I was actually mildly entertained by these episodes. After all, I thought, Jaden is just trying to figure out relationships. He was asking himself, “Are all older men called Daddy?” “Do I have someone called Daddy in my life?” I don’t think he was having an existential crisis. He was just trying to figure things out.
And interestingly, he didn’t try calling any Tanzanians of color Daddy. Just the white guys.
But after the Alfred incident I knew I had to do something. I pulled out Todd Parr’s Family Book, which has been sitting on their bookshelf waiting for such an educational opportunity. I read the whole book through for both Jaden and Rowan. When we got to the page with a Mommy bird and two babies in a nest I told them, “See, this is just like our family. There is a Mommy – me. There are two babies, Jaden and Rowan.”
Jaden looked down at the image and then back up at me. He said, “Oh, a Mommy, a Jaden and a Rowan?”
I said, “Yes. Our family doesn’t have a Daddy. We have a Mommy, a Jaden and a Rowan.”
And he said, “OK”.
Since that day, now several months ago, he has not called anyone “living” Daddy. But I hear him and Rowan playing games with their dolls and they often feature a Daddy character. And that’s just fine. Good for them for working through it in an age-appropriate way.
* * * * * * *
When I put out my APB for blog topics a few weeks ago my friend and fellow single mom of twins (in crime), Becky, asked me to write about what it is like to be a single parent in Tanzania. And it got me thinking – to the point of epiphany. I am the ONLY mzungu (foreigner) single parent I’ve met in Tanzania. The only one! And in addition, as far as I’m aware, we are one of only three “non-traditional” family units that I’ve met or heard about since I got here. (The others are lesbian couples with kids.)
So then, how is it to be a single parent in Tanzania?
Wonderful. Easy. Don’t know why I didn’t move here sooner.
But how is it to be the kids of a single parent in Tanzania? Well… I can’t answer that. I suppose in another year or so, Jaden and Rowan will be able to give us thoughtful answers to that question.
Compared to the diverse patchwork of families I socialized with in Washington, it is actually pretty shocking. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before. But alas, I don’t have a lot of interesting models to point to and tell Jaden and Rowan:
“See that family? They have two daddies and no mommy.”
“See Bobby’s family? He has two daddies and one mommy because his parents got divorced when he was a baby.”
“See Gabriel and Ruben? They are twins living with just their mommy, just like us.”
* * * * * *
I don’t want to sound like I’m dismissing the fact that it will likely be hard for Jaden and Rowan to come to terms with the fact that we have no Daddy in our lives. Since they were born, I’ve been concerned about finding men who can serve as role models for them. They have a grandpa, a biological uncle and lots of honorary uncles (mostly named, David). But none of that will substitute for a Dad when they are 10 and it is Take Your Father to School Day.
They will have feelings of loss, and maybe anger – likely directed at me. I will have to face the consequences, whatever they are, of having created them without a male partner.
It may even be worse, because they there is really no hope of ever knowing the sperm donor I used to create them. They might long to have more information about him. They might not feel like whole beings without this missing part of their history. That is the difficult truth of our situation.
I belong to an online community of other people who have used sperm donors, and kids who are the result of donor-assisted pregnancies, and I can tell you that there are kids out there who are hurting because this part of their story is missing. They are actually quite angry at people like me, who used an anonymous donor when I could have used one whose identity would be released when the kids turn 18.
I made the decision to use an anonymous donor purposefully. During the years I was working in Jamaica (on a parenting project, ironically) I met so many adults who were emotionally damaged by the fact that although they knew who their mother or father was, that person was not involved in their raising and may have wanted very little to do with them. I decided to use an anonymous donor because I didn’t want my kid(s) to have that feeling of longing – of knowing their biological father – but not having that person be part of their lives.
Really, there are so many ways I might have screwed up my kids. So I picked the thing that seemed like the lesser of two evils at the time.
I can only hope that since they are twins who share the same father, and since we know four of their half siblings, that perhaps this sort of identity crisis will be moderated in some way.
* * * * * * * * * *
The right-wing worries about families like mine because they think that kids in non-traditional families are missing something.
Recently I followed a link to a Today Show piece that showed some helmut-headed lady telling the new hostess who replaced Katie Couric that using a sperm donor, as a single woman, was a selfish act since children can’t possibly be healthy and happy without a father in their lives.
(When I see them out there on TV telling me that I’m a bad mother for having created my children without the help of a man, I take solace in the fact that 50% of their marriages will end divorce.)
But really, when you are surrounded by non-traditional families, you feel like you are missing very little. When you can teach your children that families come in all shapes and sizes, and when you live in a diverse community, you have more to celebrate than to miss.
Right now I’m just trying to do my best to ensure that they are missing as little as possible. And I hope that they will learn to celebrate the fact that their family is different from a lot of others – and that can be interesting and cool. As mothers, as parents, that is all that we can do.
In my opinion.
Jaden and Rowan my someday teach me that my opinion is wrong – as teenagers are apt to do with their parents. So be it.