A letter from one dad to another

In our society there are a lot of fathers who are absent from their children by circumstance or choice. Often, other men (step-fathers) end up raising these children. There must be many men who are either step-dads or biological "access" dads, or sometimes both! This letter is addressed to you.

by John Kanowski

I am a serial step-father. Over the past decade, I have had 4 lengthy relationships with single mothers, who between them have had 8 children from 6 biological fathers. In some cases, these biological fathers have put in years of work towards raising 'their' children; in others, the contribution was little more than a night of passion. In all cases, a lot of the child-rearin' work - from cleaning shit to providing money, attention, and the thousand duties of day to day care - was contributed by various step-dads, myself included.

Biological fathers, in my experience, are too often unsupportive of stepdads. Few of the biological fathers of the children I have step-parented have had anything kind to say to me, let alone acknowledged the work I have put into raising 'their' children. And few have helped shoulder the financial burden of 'their' children in a fair way.

If being a step-parent was entirely a bed of roses, I wouldn't have cause for complaint. However, step-parenting is as full of challenges, joys and the rest of life as any sort of parenting - because it is parenting, minus the initial reproductive activity. Actually, there is another difference: in our culture, come access weekends and holidays, you have to hand over the children to a biological dad. And dad, whether he has helped support the children or not, expects the kids to be healthy and happy. It is in these circumstances that the lack of acknowledgment of step-fathers by biological dads is most difficult to accept.

The time around access visits is probably the hardest for me as a stepdad. The kids get so excited by the prospect of visiting their biological fathers that they sometimes have to be reminded to say goodbye before stepping out the door. And on their return, they regale me with dad this and dad that, particularly the treats dad has lavished on them. I sometimes ask them to shut up about dad! Access visits are when certain realities of my role as stepdad are emphasised. This is when, no matter how much parenting I may have been doing, I always feel a bit rejected and empty, and I pull my emotional feelers in a bit. These are the times when I wonder why I don't enter a relationship with a virgin and produce biological offspring of my own. It's pretty touch and go sometimes.

The reason I stay in my present relationship, I think, is because I love my partner. That's why I got involved with her in the first place. And because she's got kids, I'm going to work it out with them the best I can. And I say this: fathering is about involvement with a child. The fathering that stepdads do needs to be acknowledged and supported, particularly by absent biological fathers.


It is two years since I wrote this letter. My relationship with my partner Donna, and her four children Oliver, Bessie, Jarrah and Sarahellen is now in its sixth year. We also have our own beautiful daughter, Ruby. Together we make a strong family unit.

I enjoy being a biological father. I love my little girl calling me "Daddy"; I cherish our special relationship. I think I can understand how difficult it must be for fathers to entrust their sweet offspring to a step-father's care. But, if separation is the reality of the situation, then surely in the interests of the children at least, fathers must bury the hatchet and seek positive dialogue with stepfathers.

Unfortunately, the fathers of the stepchildren in my life remain unknown, or worse, hostile, to me.

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