Merriam-webster.com defines father as “a man who has begotten a child”.  I wish it were that simple.  I have been a father for over 18 years, if it was a job I would be considered an expert, and I am still struggling with what that word means.  The word and the concept of fatherhood are different for almost every person I have ever asked.

I know what traits, duties, and concepts are considered part of being a father in our culture.  Fathers are providers, leaders, moral guides, disciplinarians, play mates at times, and of course “father figures”. Like most typical definitions, there are many holes in these ideas.  In today’s society, many times the mom provides the guidance, leadership and discipline.  So is this stereotype of a father outdated and something we should stop using when thinking of fathers?  Do we need a new concept?

For 15 years of my career as a father, I never really thought about this. Growing up I was lucky enough to have what I will strongly argue was the best father in the world.  When it was my turn to be a dad, I just tried to do what I thought he would do and hope for the best. I figured I turned out ok and admired my dad it was good enough. A father was a man who had a child, and behaved himself like my father.  Simple.

Then three years ago, I separated from the mother of my children then met and fell in love with woman that had three boys of her own.  While my boys were in their teens or close, hers were not in elementary school yet.  For reasons that are beyond what I can go over here, the boys did not have a father in their life.  Now I had to reconsider my whole definition of what made a man a father.

What was I to these boys?  Stepfather?  Well, we aren’t married yet. Father?  Well I had not “begotten” them.  Mom’s boyfriend?  Sounds lame and just didn’t fit.  The boys call me by my name, I participate in their daily life, provide discipline and guidance and play with them.  The question of what I was to them entered my mind a few times, but I dismissed it.  I’m a simple guy, and didn’t want to complicate things with thinking and just figured I would just do what I did for the previous 15 years.

This worked ok, until the younger boys started referring to me as “Dad”.  I didn’t have a problem, but my youngest son, 11 at the time, flipped out.  I was HIS dad.  He gets along with the boys, but just would not tolerate hearing the other boys calling me dad.  Therefore, the younger ones kept calling me dad and I introduced myself as their stepdad. Technically, I am not, but it made introductions easier.

Now it’s a few years later and I have a hard time referring to them as step kids, or “your kids”.  I feel towards them just like I do to my “biological” children.  I love them; want them to be safe, healthy, and good men when they grow up.  I lose sleep when they are sick and I want to know how well they are doing at school.  They When they talk about me in school, they refer to me as dad.  Their faces light up when they tell me about the cool salamander they found or the huge snake that they saw at school.

So, am I their father?  According to dictionaries, only biology makes you a father.  I don’t think I buy that.

I would love to hear reader’s thoughts on what makes a father or a mother.