"Pretend Daddy" vs. "Real Daddy"

I thought we had the labels pretty well defined, Daddy Mark is the daddy in Heaven and Daddy is the daddy here. My son, Nicholas had just turned 2 when William (a.k.a Daddy) and I started dating and we’ve been married a couple of months now. Nicholas will turn 4 tomorrow, and suddenly the ease of knowing the difference between the two daddys is sliding a bit.

We’ve had confusion about Daddy Mark in the past year. We have photos up in N’s room of Daddy Mark holding N, and there are two particular photos that N is fascinated with. They are both of Mark holding N just after delivery (see left), and N loves for me to tell him about his birth. For a while, N would get confused between his birth story and the story of Mark’s time in the hospital when he died. N thought that the picture of Mark and him was when “Daddy Mark was so sick in the hospital that the doctors couldn’t make his body better.” I spent quite a bit of time explaining the difference in why we were in the hospital for N’s birth and why Mark was in the hospital when he was sick. Nicholas seems to get it for the most part, but is still confused about it sometimes.

William and I began referring to him as “Daddy” after we got engaged. Nicholas didn’t seem to have any trouble with the transition (I’m sure it helped that he wasn’t quite 3 yet), and William has been Daddy ever since. In the past three or four months though, Nicholas has referred to William as “Pretend” Daddy a few times. When asked what he meant, Nicholas said, “Daddy is Pretend Daddy and God is the Real Daddy.” And who can argue with that. We had a brief discussion about how God created us all and so he is parent to all of us but that doesn’t make Daddy pretend Daddy or Mommy pretend Mommy. I should have known that wouldn’t be the end of it.

Now Nicholas is saying that when Daddy Mark gets better, Daddy won’t be his real daddy any more and that will make Nicholas sad. I think part of this stems from the conversations we’ve had where I told him I believe that Daddy Mark is healthy and happy in Heaven and his body isn’t sick any longer. But who knows, Nicholas could be making this up from whole cloth.

I probably wouldn’t think too much about it, and just keep reinforcing that William is Daddy and that Daddy Mark is in Heaven, but I know it’s painful for William. I try to help him see that it’s not a preference or judgment on him as a father, that N is just confused; but, I can see how it would hurt. William is N’s Daddy, and nobody who sees them together would doubt it.

Any thoughts on where you think the origin of the confusion might be? Do you think there is a better phrase for Mark? Is it confusing for N to have two daddys? I would love to hear what you think!

*Photo of Daddy and N courtesy of Rebel With A Camera.

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  1. I have two "daddys," but it's a little different. When I was little, my bio-dad has his right terminated… a few years later my mom married a man who became my *dad.* As great of a daddy as my daddy is, I still had (and continue to have) lingering questions, thoughts… about my bio-dad (I have never met him). I honestly think Nicholas is simply trying to figure it out on his own… and he's going to ALWAYS ALWAYS have questions (I still ask my mom stuff aboutmy bio-dad). Plus, like you said, he is 3… Just continue being the awesome mom you are — answer his questions and let him know it's okay to be confused, but also okay to love BOTH daddies. :)xox

  2. Hi, Glad to discover you!I think the confusion is because he doesn't understand death as permanent and he just won't understand that for a while. I'd just be honest and age-appropriate as you have been and with time, he'll start to understand more. I just posted on a similar topic a week or so ago — check it out! My daughter's thoughts around 3 were a bit weird, too.Xsupa

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