Almost thirteen years ago around the twelfth of September. I remember the date vividly because it was after Alan’s birthday and before mine that I knew I was mesmerised by this secretive, quiet, kind Scottish podgy man. We fell in love at a speed I’d never imagined would ever happen.
I had been split from my first husband of ten years and the divorce which I had seen through was finalised on 12th August 2004 just the month before.
We had split up just one month before our baby was due back in October 2003. It was the 21st October at 6.30pm when I’d asked him to go. The details aren’t important here but my, the story is long and painful. Thankfully time has been a healer and forgiveness allows so much liberated freedom, for me anyway.
The rollercoaster of emotions that had engulfed me from trust swept down the river and now, trying to prepare in my whole self for a new baby that was due any day now. My first husband had lived a double life right under my nose. I didn’t have time to dwell on what had gone wrong. I needed to focus my strength on what was right in my life right now, and this was this amazing human being growing inside of me.
I had my beautiful baby. Work could not stop for me as my “Jekyll and Hyde” first husband did not support me or his baby. At that time, I was an associate and self-employed so no hefty 9 months of maternity pay for me! I was back at work three full days per week when Nathan was just 12 weeks old. I loved my work back then as I do now. I worked for a consultancy firm in London meeting senior commercial directors and leaders for mainly plc companies around collaborative purchasing, benchmarking, knowledge sharing and facilitation. With breast pads at the ready in my very sleek ready-for-London leather satchel, I made my way to NW10 from Leicestershire unknowingly to meet my knight in shining armour.
Nathan Joel was just ten months old when I met his Dad. You may notice your eyebrow twitch or you may have had to read this sentence again, or you’re sitting up reading that again. Meet his Dad, but he’s not his REAL father is he?
Following our courting my single biggest fear as a first time Mum was how on earth is this bloke going to accept Nathan as his own? Will he really love him the same as if we had a child together? Whilst working for the consultancy firm in London I was also in the middle of my own massive development programme. I was studying for a Coaching with psychology degree and along with various NLP programmes I thought I’d put my skills to good use. I think I must have used every psychometric tactic I could pull out of the bag, along with interrogation tactics to make sure this man was fit and right for the job. The biggest role I could ever let him loose with – being Dad to my Nathan. Alan understood why I was so precious about his answers and checking and double checking his congruence for commitment.
Nathan met his Dad for the first time on 29th November 2004 and strangely this would have been my ninth wedding anniversary to Tony. Nathan was just 12 months old. Following spending every other weekend flying up and down from Edinburgh to East Midlands, we moved into Alan’s bachelor five bedroomed, unlived in shiny brand new house in Scotland in April 2005.
I had made a promise to myself that even though I had been pooped on from a very great height, I will not stand in the way of Nathan’s “REAL Dad” (biologically speaking)
It was me who organised for both of them to spend time together. He wasn’t very motivated and I felt, had to be pushed to make a commitment of visiting. Our move to Scotland made it easier I feel for my first husband, although we so wanted Nathan to develop a relationship with his father. Alan and I did the organising and often paid for the travel too. Nathan saw his biological father perhaps at most, three times per year.
Right from the start I knew that my approach to this situation will be wholly positive especially where Nathan was concerned and that I will answer his questions absolutely honestly in the best way that I could.
Immediately and right from the start, Nathan chose to call Alan “Daddy”. We suggested “Daddy Alan” but no, he knew how he wanted to address Alan. We chose never to use the term “step father” as there were no shoes for Alan to fill.
We didn’t see him stepping into anyone else’s role but creating this wonderful bond of his own with his son. It’s interesting how far too many people flippantly and often without realising the effect they can have on great parents like us, by saying thing like “oh but you’re just Nathan’s step-dad”, or to me, “are you his REAL Mum?”
Alan continued to exceed all of my expectations of being a fabulously brilliant Dad with providing us both with so much love, warmth, kindness and care. He takes his responsibility as being a great Dad seriously and has nurtured Nathan spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. Our Reality is a tight knit family unit.
I remember taking Nathan to kindergarten one day back in 2007, and said to one of the nursery members of staff, “I’ll be late so his Dad will be picking him up” and she replied, “do you mean his step-dad?” and kindly I replied, “no, he doesn’t have a step-dad unless I’m missing something?”
It was really interesting how I felt in that moment when an individual, not intentionally or with any malice, undermined the REAL role and influence that Alan has in Nathan’s life. From that moment on I started to hate the phrase “step-Dad”.
Life continued in sunny Falkirk and we moved to a beautiful small holding not far from our town Biggar, near the Scottish Borders. Nathan was growing up far too fast for my liking and our reality of a solid robust bubble of love continued. Alan finally plucked up the courage to propose to me and we had a three way wedding ceremony, Alan, Nathan and I in August 2008. We all exchanged rings as a token of our circle of love for each other.
I remember during conversations with some family members and the question being asked “are you going to invite Nathan’s REAL dad, Tony to the wedding?” I found myself taking a huge deep breath and when my Mum asked the very same thing, I wanted to take the time to really unpick this god-damn bloody word called “REAL”.
“What do you mean by REAL?” I retorted with venom. “Do you mean, REAL in the sense of great REAL parenting, REAL love, REAL laughter, and REAL cuddles at night when he needs & wants them. Do you mean REAL bed time stories, or REAL changing the bed? Or did you mean REAL food, REAL money for provisions or did you mean REAL in taking him to nursery? What about REAL play-time and REAL gardening? Or did you mean REAL in the sense of his emotions? Did you mean REAL time, just being there for him? Or maybe REAL fresh food, fun and learning in the kitchen? Did you mean REAL handwriting, painting and making funny things together? Or maybe you mean REAL when he’s picked up from the floor sobbing his heart out after crashing off his bloody scooter? Or maybe you mean REAL when he’s taken his boy to get his first pair of shoes fitted? Or maybe what you REALLY meant was REAL for his visit to school? Or perhaps you meant REAL in the sense of all of the clothes he wears and every REAL holiday we’ve been on? What you REALLY mean is when he falls over and he has REAL blood spurting from his knee and the REAL kisses are applied from Alan to make it all better? Or maybe you mean REAL when Nathan runs to his Dad and throws himself at him. Nathan never questions his reality!”
The breath had almost run out, heart beating like a snare drum and I could feel the core of my very being ready to explode. And then, it hit me. I didn’t need to justify, explain or correct people in this way. Their interpretation of “REAL” was so far from the reality of truth for me, for us. And how I finished the exasperating statements with “Nathan doesn’t question his reality” just cemented it all perfectly.
I also experienced as a child, sitting on my Grandad’s knee, in front of a roaring coal fire. A younger cousin was there and we were talking about parents and grandparents. Out of the blue my Grandad says, “Well I’m not your REAL Grandad, I am for this boy but as I’m married to your Nan I’ll be your Grandad”
That took some digesting as a young child, trying to piece how that could be? I didn’t have or know any other Grandad – he was definitely alive, this man in front of the fire, most definitely REAL. From that day on, I didn’t like him very much. Looking back as a holistic-psychotherapist and coach I realise he didn’t have the sensitivity perhaps that I look for in building self-esteem in kids and most certainly, for him to say such a thing to me, meant he really didn’t want to be my Grandad. This is story has many arms & legs and perhaps in another blog I can expand more on my Mum’s reality of being in a children’s’ home from the age of three.
We married in August 2008 and I became pregnant soon after the wedding with Matthew James, our second son being born at the end of June 2009.
Nathan started school the same year Matthew was born so it was all so very exciting for us. I most certainly didn’t want to change my name without all three of us having the same family name. Back in 2009, Nathan’s Daddy Tony agreed to add-on to Nathan’s family name, making it double-barrelled. He also agreed to Alan having full parental responsibilities.
Nathan had become a big brother in 2009! He was the proudest five and half year old on this planet, I was sure of it. I remember being pregnant and carrying Nathan on my back and a local lady said delightedly, “you’ll be looking forward to your half brother or sister won’t you son?”
Here we go again. A statement that with a sharp blade attached to the words cut me in half. I’ve never understood the description of “half- brothers or half-sister either! When I was younger, I remember people labelling my younger sister as my “half-sister”. Half of bloody what?
OK she may have a different biological father to me, but we were brought up by the same man. She wasn’t half of anything. She was born to my Mum and I dearly love her with all of my whole heart. To me, it was if, the description of “half” was missing something, not quite the whole thing. It felt like this “half” description business was OK for people to say; well she’s not quite your full sister is she? What a load of codswallop with a dollop of stupid pox slapped on top!
Each and every interaction with people around “REAL” and “half” absolutely incensed Alan. Here is a man who has taken the decision to commit his life and world to me wholeheartedly, and immediately become an active compassionate great Dad to Nathan and yet people still like to put their spin on what reality should be.
When our gorgeous bonny baby Matthew was born we received the most amazing gifts and cards. Many cards read, “Congratulations on becoming a Daddy for the first time”, and “ready, steady go for becoming a Dad”, “you must be delighted on becoming a father” and “your firstborn son”.
We knew and appreciated the wonderful sentiment of such kindness with the cards and presents but most wouldn’t have stopped to think about the madness around these messages for us. If you could have seen Alan’s face when he read the cards, laughing out loud, shaking his head along with words like “and where does my eldest boy Nathan sit in with all of this for them?”, and “do they not realise we have another child in the house?” It is because Alan absolutely devoted himself as REAL Dad to Nathan that these messages from the cards were alien and belonged to another planet.
Equally, can you see how the appreciation or emotional intelligence of recognising our family unit is missed by saying such things? More worrying, think about the effect these types of statements has on children with their sense of belonging, making sense of the world, their self- esteem and questioning the role their parent has with them?
Travel forward in time. Sadly and suddenly, Nathan’s biological father died in October 2015. It hit us all extremely hard. We had remained open in our communications, friendships and the very shock of someone, especially my first husband dying so young was heart-breaking. Nathan’s time had been cut short with being able to build on the firm relationships we had encouraged so much over the years. He was just 11 years old. Tony was very real to Nathan, Matthew, Alan & I.
Thankfully the strength of our family unit and the love, immense love, from his two surviving parents has supported Nathan through this time of grief.
Last week, Matthew, who is eight years old, our second son kindly and excitedly shared with a few people that we were due in court this Friday, “for Daddy to finalise his adoption for Nathan” he said with chest bursting with pride.
I laughed inside and allowed my crazy sense of humour to take over when I heard responses like, “Oh that’s lovely, so YOUR dad is going to become Nathan’s REAL dad, is that right?” and Matthew replied with a wee puzzled look on his face, “hmm, no, Daddy is already Nathan’s Dad, we’re just putting the icing on the cake.” Out of the mouths of babes eh?!
I compare and contrast how couples live together with children, and at the point of getting married, no-one says “oh, now your parents are your REAL parents as they’re married”. There are many adopted kids out there and I have a few friends who’ve recently adopted beautiful children. I don’t think I’d be ready to hear anyone say “oh what a lovely adopted child (to the kid) but she’s not your REAL Mum is she?”
I also think often about statements I hear from mainly men in my experiences, when they say “..but I’m their real dad” and have no intention of supporting their child emotionally, spiritually and physically and yet demand in their language patterns and behaviour a “divine right” to decisions in the kids life because they send a few quid now and again. Get real I often hear myself saying. Make real phone calls, make a real relationship, introduce them to your real family and make real time for them.
They are real absent fathers.
Finally, how rude and arrogant of some people to undermine the wonderful thing called love, devotion, active parenting and commitment of life to children whether you’re biological connected, gay, straight or anything in-between.
On Friday 8th September 2017, the day before Alan’s 52nd birthday – the adoption of Nathan by Alan was finalised in Scottish and English law.
About Hayley (Phipps) Tennant
Hayley is a personal coach qualified in psychotherapeutic approaches, public speaker, Institute of Leadership teacher, Mindfulness teacher & practitioner, NLP specialist, people development specialist, leadership/executive coach and business consultant.
Her career spans 26 years in many senior commercial roles at board level specialising in all aspects of business and people.
One of Hayley’s passions is getting it right for every child, building self-esteem in children, growth mind-set and working on language patterns and behaviours that encourage, build, develop, calibrate and enhance.
This blog is written by Hayley Tennant sharing her own personal experiences of how behaviour, perceptions and words potentially can cause great harm if not dealt with appropriately. Hayley shares her realistic experiences, in real time and the real foundations of love and family life.