One For The Stepdads

The shelves are lined with socks and gardening equipment and bottles of real ale and cards with watercolour pictures of golfers on them. This means two things: parental, gender stereotypes are still rife and Father's Day is just around the corner.

For me, Father's Day is less about celebration and more about contemplation. Year after year I have the same internal battles with myself about who to buy for. I get myself in a tizz about a concept that, for most people, is pretty straightforward: go to shop, buy Father's Day card, give Father's Day card to father. Simples. But that's the trouble with these newfangled 'blended families'...nothing is ever simple.

If someone could brief me on the etiquette of celebrating Father's Day when you're no longer with your child's father I'd appreciate it. What's the deal? Does card buying still come under my remit? Or is it a job for his family/girlfriend? I still don't know so just to cover all bases I tend to throw some card and felt tips at Jack and instruct him to 'draw daddy something'. This way I don't actually have to spend any money or pore over lovey dovey cards, but I don't look like a heartless cowbag either.

Even more confusing is the etiquette of buying for stepparents on the big day. In the 20+ years that my own stepfather has been in my life I've never once bought him a Father's Day card. That's not to say I don't value him and everything he has done for me over the years. From giving me endless lifts, to lecturing me about working for a living, to chatting about football with boyfriends I've brought home and bunging me the odd twenty quid here and there - he has done everything a dad should do. And while we haven't always seen eye to eye (in my angsty teenage years there were more than a few Zoe Slater esq 'YOU AIN'T MY FARVA' altercations) I appreciate it all more than he'll ever know. It's just that...he's not my dad. We all know he's not my dad. I've never called him dad. And Father's Day is for dads isn't it? Even now I still don't quite know how to mark the day or show my appreciation. So I do nothing. I'm as clueless at nearly 30 as I was at 13.

Just to add further confusion to the tangled web of mixed genes and different surnames, Jack has a stepdaddy too - my partner Carl. He has been around since Jack was 18 months old and they have a lovely bond. Jack understands that he isn't his father, but he is something else of great value to him: his buddy, his wrestling opponent, his ally when mummy is on the warpath. 'My Carl' is what he calls him and for someone who kind of wrote herself off when she found herself becoming a single mother with a small baby, this makes me very happy. Carl treats Jack with all of the love and generosity of a father and I class us as a family even if we don't share the same DNA. But still, is a Father's Day card appropriate when Jack has a loving dad who is still very much around? Again, I can't answer that question so Carl usually just ends up with a tongue in cheek e-card or meme tweeted in his direction:

Every year I bemoan the lack of 'Happy Stepfather's Day' cards available at this time of year. More to the point, I wonder why there is no Stepfathers/Stepmothers day? Cynics may argue that the concept of mothers/fathers/valentines day is a load of commercial bullshit and we should appreciate those we love on a daily basis, not one dictated to us by Hallmark. Nevertheless, they exist as a time for us to show our gratitude and boy oh boy do stepparents deserve some gratitude.

Because how difficult must it be to play that role? To become an authority figure to a child you have no authority over. To take on all of the harsh realities of parenting - tantrums, sleepless nights, early mornings, trips to soft play, Saturday morning birthday parties, teenage attitude, ultimate self sacrifice - but never truly receive any of the glory. To willingly step up to a parenting position while also knowing that there will be times when you'll have to respectfully stand down because no matter how hard you try, your genes will never match so your input just doesn't count as much. To risk falling in love with a child you'd have no legal rights to if everything went wrong, no matter how much time and effort and love you'd put into forging a relationship with them.

That, to me, is something worth acknowledging too. So this Father's Day I'll be celebrating the men who are there out of choice, not just biological obligation. Probably as quietly and as cluelessly and as awkwardly as every other year. But celebrating nonetheless. Because stepparents rock.


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