Something has bothered me for a long time. The use and understanding of the phrase “Real Dad.” A real dad, to me, is someone who raises you, who guides you, and sets an example for a healthy way to live with some morals attached. So many people come from blended families and two of my three marriages, I've been a step-dad. From my own experience, while at times you are accepted as someone who cares, for the most part you are considered “only a step-dad.”

My first experience with being a step-dad was with four kids, all under the age of five. Their “real” dad was non-existent and not a part of their lives. I was a dad to these children throughout my eight year marriage. I was not a great dad, in fact I was constantly drunk. At this stage in my drinking days I was an unpredictable and violent drunk. These poor kids didn't stand a chance, but they kept hoping because I was their dad. When sobriety came and my marriage eventually ended, I became “only a step-dad.” Those words hurt. I was not a great dad, but I was the only dad they knew. And I hoped that with sobriety I would be given a second chance to make amends with those children. But memories of me being drunk has kept those kids away from me for now over twenty years. They still struggle to accept that I'm not drinking, nor that I ever plan to drink again. The only life they have ever had with me was confusion and destruction. In a way, I don't blame them. I hurt them so much that they still haven't forgotten. The other part of this equation is that I was only a step-dad, so they can walk away without regrets.

I was their dad. I taught them how to ride bikes, how to tie shoes. I watched their basketball and softball games. Not cause I had to, but because they were my children and I was proud of the young adults they were turning into. By the time I got divorced, the children were now between the ages of 9 to 14. I helped raise these kids and now I felt cheated. I missed their teenage years, their first love, their first car, I missed it all because I was “only a step-dad.” Like I said the pain with this relationship was because of my drinking, but I can't help but wonder what kind of relationship we might have had if I was their “real dad.”

My second experience with being a step-dad was with a family of three. Two boys and a girl. The boys were already 13 and 15 when I came into the picture. They were grown young men, who didn't need a dad, they were forced to grow a bit before their time. I've never tried to be a dad to them in the way people think. I did try to help answer any questions they had or be an assistance when they needed it. They didn't need a dad to play catch with or teach them how to drive. Now, my daughter over those years – was just that – my daughter. I wasn't there when she was created, but I have been there for most of her 25 years on this earth. I went to her T-ball games and her school musicals. I sat up with her during thunderstorms and we hugged on the side of the road as we watched her mom pulled from a wrecked car after a crash. Like any normal teenager, at times, she was a handful. But I don't regret one moment with her, I am very proud of her, and I pray that she has a very rewarding life. The sad part though, is that when times get tough – I become her “step-dad.” Never mind that her bio-dad has very little to do with her – when times are tough she wants her “real dad.”

Like I said, I don't like that word. I am a “real dad” to a boy I haven't seen since he was a month old. Yes, I was a “sperm donor” to create this child. The reality is that I am not his “real dad.” His real dad is the one who cared for him and nurtured him and loved him. That is a “real dad.”

I've been a “real dad” to children that weren't mine. And I am a “bio-dad” to a child I never knew. So please help step-dads everywhere and recognize what they have done and what they do. Step-dads don't have a problem when a father is part of their child's life – he is their dad. But if the father isn't part of their life don't ask about the “real dad” because you are talking to him. Ask about the “bio-dad,” no one is hurt and you're asking a question based on a scientific fact.

Author's Bio: 

Dave Harm is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for over 20 years. He is an NLP Master Practitioner, Hypnotist, and Life Coach. He is the author of three books and the creator of two musical CD's.
He shares his experience and journey on his website