Much like a superhero a bonus dad works undercover to change the life of others. I was working mostly with my 3 stepchildren. The phrase “step” sounds like they are not my whole children, while I did not have a part in “making” them, I had a part in growing them. Hence, a more appropriate title “Bonus Dad.” And through this I will refer to my step-kids as my kids.
My story started after I had committed to their mom several years ago. After seeing so many pictures and hearing stories of the crazy antics of my kids I could not wait to meet them. They loved to play, draw, swim, their mom, their family, watching kid shows, and most important they loved to learn.
March of 2017 my kids, their mother, and her best friend were at the Farm and Forest event in Manchester to have a planned event where I could meet the kids but have the distractions of 4 wheelers and building supplies. I met my kids as mom’s friend. We walked around as they played and showed off for us. As the day continued, we moved on to a meal at the Hibachi Grill where again I could learn more about my kids in a less distracting environment. This is when Mary and I first learned that we were gonna bond just fine; we played silly games like staring contest and funny face games. She is the middle child, she was 5. Nathan was the oldest at 7 and he was distracted by the place mat and his toys. Then my little Luke, 4, he took the longest to warm up because he did not want me to take mama away from his eye. He came to realize I had no intentions of doing anything but enhancing life. After dinner we went our own ways, and I drove home wondering why anyone would give up on this family, the father to these 3 beautiful kids, and perfectly imperfect mom.
Mom had the kids Sunday night through every Wednesday at 5pm, plus every other weekend. The times mom was parenting our children if they did not have sporting events or other plans with family or friends we would meet for a meal, a movie or just a visit to the beach or friends or family.
In April, mom and I bought our house, big enough for our kids. Mary was the first to admit that this 3-bedroom home seemed perfect for our family, she had picked out the smaller room, the larger room would be for the boys. There were no beds, nothing for the kids to play with yet, but they knew, this would become their home. Every Monday became our family dinner night at this new home, my brother and his kids would come by and often Nana and Papa. Mondays the kids would know, it was a chance to see the changes to their home. The beds, the toys and the house slowly became their home. They saw their mom treated like a queen, like a prize not just a babysitter. Our first Easter the kids really were able to seek out the whole house as I had a chance to hide Easter Eggs around the house, inside and out. The sad part is they would leave, every time to go sleep in the house that their father owned, where mom nested.
Mother’s Day of 2017 we had our first sleepover, they were able to crawl into their bed, their mom sang and relaxed in their house. Not Eliot’s house, or Mom and Eliot’s house, but their house.
As said before Mary was first to warm up to me, I could see though that she just had a longing for attention from a father figure. So, she was the first to jump in my lap, cuddle up to me during movies and allow me to be Bonus Dad. She came to me to tell me stories about school, stories of her friends, or stories about staying with their dad. She loved to have me join her every Tuesday at Gymnastics, she would show off her skills, but only if I was paying attention to her. She wanted me to take her to all her other sporting events as well. Running around 3 kids to 3 different events was hard on just mom, so myself and Nana and Papa would take on the role. In the car she would ask me to put music on that we both knew so we could sing together. She also learned from her father that it was OK to say mean things about people, she would repeat things that he said. Mostly it was “Eliot you are NOT my dad” and first thing out of my mouth would always be “I know but I am your great friend that you can count on, that you know I will be here for you anytime you need me.” The day I asked if I could be mommy’s husband her eyes lit up, she smiled from ear to ear and could not wait to make me her Bonus Dad. She had asked if she could call me dad, and I suggested that she keep calling me Eliot, but I promised I would love her like I was a dad, the best dad ever. As time went on, we bonded over things like cooking dinner or making cookies. We would spend every Saturday making the best treats to share with family.
Nathan is the oldest, he took on a protective role even at such a young age, he was watching out for his mom and his siblings. He would challenge my request like “turn the lights out,” or “please do not leave trash in your bedroom.” He often would let his frustrations out on me. I saw that as he trusted me to challenge me. He would never be able to do that to his dad without getting into trouble. As Nathan came around, he would often let me help him with his math games, he would let me play some sports with him too. Nathan started to come home from his father’s house and give me the biggest hug. He started to allow me to share moments just the two of us, like father son days, going to dinner getting the biggest hamburger he had ever seen. He and I bonded over things like playing toss or video games. The day I asked him if I could marry his mom, he said “yes, I thought you already were.” I remember the day he asked if he could call me Dad. His mom had been sick, and I was taking care of the kids, playing both roles of mom and Bonus Dad. He had stayed up a little bit later then his brother and sister I had been giving him back tickles, he gave me a great big hug and said, “Can I call you dad?” and again, to keep them out of trouble with their dad, I asked that he keep calling me Eliot but he could always count on me to be there for him like the best dad ever!
The hardest one to get to trust me was Luke. He was mommy’s best friend. She was his hero and everything. Any time we were all together he was in her lap or right next to her at all meals and trips. Luke was also an attention seeker and he learned that if he did not do his potty training, he would get attention from Mom. He would hold his #2 for days, until he returned home to us so Mom would have to help clean him up. He also loved attention from anyone willing to watch him play, so he would show off often at sports or dancing. He always needed to show up to his siblings. Being the youngest brother myself I knew what it was like and could share my experiences with him. The moment when I knew we had connected was when Mom was off at a sporting event with Nathan, and Luke had to do his #2. He went in on his own but would not come out until he was wiped. One of things I never wanted to do was be in the situation that I had to toilet any of them, but Luke refused to get off the toilet, and I would be damned if I had to wipe him, all I saw in my head was his dad saying I was touching my kids to the police. I called mom and she said I had to Bonus Dad up and take care of business. I walked in, I had a pep talk with him and he jumped off the toilet with his pants down and to town I went cleaning up after his number two. At the end we took a picture of his prize to show his mom before we flushed it down the toilet. At that moment he saw me as Bonus dad. It was our next adventure on the pot a week later he asked if he could call me Dad. I told him it would be best to call me Eliot but anytime he needs dad duties I am there 100%.
Our lives grew together, I would stay home on snow days or school days off. Every day I was the house cook, mom would work on laundry and homework. We had the best system together all 5 of us. May 12, 2019, we told our kids we were getting married that day. Mom took Mary to the salon. Nana, Papa and I got our boys ready. We piled the kids in the car, we met at a friend’s house in Gilford where all the kids, mom and I circled around Mom’s friend who proceeded to marry us, all together. She asked each child if they would accept me as their father, the two older ones jumped on it, they were all excited. Meanwhile the youngest, Luke hung on to my hand swinging and smiling the whole time, he had to play a joke and say Maybe. That moment as family, we were now all married. The kids once again all asked to call me dad, and I told them that it would still be best to call me Eliot.
Just a week later Mom got sick, I was again full-time Mom and Bonus Dad. I was packing up lunches, I was helping with homework, and I was doing all cooking, cleaning, and the transportation. I was reaching out to the kid’s friends parents having play dates for them and partnering with them to get kids to sporting events. June was powerful month for us, mom was sick in Boston for a few weeks, I had to drive them to meet her there. I had to tell the kids that their mom was getting treatment for Cancer and that time was near end. Mom returned home for a night, and once again they saw mom, their hero, weak as ever. She was home they all got a chance to say “I love you” as I put them into the car and drove to school.
That day we sent mom to hospice house where the kids went 2 times to visit her, both times she was not mom, but what seemed to be some sick lady in a bed. June 22, we knew time was near, I had the kids playing with friends. I had to call the friends to bring the kids back, and as a family I had to tell them that they mom had joined God. What a powerful moment. The kids clung on to me. Mary said, “dad says if mom dies, we will never get to see you again” and all 3 kids cried not just for the loss of their mom but that Bonus Dad was gone too. We stayed at the hospice house for a while, the kids and I looked at pictures and videos of their mom. They found comfort in me for the last time. Their father demanded to collect his property 2 hours after mom passed. It was hard.
A week later, we brought my kids back, dad allowed us to have the kids from Friday to Sunday at 5pm. We had celebrations of mom’s life, together her friends and family came to share in our loss. Sunday the last time I saw them we had the biggest party at our house. We had to have 30 kids and 20 parents. It rained, the house was trashed, but the kids felt love one last time from family and friends. This was the last time I saw my kids, the last time we shared time at our house.
One thing about being the Bonus dad is that it was my choice to love them. I could have been a stepdad and live my life for me, but I lived my life for my family. I could have chosen to NOT love a mom with 3 kids, but I chose my family. It was perfect. Being Bonus Dad was the best title I have ever been awarded and it was those 3 that gave me the chance.
-Eliot, New Hampshire