It was a story that captured the nation and social media, especially in the realm of separated or divorced families. A picture of a little girl, and two “dads”, attending an event dedicated to fathers and their daughters, a father/daughter dance. For years, when I lived in Pennsylvania, I was the disc jockey for an event like this, annually, for eleven years. What became quite clear over those years, there were so many different situations at this dance, especially who escorted the young ladies. While a majority of the parents that were there, were biological or legal (adopted) fathers, there were also uncles, friends, mothers, and step-fathers. And there were any number of reasons, if a child was not there with their own father.
The two men in the photo have very important roles to the little girl. One of the men is her father, divorced from her mother. The other man is currently engaged to her mother. When they get married, he will carry the title, “stepfather.”
Decades ago, the “step” along with either mother or father often carried a negative connotation to it, thanks probably to Cinderella, and the way her stepmother treated her, as did her stepsisters, in the fairy tale. Often times, step children were often portrayed as being sub-family, of little value to the step parent, treated as not one of their own.
There were television sitcoms along the way that would help to disprove the myth of the dynamic of the stepfamily, most famously, the Brady Bunch.
The focus of this television show, featured a widower father, and a mother who is believed to have been divorced, though it was never formally televised because back in the 1970’s divorce was still pretty much a taboo subject. So it was never really addressed why Mrs. Brady was single. But together, along with their housekeeper, the Brady’s functioned as a unified unit, never really having to deal with the fact that other than the pilot episode, the show never really dealt with the issues of a stepfamily, rather just appearing a regular family.
But the dynamic of a step-parent has taken a much different direction these days.
In this photo, both men appear to be having a great time, all for the benefit of the little girl. And it is not that because the men are best of friends. Quite the contrary, in the beginning, they were adversaries. But as this story was printed, they realized that the situation, the Daddy/Daughter Dance was not about them, it was about their daughter/soon-to-be stepdaughter and the memories that she was going to have of that event. The men admit that there were difficulties in getting along in the beginning, most likely due to the emotions spurred by the divorce between the girl’s original parents. The future “step-father” is only naturally going to to be an ally to the mother, and adopt any hostilities toward the father of the child.
But these two men realize what is at stake. The girl is young. But she is going to remember this moment for her lifetime.
As a child, I had both a step-father and a step-mother. While my biological parents may have had their adversarial relationship, I can honestly say that both of my step-parents stayed in their lanes. Neither tried to exert any kind of parental power over me and at no time did either attempt to replace their biological equal. And when it came to special events, like graduations, weddings, baptisms, etc., it was always made clear, they would not make that special day in my life, or my children’s lives, about them and their issues with my other parent.
The story does not address the emotions of the girl’s mother, nor does it tell of any confrontations, negative issues, allegations, of the family as it legally separated and divorced. But what is clear, this father, and the step-father-to-be have done what so many strive to do, keep the divorce limited to the husband and wife, and not the mother and father. A divorce is between a husband and wife. A mother and father cannot get divorced. And no matter the feelings that one spouse has for the other, those feelings should never be taken out on the children at their expense, especially to make the other parent “suffer.”
Children of all ages, will always remember what they have seen, and what they have been told. And if it has been lies, coming at the expense of the other parent, costing time and the relationship, the hurt and resentment will take a long time to forgive, if possible, and even to forget. Children know what to expect of their parents because they have spent most of their early lives with them. They know what is possible, and what is not. As the two men above demonstrated, when it comes to the children, keep the relationship with the children, about the children. It can be done.