I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a father a lot lately. Of course, this is not the first time I thought about it as these thoughts have been on my mind most of my life, as I am fortunate enough to have an incredible dad. The celebration of all the wonderful mothers out there has really brought this to light for me.
A few times this past weekend, I was stopped by strangers who were eyeing our wonderful children and praising me for giving Mom the day or weekend off. They congratulated me like I’ve done something incredible. By caring for my own children, I did something that could never have been normally expected of me. I responded simply that these kids are quite lucky to have two dads, and Mom always has the day off. They’re as lucky as other kids who have a dad and a mom, one mom, one dad, or anybody who has the capacity to love and raise a child with all their might. Many times when people find out that our children have two dads, they respond like we’ve done the most amazing thing, never before done by man. But, are we really that special? By loving and taking care of the kids that we are so fortunate to have, we’ve done anything more wonderful than anyone else? Should I be frustrated by these responses or happy? Maybe these reactions are a positive thing, as 20 years ago I imagine that we may not have heard the same types of responses.
To me, what it means to be a father is to have the ability to love someone in a way that you never knew you could. It’s to question decisions about discipline, wondering how they’ll shape your children for the rest of their lives. It’s taking a shower after your child has pooped over all the poopable surfaces. It’s about figuring out how keep the love and energy going with your partner while being drained by your children who have vastly different needs. It’s about the constant struggle between spending too much time at work, being on call in the hospital, trying to provide for your family when you know your time at work is only taking away time from home.
Becoming a dad has been the best thing in my entire life. It’s better than the biggest fish I’ve ever caught (I LOVE to fish) or the biggest smile I’ve put on a patient’s face. It’s bigger than any other achievement in my life that I’ve worked so hard to attain. Isabel’s giggles fill my heart with happiness. The feeling that I get when I walk in the door after a long day at work and am greeted by the yell of “Daddy!!!!” followed by a big hug is almost unrivaled. Seeing Connor, who defied almost all odds to be alive, growing up over these last two months and sneaking the occasional smile warms me as if I’m sitting in front of a warm fire in a mountain lodge. That warmth could also be because he feels like a furnace when I hold him. It’s not just my interactions with my children that fills me with joy, but also interactions with them and their incredible dad. It’s when Isabel says thank you to a perfect stranger after they give her a compliment, without prompting. There are things that give you joy as a parent that you never thought would be something that would make you happy. Some of these things are things that your children do that don’t really matter to anybody else, but for you, they give you a sense of pride.
So next time someone congratulates me for giving Mom the day off or simply being a gay dad, I’ll think of all these feelings. I don’t think I need to think about what it means. We’ve come a long way to have all the support that we have. There’s still work to do to change minds and hearts; for now, I’ll just sit here and smile. And by the way, Dads out there who just sit on your butts, you’re really missing out. You can never predict when the next laugh will come and you don’t want to miss it.
About Jake Kleinmahon
Jake is husband to Thomas and father to Isabel (2.5 years old) and Connor (2 months old). Jake is a pediatric heart transplant cardiologist at Ochsner Hospital for Children and Thomas is a chemical engineer for Shell. Jake is a transplant from New York and Thomas is a transplant from Michigan. Both of their children were born in Colorado through the process of surrogacy. The Kleinmahons live in Uptown, New Orleans and enjoy taking their family to the local parks, zoo, Whole Foods, District Donuts, and Pinkberry.