I think we’re all pretty clear on what makes a father.  The word even comes in verb form: fathering a child.  (And isn’t it interesting how that refers to conception, but mothering has to do with raising a child…what does that tell you about our language’s creators?  But I digress.)

So basically having strong swimmers gets you into the club.  A man becomes a father once he’s participated in creating life, though I suppose you might have some wiggle room there when it comes to sperm banks.  As far as I’m concerned fatherhood has everything to do with biology.

But a dad?  That’s another matter entirely.

I actually know a lot of incredible dads, which I think bodes well for the next generation.  I’ve heard that despite our best efforts parents usually manage to screw up their kids, and while this might end up being true at least the kids I know have a lot going for them in the dad category.  I see plenty of men caring for their children in a way that makes it plain each child is loved and cherished.

T-man and Bear have this in BrightSide.  He’s a terrific dad – loving, generous, patient, and understanding.  He expects them to try their best then supports them unconditionally through success or failure.  BrightSide is truly there for these kids, in every single way, day and night.

Even so, that elusive birthfather issue still comes up at times, and it can be a tough one to handle.

T-man in particular struggles with this, and I think that’s because he’s a boy going through such a pivotal time in his life.  He’s changing right before my eyes…those pudgy baby days are a distant memory, and now he’s slowly moving out of his little boy era.  At eleven years old I can already see the teenager he’s growing into, and he has questions.  So many questions.

What does his birthfather look like?  Why did he leave?  Why doesn’t he live with T-man’s birthmom?  What would it be like if T-man met him?

All questions brimming with emotion.  And none I can really answer.

Where does this leave T-man?  A boy struggling to grow into a young man, trying to figure out who he is and where he came from, wondering what features in the mirror he shares with the man who fathered him.  What talents or interests he might have in common with a birthfather who is a mystery.  How to deal with this missing puzzle piece in his personality.

We’ve had the privilege of parenting T-man since he was ten months old, and we’ve spent that time growing together as a family.  Helping T-man mature into a young man, one with strong opinions and a great sense of humor.  Every day we live the miracle of having T-man in our home and watch him becoming an incredible person.

But growing through these years with this sort of uncertainty plaguing him has caused T-man more than his share of pain.  He’s incredibly hard on himself, demanding perfection in everything, and he’s relentlessly unforgiving when he makes a mistake.  No amount of reassurance on our part relieves this.  No matter how many times I tell him no one’s perfect, that we all make mistakes, he still expects nothing but excellence from himself.

A part of me wonders how much of this push to be the perfect person, the perfect son, comes from a belief that he has to be perfect to stay.  The irony is not lost on me.  As a remarkably flawed human being, one who tries her best but has been known to miss the mark on many occasions, I’m bewildered that witnessing my own mistakes hasn’t convinced T-man that we’re all here to stay.  But so it goes.

All we can do is keep being present, forgiving each other, and talking.  We talk before bed, we talk over dinner, we talk in the car and after school and curled up on the couch.  We try to show the kids how much they’re loved in a million different ways, so when they’re feeling the pain of that missing piece they’ll know they can talk with us.