The Fatherhood Series: Meet Taedza
As a parent, you never really know what challenges will come your way until they hit you in the face. But for this parent, the challenges are twofold - dealing with a young adult and a child at the same time. You see, there's quite an age gap between the kids. A whopping ten years, to be exact. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Our protagonist is a stepdad; this journey started when his daughter was just four years old. It's not an easy ride, but one filled with love and growth.
My Dad Journey: 15 Years and Counting
My daughter is 19, and my son is 9 years old. My journey as a dad began 15 years ago when I became a stepdad, my daughter was four years old, and my partner had recently separated from her previous relationship. Getting to know both my partner and her daughter was new for me, but we knew our relationship was serious and would last. My partner took her time introducing me to her daughter to ensure I was committed for the long term and not just passing through.
I was still in my twenties, so my life was relatively carefree, and I didn't have many responsibilities. However, my decision to enter this relationship was a major turning point. It wasn't just about the physical attraction but also about building a strong relationship with her daughter and seeing it through to the end. This was a big change for me.
It was tough in the beginning. She didn't want to be held, even when I tried putting her on my shoulders. I had to be patient and take my time, understanding that she still regularly saw her father. I'm unsure what kind of conversations they had or how he felt about me. Still, I could tell it was hard for her to understand the situation with her parents no longer living together and me being a new man in her life. It must have been challenging for her, but maybe I didn't fully grasp that then. All I knew was that I needed to be patient with her.
When you decide to take on the role of a father figure for the child, you don't even think about whether you will become the primary father figure. I didn't want to force her to call me dad or father. I believed it should come naturally from her if she chose to do so. However, my responsibilities increased as our relationship progressed and we started living together. I started doing tasks such as making breakfast, taking her to school, and caring for her when she was sick. This led me to perceive myself as the primary father figure rather than a secondary one. Nonetheless, I always encouraged her to maintain a relationship with her biological father, which is crucial. I didn't want her to miss out on the experience of having her father in her life, as I had missed out on it.
Growing a Father-Daughter Bond Over Time
Being a father figure and supporting a relationship with her biological dad was a challenging task for me. As our relationship grew over two to three years, I happily took up responsibilities like helping her with homework and taking her to classes and everyday tasks. I focused on the educational side of things and my daughter's emotional well-being. In contrast, her biological dad only focused on having fun. Although it frustrated me that I wasn't seen in the same light, I understood the importance of looking at the bigger picture and preparing her for the future.
Regarding discipline, I understand that handing over parental control was challenging for my partner. Still, I never felt that she was going against my decisions. I occasionally questioned my parenting approach, especially since we now have a biological child. If I were the biological father, I might have approached discipline differently. I tend to persevere and push through challenges, while my partner may have been more lenient. Looking back, I followed my partner's lead on discipline and offered my opinion. Ultimately, she had the final say.
Navigating the Challenges of Society
Society can be a big challenge! Especially for mixed-race families.
At the start, it was a challenge whenever I went out alone with my daughter. What was interesting was coming from both sections of society, so I'm black African, my partner is from Chile, and my daughter's half-Chilean, half Colombian. If you look at her, she doesn't look South American she has a European look, blue eyes brown hair. So one occasion, I do remember I was taking her to school; I'd love to do the school run with her; it'd be our little time together; we had a little song; it used to be our time. And when my son was born, we were doing the school run together.
One morning, a woman whom I had seen before approached me and congratulated me on having my own child. I was confused and pointed to my daughter, saying I already had a child. However, the woman insisted that she was happy for me.
This incident taught me that people will talk about you regardless of whether you know them, and it caught me off guard. I have raised my daughter since she was four years old and is now 19. She is as much my child as my son, so I would have been happy if it was just her. This experience was a life lesson for me.
Parent-teacher meetings were another challenge; the teachers would be confused and ask who I was. They seemed unsure of my role and would ask if I was with someone else.
I had to explain that I was there as the step-parent and simply wanted to know how my child was doing in school. This happened throughout her primary and secondary education, and it always made me uncomfortable.
I can also recall the early days of my relationship with my partner when she asked me to pick her up from work. I picked up my daughter from school, and together we took the tube. I remember people giving me strange looks and questioning our relationship.
To avoid misunderstandings, I had to prepare my daughter to explain that I was her stepfather in a relationship with her mother.
These incidents bothered me, especially since they seemed related to race and people questioning my intentions with a young white girl. However, as time passed, these feelings faded away.
Feeling Like a Dad in Every Way
Our daughter is now a happy and healthy young woman who considers me as her dad. She even called me "Papa" when she was 16 years old; it happened naturally! I remember last Christmas, we watched an old Christmas video of her at 10 or 11 years old; she called me by your name, which felt very odd.
Despite her being 19 now and attending university, I still worry about her and stay up all night checking my phone if she doesn't come home at the agreed time. I feel like a dad in every way.
As she was growing up, I noticed that the love she showed me was different from the love my son showed me. With my son, I felt that he loved me unconditionally as his dad, but with my daughter, I had to earn her love. No amount of gifts or material things could buy her love. I earned her love by being present and attentive in her life.
For instance, I hate the fact that she gave up swimming lessons. She saw it as just a sport, but I absolutely loved taking her to lessons every Friday.
We would take a walk home, grab a bite to eat and chat about her day. It was a tradition we enjoyed for five, six, or even seven years. So when she eventually decided to stop swimming, I realised it wasn't the end of the activity that upset me, but rather the loss of our special time together. I may not have expressed it at the time, but those Friday nights were truly cherished moments for us.
When my son was on the way, my daughter suddenly developed a love for football. I recall teaching her some techniques in the garden, but I think she became anxious that our bond would be lost.
As time passed, she stopped playing, and I was relieved to realise that she understood that she didn't need to be involved in football to spend time with me. She stopped playing, and our connection remained strong.
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