A Different Kind Of Fatherhood
Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday. It is the first year I am a stepfather of an amazing 23 year old who it is a great honor to be a part of her life and have her call me, Kris. She is talented, smart, strong, funny, caring, and absolutely the best daughter anyone could ask for. I was not there for the beginning. But, it is an enormous gift to be there now. I got to marry the love of my life and best friend, while saying vows to them both. Everyday I get to choose both of them, I get to show up, I get to love and be loved, and I get the greatest gift of them both. A gift that has been extended as we prepare for our first grandson to enter into this world together this fall.
I don’t know how I got here many times and I am in awe. Even as my wife and I received the unexpected opportunity last month to prepare to become foster parents of our great niece, a beautiful baby girl. I am in awe of the blessings and challenges that come with non-traditional fatherhood while discovering what it means to me. This journey discovering what fatherhood means to me has been definitely a roller coaster, one that is nowhere near complete as I still have so much to learn and experience as well as so much more love to share and moments to show up for.
I think back to remembering how much the trauma I experienced growing up impacted my desire to even want to be a parent. I can still remember those key times so clearly. I remember when I was 18 years old I was a trauma survivor and swore I never wanted to have kids because I didn’t want to pass down my DNA. At 21 years old, I swore I would never be a parent because I thought I would be a horrible parent. At 24 I was talking about having kids with my on and off boyfriend since I was 13 because it was important to him. At 25 I was married, experiencing domestic violence, found out I could not physically carry a child, and started a new chapter to find healing and myself after divorce at 27. At 29 I was a survivor of another sexual assault while trying to move forward, but the total count was already lost and blurred into a mass of experiences, impacting my ability to be intimate, my mental health, and my life in all other ways. At 30 after a lot of extensive therapy, I came out as transgender and fought for my right to transition.
Significant growth on my journey of healing came after a couple years of trauma based therapy at 33. I remember being able to connect to the hope of having a family, a child, and being able to be a parent – a hope buried deep within behind all the messages drilled and forced into me that I was incapable of being a spouse and father because of my disabilities, being transgender, and because I was brown skinned mixed with white and black. Unfortunately, I believed these messages. Even when I met my wife and as we navigated life together, my worth as a real man and as a father figure was something I wrestled with as I criticized myself, compared myself to others, and beat myself down in how I engaged in hateful self talk centered around these negative messages.
There were no examples I could see of positive images of stepfathers, father figures like me – not ones who were transgender like me; had disabilities such as autism and neuromuscular disease like me, and were mixed black and white like me. This made it hard to get advice and connect. The anxiety that these parts of who I am would impact our ability to be approved as foster parents in the next few months for our great niece is still a heavy pit in my stomach. Even the question of going to church again and navigating other stereotypes and systems led me to question and us to talk around the fear of will our children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren see me as less than and see my gender as wrong. The anxiety around this is high and comes around a lot as we continue to navigate it. Anxiety that jumps onto a colossal amount of anxiety on my ability to be a good parent and spouse, and habits of constantly checking in with myself reflecting on:
- How am I doing as a father and husband?
- How am I showing up?
- How I am interacting and supporting?
- How am I adapting and building my skills?
- How can I do better?
- Is my stepdaughter and our great niece safe and well?
- How is my wife doing?
- How is my family doing as a whole?
- Does anything need to change?
- Do I need to seek more support and connection from other father figures?
- Can therapy help me navigate the areas I am challenged in as a parent?
- Are these messages of the past or present?
- Am I being too hard on myself and how is that impacting my relationships in my family?
- How to be the best I can be for my wife and them – for my family as a whole?
It is an everyday roller coaster, that’s for sure. A roller coaster that continues to teach me that I strive to be the best I can be and want the best for my wife, daughter, future children and grandchildren, and all those children and adults in our lives. Sure, I have autism and other differing abilities, and I am a brown skinned mixed race black and white transgender man. These parts of my identity don’t make me any less capable or worthy of being a father. It just might look a little different from the images seen on TV, within stories of fatherhood role models, within messages and teachings, and more. I would even say from my experience over the last two years, that these parts of my identity enhance who I am as a stepfather, husband, and who I am as Kris.
So, while I used to wrestle with the label and being on the roller coaster continues, I enjoy my reflection time. A time that reminds me of how much we never really know what part we are playing in someone else’s story, as well as what impact we are having in someone else’s life. The deeply held hope within the hidden locked rooms of the castle within myself behind the battlefield of trauma becoming not only unlocked and found, but also coming alive transforming into an everyday lived reality. This is a different kind of fatherhood than the images portrayed to me. It is a different kind of fatherhood that has brought much challenge, growth, and love. It is a different kind of fatherhood that is the greatest journey I am traveling filled with unlimited blessings that I thank my universe for everyday and I am excited to continue on.
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