So I was watching my kids at the playground, as one does. I and the strikingly handsome dyke — LOVE her plaid bolero jacket, COVET her glasses, find it FUCKING HILARIOUS that she is categorically interchangeable with any one of various members of my half-brother’s extended family, because this is California, after all, and at a certain point the distinctions between a mulatto entertainment industry mid-level professional and an obese WASP petit bourgeois qeek squad tech dude collapse into themselves when both of them are, ultimately, from ranching families in the far northern reaches of the State of Jefferson.
In any case, I was splitting child-minding duties with this lady (she watched her kids and the gangly towhead, I watched my kids and the this-year’s girly-girl that my younger son has latched onto) when the gangly towhead came running up:
GT: You’re not [older son’s] real dad, are you?
Me: Of course I’m his real dad. When I die he gets half my money.
GT: But didn’t you adopt him?
Older boy (running up): Yes, he adopted me! And he adopted [younger boy] as well.
And they’re off and running, to play tag on the playground.
Ugh. I so need a more pat answer when this kind of thing comes up. A considered answer, a trite answer: “Well, GT, being a father is a noun AND a verb! You asked it in the nominative case. I think about it in the sociative case, even if it sounds like the genitive case.” Or I suppose it could be a flip answer and either quote Zizek by way of <i>The Matrix </i> “Well, GT, welcome to the desert of the real” or quote Bob Sinclair (“World Hold On”) “Open up your heart. What do you feel is real?” I could give the devastating answer, namely “you want to ask me about real fathers? Let me tell you about real fathers. Let me tell you about men that abandon their wives on the steps of the TB sanitarium with 3 children under the age of five so they can pursue Filipino honeypots on the beaches of Baja and do shitty little corrupt deals to make ends meet while working as an inspector for the State Department of Housing and meanwhile pissing away your inheritance on the ponies at Santa Anita.”
Or I could answer honestly, unawares, a reply that puts one off-kilter because it exposes (I think) the kinds of truths we prefer to leave buried, or in any way hidden: I’m his real dad because I’m making a bet on him. It’s the transfer of capital that matters, kiddo. Inheritance involves property. Sometimes that conspires [the word choice is very deliberate, especially in its etymology) with biology, somewhat less often it works with love. But paternity is about transfer of ownership, first, foremost, and above all.
And don’t you forget it.