Papi

This is a hard one to write, because it involves the biggest mistake I have ever made with regard to my kids.

At least, I certainly hope I haven’t made a bigger one.

I met my ex about six months after the kids moved in. I had—and still do, though less and less often—met a fair number of guys over the years. In most cases, there was no reason to bother with a second date. But something about this guy …

It turns out he felt the same way, because after about two months he asked me if I ever thought about moving beyond “casual” status into something more. I had, so we did. So far, so … OK.

We were together about four months before we decided to take the next step: telling the kids. I was—and continue to be—extremely fortunate that my kids are as open-minded about my sexuality as they are. Their basic philosophy is, “So what?”

My ex and I decided I should tell the kids alone, and we would figure out what to do from there based on the reaction. I was driving the kids home from school—it was mid-January, I remember for no particular reason—and the conversation went something like this:

Me: OK you guys, you know [name], right?

Kids: Yeah.

Me: So, he and I have been hanging out for a while, and now we decided to be boyfriends. What do you think?

Daveon: Great! I always thought you should have a boyfriend.

Mark: OK. What’s for dinner?

(These were their actual responses. I’m pretty sure Daveon made his up. I’m entirely sure Mark was sincere.)

They called my guy from the car and let him know I told them, and that it was great—or, in Mark’s case, that it was just a random piece of news between now and pork chops. So far, so … better.

And then came the mistake.

About two, three months after this announcement, and after us spending most of that time together as a group—often with my ex’s handful of nieces and nephew, who were roughly my kids’ ages—he said he wanted a parental role, a change in status with regard to the kids.

This would be a good place to mention that when we weren’t doing family things, my ex and I were usually fighting, threatening to break up, or actually breaking up. Without getting into too much detail, the bottom line is that we were a terrible match. You can take two perfectly fine people, put them together, and have disaster if they are not a fit. We were not a fit. You can see now why I am such a stickler for fit.

So of course when he asked about this “second parent” thing, I did what any in-over-his-head person in a troubled relationship would do: I said yes.

The next task was to introduce the kids to the idea, and see how they responded. As before, he and I decided I should do this solo.

Me: So, you guys, what would you think about [name] becoming your other dad?

Daveon: That’s great! I’ve always wanted two dads! (Probably not much higher on the sincerity scale than his first response.)

Mark: OK. (We must have already eaten.)

And then:

Me: OK, so just like I went from “Joe” to “Daddy,” he would need a new name. Any suggestions?

Daveon: Hmmm. How about “Edgar”?

Believe it or not, Edgar didn’t take. Instead, we went with “Papi,” which my guy liked.

So he was Papi, until he wasn’t. After continuing the cycle of argue/break up/make up/argue/repeat on endless loop for about two years, we finally called it quits. This was complicated by the fact that he had moved into our home about six months prior—as I mentioned, as mistakes go, I went in whole hog on this one. But we muddled through the break-up and the move-out as best we could. I left it up to him about how to continue his relationship with the kids, which turned out to be sporadic, unpredictable, and ultimately nonexistent.

So I had to eat it, and tell the kids I made a mistake. I let “boyfriend” become “Papi” too quick, and now that he had gradually disappeared from their lives, I wanted them to throw at me any anger, hurt, resentment, grief, they felt.

They, in their unshakable loyalty, did not.

Telling that news to two kids whose early life history was abandonment by adults was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I haven’t been involved with anyone since.

Next: Diversity in Schools

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