Our Guest Post this week comes from Ross Williams, a man who holds the dubious distinction of being both a good friend AND my ex-husband. He joins us to discuss his transition from Child-Phobic to Step-Father-Figure.
Part of our series of guest posts from different bloggers who attempt to answer the question, “What Makes a Parent?”
I guess I’ve always been a little threatened by children. Threatened? Maybe that’s the wrong word. Intimidated isn’t quite right either.
Uncomfortable. That’s more like it.
My presumption was that babies were basically pointless, helpless things that you tolerated as best you could until they started resembling a ‘proper’ person. Toddlers were just taking the piss with their shenanigans and little kids were pretty much idiots who thought they were so impressive but cried at the first challenge. Don’t get me started on pre adolescents either…
That said, I don’t like most adults either, so I think we can put my general attitude down to my being a misanthrope rather than have a particular dislike for kiddiewinks. Well, that sort of changed in 2011…
Truth be told, I had never really been around a child much at all until early last year when I met Dexter and then, later in the year, when I met Grace.
Vicky and I had been a couple for about three months at the point where we decided it was about time I met her daughter. I had been aware from the get-go that there was a 4 year old from a previous relationship involved and it was a concern for us both – for her, it was worry of letting someone else into a “circle” where trust had been broken before and, for me, it was being in a circle at all! I was quite open with Vicky about this, so we decided to wait for me to meet her kid until a little further down the road, and first make sure we were properly compatible ourselves. Last thing we needed was a demanding infant interrupting the feeling out process. Especially since I’d never been around them. Even Dexter, I’d only seen three or four times, and he pretty much just ate, cried, slept or gurgled a bit.
By May 2011, it was time. I remember walking into the front room at Vicky’s to be confronted with this tiny pudgy thing clutching a small blanket, sucking on a dummy and sitting on the sofa with her feet sprawled out on the seat. It never occured to me that people would sit on a sofa and not be able to touch the floor. I also was a bit freaked out by the dummy. I thought they were for babies, not kids that could talk and run and had some resemblance to us big people!!!
It was quite the eye opener.
Still, everything went well. Grace was a little quiet for the first few minutes before getting comfortable with my presence. Then it was all about the showing off. Putting on costumes, silly glasses, singing gobbeldygook and making silly voices. Very adorable if you’re the kid’s parent, I’m sure. When you’re not though and you’ve only just met this little thing that seems to think wearing a pair of big glasses is the funniest thing of all time, it does sort of make you think ‘yeah, my assessment that kids are basically idiots was about right’…
It’s a tough gig, coming in to a child’s life a few years down the line. There is the definite potential that I will end up as a (the?) key male role model in her life but looking at the potential future doesn’t make sitting through the umpteenth “MY Daddy” story any easier, especially when we’ve just done something very nice for her which she doesn’t quite understand the effort involved in yet. Hey, don’t get me wrong – it’s great that she talks openly about her Pops and we understand that she has so limited a social circle that he comprises a massive part of her experience but it can sometimes start to grate a little.
The hardest part is trying to strike the right balance between being respectful of her relationship with her father and wanting to bond properly with her. I haven’t let myself commit fully to her yet and don’t think I can – or should – unless Vicky and I have a child ourselves, thus making me DAD in the house or if her Dad suddenly decides he doesn’t want to bother with her any more. That’s got nowt to do with me so I’m just standing back and letting Grace and her Dad come to whatever conclusion about their relationship – none of my business. Meanwhile, I just get on with the fragile balancing act of being the best semi-committed father figure I can be!
There are a lot of joys, don’t get me wrong. Vicky tells me that she sees far more of me in Grace now than of her Father. I would have thought so – she spends at least as much time with me as with him and it will be more as of next month when they move in with me. She and I definitely share a sense of humour. It probably helps that I have the IQ of a squashed apricot and can do a lot of silly voices. It’s fun to go swimming with her since she’s just the right size to hoist up and chuck around (safely, of course…!) in the pool. Good exercise for me, great fun for her.
Her education has come on in leaps and bounds with me involved. Being a single mum, Vicky had to work hard to pay the bills and keep everything right for Grace – so a focus on reading and counting sort of fell by the wayside. Being a writer, I’m pretty big on those things, so I’ve managed to get Grace interested enough to start learning. When I met her, she could just about count to 10 and only read her own name. Couldn’t write anything. Nowadays, she can count to 60 or so without help (mainly), write a handful of words and the sentence structure in reading is finally coming through. It’s hard for a kid starting to learn these things so late but we’re making a fair fist of it. I think it has helped that bedtime stories are now more in the realm of the BFG and the Twits rather than the kiddie books she had before. These wonderful stories coming from the words that the adults can read! And no pictures apart from in her head! Much better than the simplistic books where the maximum achievement you can get from a page is to find out that the frog sits on the broom and then you feel the broom and it’s sandpaper. Fine for a 2 year old. Not so much at 5. Why would anybody want to learn to read when they can just either look at the pictures or feel the surfaces? We still let her have these books but she has to help read them now, rather than be spoon-fed. As a result, she is finally developing intellectually. She’s a smart kid, good imagination and often a very shrewd logic but the building blocks of education weren’t there. They are now.
I’ve had a few conversations and a couple of meetings with her Dad, to get to know each other a bit and to hopefully set his mind at ease that she’s in no danger with me and will be treated properly – I think that’s only respectful given his genetic stake in affairs. There have been a couple of wobbly moments and I suspect there will be many more to come but I’m not trying to turn it into a contest for ownership of her. She’s a person, not a possession. It’s just hard to think sometimes that I’ll be putting in so much work to something I don’t have a “stake” in and I might well not ever get that title of ultimate love and respect – ‘Dad’.
There are a few moments in public that feel a little awkward where people either assume I’m her Dad and she loudly corrects them (although the more I get to know her, the less she bothers correcting it – she just kind of rolls with the punches now) and when we’re in the playground, running around, and she’s yelling “Ross!” after me, I do sometimes wonder what the other parents think, especially when many of the other kids are all yelling out “Daddy” (not to me, to *their* Dads… Well, to the Dads that join in, which seems surprisingly limited from what I’ve seen thus far). End of the day though, I’m not her Dad, I’m the guy who is with her Mum and a semi-friend, semi-parent without a title. Do I want the title of “Dad” from her? Absolutely not. Not yet at least – it’s far too early. Several years down the line, we’ll see where we are and it’ll be entirely up to her.
Ross Williams is an author, actor and all around creative-sort. He’s also run his own business, travelled the world and been a professional wrestler. He is currently in the late stages of writing a prominent wrestling biography for WWE Superstar, Bob Holly. He can be found on the web at his business website: The RecruitMentor or on Twitter: @RecruitMentor