honorary Hose Monster:
My girlfriend has a five and half year-old son.
Originally, I did not know for sure how people would react to this news. It would appear, however, that people react a lot less maturely than I had hoped.
It seems to me that, as a civilization, we often pass judgment on people before we really know anything about them simply because we first learn a surprising piece of information. I do not exclude myself from this tendency at all; at times, I hear something about a person and I form my mental impression of them before I even know them. A little reprehensible perhaps, but it happens to all of us. When I first told my parents about my current relationship, I worried a little how they would react when I told them I was dating a girl who was my age and yet had a young son. They worry about me to such a great extent and often expend such energy on things that really do not merit such anguish. However, they are also the two most down to earth people I know, and true to form, they responded to the news as though it were a non-issue.
And to tell you the truth, it really is.
The very first time my girlfriend and I spoke at any length, she told me about her son within a few minutes of beginning our conversation. And then we continued acting like young twenty-something year-olds at a bar, talking, drinking and having a good time. I asked her out that night, not really thinking that it would lead to anything beyond a little bit of fun, but interested in her nonetheless. After a little more than a week, we both arrived at the realization that we could not have just a fun relationship, that contrary to both of our initial intentions, we had started cultivating a more-than-fleeting interest in each other.
Not much earlier in my life, I probably would have balked at the idea of dating someone with a child. I hazard to guess that the fact that she had a child would not have been the determinative factor in that decision; in truth, I sincerely doubt that I had the requisite maturity to enter a relationship like that. At least that would have been my thought process; a year ago, I would have thought that any young mother who wanted to date would be husband shopping and nothing more. Even now, I do think myself ready to become a husband and maybe something of a father, and while maybe a year ago I would not have even found it within myself to start thinking along those lines, at this point, I can at least consider such a path without shuddering and wanting to get myself hammered at the nearest college bar.
I’ve learned after dating her for four months that she’s not trolling for a husband. She’s pursuing her life like most twenty-somethings, and I am damn lucky to fit in with that pursuit.
Unfortunately, since we tend to find out judgment in our first impressions, most of the folks with whom I talk react the other way. Recently, while getting a hair cut at a place I’ve gone since I had hair enough to cut, a woman waiting under the dryer, who I had never before met, overheard my conversation with the woman cutting my hair and decided it was her place to interject.
So are you ready to be a father?
Do you think you are ready to be a dad?
I confess that it took me a few moments to form a response to the question. Not because I thought the question difficult, but rather because I was so shocked this woman who knew me not had the audacity to insert herself into business not even remotely pertaining to her and try to stir up trouble. She said she liked me and wanted to make sure I knew the situation into which I was getting myself.
I spent the next five minutes trying to say “fuck you” in the most conversationally pleasant manner possible. Her statements belied her opinion, that because my girlfriend had a young child that she must be such and such and that getting involved with her would be such and such a mistake. As politely as possible, I informed her that I did not need her warning nor her cursorily formed opinion on matters of which she had absolutely no knowledge.
In another conversation, the idea of me acting as a father to her child came up, and the consensus of the participants in the conversation was that regardless of how great I might be, I would never find myself completely happy in such a situation because I had not fathered the child. Assuming for the sake of the argument that the relationship would come to a point such as that, I said that it really could not matter to me that the child did not carry my DNA. The important thing to me, I said, was that I love the kid and want the best for him. Those conditions met, I argued, I could easily be happy as a father-figure for this child if the relationship with his mother developed to such a level.
Everyone seemed to express the thought that if what I had said were true, that I would be a bigger person than the rest of them. Note the subjunctive phrasing: their thought suggested that such a supposition on my part could never actually become reality. This disbelief stung a little; the fact that such an emotion manifested in people whose opinion would normally matter to me, and who remain nameless, stung a little more.
It’s not bravery or exceptional character that causes me to feel this way. Not pity or some sense of responsibility. Not ignorance or an inability to consider the import of these issues. I feel this way because I have had the chance to meet her, learn about her and have fun with her such that I have realized how a snap judgment would have denied me a very great happiness. As her son and I have begun to get to know each other, this knowledge reinforces itself into my head just a little bit more everyday.
As the relationship advances, I do not pretend that considerations such as our future and what relationship I continue with this woman and the one I cultivate with her child will not have long-term effects. They merit substantial consideration. But they also merit time and a responsibility to realize that just because a relationship has a slightly different dynamic than your standard guy-meets-girl relationship does not mean that the process must change substantially or that anyone willing to participate in such a modified relationship is either crazy for getting into it or a terrible person for creating it.
It simply is what it is. And if you do not how to feel about it, if you cannot give it a fair shake, then good. Keep your judgments to yourself.
I have so very much more to write on this subject, so many considerations I opened here and did not address. But as I have only recently begun puzzling through this in a written form, I need to step away from these ramblings, smile, and propose the three of us play Chutes and Ladders again tomorrow.