I’m sometimes asked why I refer to myself as a “rent-a-dad”. This is usually by people who haven’t known me for a very long time at all because most friends and family either know the origin story by now or were present for some parts of its formative years. Some, I suppose, have simply accepted that they will never understand the way my mind arrives at any given phrasing and have learned to roll with it the majority of the time.
A good friend and former coworker once stared at me, unblinking, for a solid thirty seconds or more in the middle of a conversation before coming out of his apparent trance and saying “oh, sorry, sometimes I just need to take a minute to process and figure out whatever it is you just said”. In this case there’s definitely some method behind the silliness.
For a number of years Nicci worked with a choir where she came into contact with a lot of children. I kept showing up at rehearsals and other events to support her at first, but over time it became as much about being there for the kids and interacting with their parents as it was about volunteering to help her. I’d sometimes help younger siblings with homework while rehearsal was going on or help keep an eye on the kids while we were waiting for their parents to pick them up afterward. I got to know some of them better than others because we sometimes helped supervise the summer tour trips for the 13-18 year old choir members which was a much different experience than just seeing them once a week at rehearsal. Now that it’s been several years since I first met some of the children, I’m happy to say that some of them are still friends now that they’re young adults. Thanks to this occasional dad-like behavior and the rapport I established with some of the kids, I became a part time father figure. Rent-a-Dad, affectionately I hope, for short.
Before we became foster parents, there was no time in my life that I felt more solidly rent-a-dad than the time I went to a father/daughter dance. We had become friends with the family of one of the younger girls whose mother asked me in early February one year if I would take her to the dance that was being hosted by another organization in the community. Her father had taken her before he passed away, and when the subject came up she said that she wanted me to take her in his place. I don’t know how anyone could refuse a request like that. She had a great time with her friends and seemed very happy to be there, and when I ran into friends and coworkers who were actual biological fathers and knew that I wasn’t I simply explained that I was a rental. She’s since outgrown that sort of thing and now goes to dances with boys, something I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around because I keep thinking of her as nine years old instead of nearing her graduation from high school. As actual fathers sometimes do, or so I’m told.
I’ve written a little bit here and there about how much it hurt me that we don’t have children that are biologically ours. It’s taken more time to come to terms with than I would have liked, and I’d be lying to say that I never think about it any more. There was even, I suppose, an occasional hint of bitterness when I started referring to myself as rent-a-dad because it always reminded that I will never have a child that’s biologically mine. Sometime after we got our first placement though, a switch was flipped and since then it’s always come from a positive place that’s filled with silliness and hope. I’m not likely to ever see a baby’s eyes light up and see 50% of my DNA staring back at me, but I’ve snuggled a handful of babies in the past few years who still call me papa even after they’ve gone home and are (usually) thrilled to see me when they come back to visit. I’ve been there for a lot of their big milestones, several of the high points of their lives so far, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I’ve got little buddies who aren’t blood relations at all but who have somehow “inherited” some of my little mannerisms like the way I tilt my head quizzically when I’m confused or a particular stance I adopt when I’m grumpy. I’ve got a Stinkerbell who is almost as excited to see me as I am to see her whenever we’ve been apart for any length of time. I get the chance to be a positive presence in all of their lives and I might be able to do the same thing for more kids in the future which is something I couldn’t begin to understand the significance of before we got our first placement. I think that maybe Rent-a-Dad is exactly what I’m supposed to be.