I have encountered numerous single parents who have the simplest to the most complicated of answers to this same set of questions. What your child tells her classmates or playmates depend on what you teach them, not on what their little innocent minds suspect.
Some of the answers are “Kinain ng pating (Eaten by a shark);” “Rode an airplane that crashed/a ship that sank” or “Left the door and never came back.” Others are as generic “Dead” or as honest as “I don’t know.”
Playmates or classmates who ask this question to your child come from their observation that the mother is the only present parent they see with your child. None from the opposite sex drives them to school, brings them to class, or goes to the mall with them and their parents. They may have also noticed that in your ring-less ring finger or in group photos they see a pair with every child but yours only has one. Now, how do you explain?
The first time my daughter was asked this, she was almost two years old. She was asked by a playmate two years her senior.
Innocently her playmate whispered, “Gummy look that’s my Papa. How about you, where is your papa? Who is your papa?”
And my daughter, who knew then that her daddies are my brothers, answered “Uhm, Daddy Ali,” then she walked away, as if she wanted to exit herself from the moment.
This first time shocked me but at the same time made me realize that I need to start preparing for answers to such identity-related questions.
Until Gummy was three years old, I taught her that her Daddies are my two brothers. That was my attempt at filling her young mind with a complete Mommy and Daddy. Also, I taught her that when someone asks who her Papa was, her answer would be her grandfather, my dad.
I, however, enlightened her that I am her only parent; I am her mother and father. That’s why in church during Father’s Day, when all fathers are asked to stand to be prayed for, she would push me to stand up because to her, I am a father too. It was based on roles more than gender.
The last change that I did to fill in the identity of who her father really is, is God—when I myself realized and have accepted that I am really only the mother and God is and wants to be the Father, Our Provider.
I taught her that her Father is Papa God, because God is the source of everything that we have. In fact when she was asked to fill out a diagram in school, under mkother she wrote my name, under father she put “God.” To this day, that is what she knows. And this is absolutely true.
Now to those who may be negatively reacting, this is why despite divulging the truth a piece at a time my daughter has no confusion, nor repulsiveness towards the idea of “changing fathers”—from uncles, to grandfather, to her very own mother and now to God: I give her answers apt for her age and limited emotional maturity.
At ages one to three years old, we lived in the same house as my brothers, who voluntarily took on the role as fathers, bringing her out on dates and dropping or picking her up from school. They were present. A small child, I believe needs a “daddy” whom she sees daily, has breakfast with, takes her for a walk, can run to for rougher play, time-off mommy dates and for security (little girls need that “protector”).
I vividly remember that when Gummy was just a little over two and just started playschool, every time her classmates get picked up by their Dads, she would always ask me to stop the car to observe, unsure of how to make sense of what she’s seeing. I knew that was a prompting for my brothers to step in and play that daddy role more evidently. I did not want my daughter to start having feelings of insecurity and incompleteness that early.
Now when she discovered that her two daddies were apparently my brothers, and her papa was her lolo and I then became both her mother and father and I explained it in the light of roles—mother as nurturer who takes care of her child and their home and father as provider.
During this time when she was four, she would complain a lot why I have to leave and work. That’s when I told her that as her only parent, I am also the Father who needs to provide for food, her school, for our travel, her toys, among other things. Very early on, she learned that it is the father’s role/job to provide for their families. Therefore, Mummy is also her Daddy.
When Gummy started to be asked where her dad was and how come she has two dads, as well as when her very close friends in kindergarten directly asked me, this is how I taught Gummy to answer: God loves me so much that He gave me two daddies. And then they were silenced. As to weather they will run to their own parents to ask for clarification, and what answers their parents provide them, I believe is within their own judgment, wisdom and discernment.
The follow up question to that would always be for me: “Mummy Bettinna, why aren’t you married?” I mean, how did these five- to six-year olds come up with such questions from mere observations?
I tried to brush it off once by saying, “I also don’t know why!” But when they turned serious, I answer thoughtfully, “It’s because God has not yet blessed me with my best partner.” And such answer, by far, has sufficed.
You see, my answers as to who Gummy’s dad/s are changes with time. As the needs change, so do the answers.
Some of you may be concerned that my daughter may feel betrayed when she is bigger and finds out the whole truth. I beg to disagree. In my heart, my intention is neither to trick her nor lie to her, it is to protect her heart from unnecessary pain sher could not handle just yet.
Imagine, what would have been the effect on my child if as early as one or two I told her that her father did not look for her, did not remember her first birthday, or first Christmas, or did not support her in any way? How do you think she would feel?
Arguably, she might have told herself that she is not love and that will be the last thing any parent would want their children to feel.
I know that when the proper time comes, God will prepare her heart to receive the answers and my mouth with the right words to say. For now, we are both quiet and settled with God as her Father. Besides, He is both Our Father.