If you’ve ever seen the early 90’s sitcom, Dinosaurs, then you have undoubtedly seen the recurring skit where the daddy dinosaur is doing something (usually a domestic task of some sort), and baby dino is throttling him with a frying pan or some other makeshift household weapon while chanting “Not the mama!” repeatedly. If you have never seen this, jump over to this short YouTube compilation of Not the Mama – it’s worth it.
In what is probably the most popular of these skits, dad tells baby that if he does it one more time, he’ll throw the kid across the room. One more “Not the mama!” and baby flies across the room, slamming into the wall, then bouncing up saying “Again!” It’s all done in a very lighthearted and funny spirit. But, I can relate to this frustration…
One of the unfortunate and heartbreaking aspects of fostering is that a gross majority of kids coming into care are out of single parent situations. And that’s usually mom. Dads are generally distant or absent, altogether. Sometimes, there are even rotating dad figures. Some of these kids never see a father patterned as a leader or provider, comforter or protector.
Now, enter the middleman – aka foster dad . The guy who is tasked with being dad for kids who don’t know what dad is. We have expectations that we put on these kids, often carried over from expectations on our other kids or expectations put on us growing up. And no small part of our role in the family unit is enforcing whatever code or rule is expected to be adhered to. And then these kids come along and laugh in our face, turn everything on its head, challenge the very core of our role. They have no idea who we are, and really don’t care.
Of course, as if adding insult to injury, they run to mama for every little thing, making dad a veritable third wheel. In their defense, it’s all they’ve known. Add in all the baggage that follows them, and dad not only has to adapt quickly to bring structure to an unstable situation, but has to fight his own identity crisis in the process. It can really get in your head.
The easy response is to withdraw. It’s safer, emotionally. Heck, that’s probably what most men directly involved in their lives have been doing. And, to be honest, the kids would probably respond better. Lashing out is another simple response, and is an emotional currency that everyone, including babies, understands. But foster dads gave up the easy road. We chose the hard road, filled with tears and pain, often yielding more life questions than life answers. We chose to step in and love them, even if they don’t want our love. And love is always complicated.
It’s a lot of hard work pouring life and love into another human, even a child. But, often times, there is this one moment when it becomes clear that your child gets it. On some level, they begin to understand who you are. They know you are there to comfort them, provide for them, encourage them…protect them. Sure, there are still issues. No fairy tale endings here. There will always be something not right with the world, and not right in your relationship. And someday, that child may leave to go back home, or move on to a new home. But, it may be, that their foster dad was their first real experience with a person to call dad. That will change them forever.