Carolyn Hax: Role of 'daddy' more important than title

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • Updated: November 15, 2009 - 7:54 PM

Dear Carolyn: I share custody of my 3 1/2-year-old daughter with my ex-wife, who got remarried last year. Her new husband describes himself as a "nice guy," and is overtly hoping that somehow I fail as a father so he can be "daddy." The divorce was anything but amicable. While things have been relatively smooth for the past nine months, I still hear my daughter from time to time refer to him as "daddy." I reinforce she has only one daddy but this is really getting old.

I think it's deplorable and I've spoken to both of them about the issue. She has assured me that she has spoken to him, but I can't trust her. I recognize he has a parenting role in her life since she lives 50 percent of the time with them. However, I think it's extremely immature and frankly disrespectful to my daughter. I don't want to go to court again. The vampire matrimonial attorneys have sucked me dry. What do I do?

ANONYMOUS

You are the one and only daddy, yes. However, like it or not, your daughter has three parents now, two of them male. Dickering over titles will only validate the role the other man-parent has apparently carved out for himself: nice guy, rescuer of your ex from the bad guy (aka you), protector of your daughter from ongoing ex-marital rancor. Keep up the outrage and the "deplorables," and you only strengthen his hand.

And that anger, oh my -- please, please do something about it. You've been sucked dry, I get it, but from whatever scant blood supply you have remaining, please make a withdrawal to secure the services of a competent, reputable, resentment-tempering, perspective-engendering shrink.

As your daughter's one and only daddy, you have a much greater obligation than to protect your title and, well, ego. You need to focus on your daughter's well-being, period. During your 50 percent of the time, what you need to reinforce isn't your one-daddy worldview, but instead that you love her, listen to her, look out for her best interests. Period.

That means not undermining whatever bond is forming between her and her stepfather -- painful as it may be for you to watch it happen.

There is an urgently important reason for this: If the bond with her stepfather is healthy, then having two homes where your daughter is loved and supported is the best possible outcome for her.

And if the bond with the stepfather is not healthy -- for any reason, be it his ego-driven need to displace you as No. 1 man-parent, or something more sinister -- then where will you be if you've already forced her to choose sides? You can't be in the position of having squandered your daughter's trust and goodwill over such a trifle as a name.

I understand your paternal primacy is anything but a trifle, and that the name issue is symbolic of your legitimate quest for respect. But you need to sever the symbol from the goal, and concentrate on the goal of being her No. 1 dad.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.
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