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“Where’s the mommy?” She asked looking through me for an answer, our three passports in her hand. “You’re looking at him,” I fired back rather plainly. “Where’s the mommy?” She insisted. “I’m the mommy and the daddy. He’s the mommy and the daddy, as well. We’re his parents.” I replied, gesturing towards my husband. A blank look still greeted me. By now, the officer next to ours at passport control in Munich had overheard and understood what was going on. She walked over, whispered in our inspector’s ear; and, just like that, we cleared passport control. Kid was a year old.
As dads generally, and as a two-dad-family specifically, we’re used to this. A variant of it happens on an almost weekly basis. Many dads out there will recognize it: Are you giving mom the day off? Or, worse yet: Are you babysitting? Dads, by definition, cannot babysit. We parent. So, as much as I don’t like dealing with the questions, I’m never surprised by them. What I was not ready for was what started happening a couple of months ago.
We were at our neighbor Jill’s house, and our son was running around chasing after one of her boys. Suddenly, he runs up to Jill and says “Mommy, agua.” We all looked at each other in silence. Jill reached for a glass of water. In the split second it took me to react, I had visions of the little bird in P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? pecking out of his egg and searching high and low for his Momma bird that had gone looking for food. “Jill, Jiiiillllll,” I repeated to him. “Jill, Jill agua,” he said and ran off chasing after the cat this time. “I’ll answer to Mommy,” Jill laughed. “No, you won’t,” I replied, forcing a smile.
Since Kid’s birth, we have planned how we will tell him his origin story (superhero that he is) ⏤ first introducing the concepts in a way that are easy for him to understand; then, bit by bit, expanding on how and why he has two dads. We also make sure that he is surrounded by strong, independent, fierce women: Nana, Nina, TiaZu. A host of family and framily make up our village and are an integral part of his life; female role models are not lacking. Why this rambunctious 2-year-old called Jill “Mommy” was a mystery ⏤ at least at first.
Over the course of a few weeks, Kid started calling almost every woman he saw “Mommy:” the librarian, the cashier at the grocery store, his doctor, and mommies at the park. In fact, “Mommy” was everywhere. Every woman he didn’t know, and some he hadn’t seen for a long time, were “Mommy.” My husband and I were curious, to say the least. So, we watched; and listened, and watched some more.
Jill, who is much smarter than I am (and a pediatrician) chimed in one afternoon, “my boys call me Mommy, what else would Kid call me? When you told him my name, he called me my name, right? Just identify who he is talking to. He’ll catch on.” So we consistently started naming the women he was identifying as “Mommy” by their real names. Once the mystery woman was identified, he knew who she was. And, as Jill predicted, he started using their proper names without hesitation.
But why call all women “Mommy?” Well, with Jill it was easy. Her boys call her Mommy in front of Kid all the time. That was her name as far as he was concerned. With women generally, the answer appears to be a bit more complex. Virtually every cartoon, television program, and picture book (even ones featuring animals) that our son is exposed to feature moms. Think about it. Dads are rarely featured anywhere. In addition, everywhere you turn to in media, opposite-sex families are profiled in shows, books, television commercials, billboards, and print. Mommy/Daddy families are ubiquitous. Moreover, there is a dearth of material available for two-dad families (and just try getting something published). So, at the age of two, searching for a woman named “Mommy” in the real world, when he is constantly shown women named “Mommy” in the world of make-believe, isn’t far-fetched ⏤ it’s normal. As with all toddlers, he mimics what he sees.
Like all things toddler, Kid reached peak “Mommy Phase” after about two weeks, and the Mommy sightings have since significantly diminished. He now knows women have different names. (If only grown men were so easily taught.) According to our Gay Dad friends, pretty soon our son will be running around telling everyone, including perfect strangers on the street, that he has two daddies. I can’t wait for that adventure.
Alexander Fernández shares a home with his husband and two-year-old toddler in Arlington, Virginia. He is a freelance writer, sometime theater director, and amateur photographer.