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What To Call Your Kid’s Father (When You’re Not Hitched)

Written by Theresa Gonzalez

Photography by Photo Courtesy of Tosan and Katie Burroughs

After a recent checkup at the dentist I asked the receptionist about an appointment for my “partner.” Since my boyfriend and I became parents nearly a year ago, I have never really grown accustomed to that word, partner, but no other word quite fit. Boyfriend no longer felt serious enough for what we had become in our relatively short relationship. The receptionist went on to refer to my partner as “her and she,” assuming that I was gay. That’s part of the problem with that word: My business partner? My same-sex partner? My rodeo partner? It doesn’t really say “the man I’m living with, with our child, in a committed relationship, but hey, we’re not hitched!”

There is a growing trend of cohabitating parents holding off on marriage, yet the terminology hasn’t really caught up. Despite losing its stigma, at least in cities like San Francisco where we live, unwed parenthood still lacks a commonly understood, if not socially accepted, term for those who choose this alternative path.

Alejandro, my partner (that word!), and I got pregnant 8 months into our relationship. We were committed to each other and in love, so after we got over the initial shock of getting pregnant without really trying (one night of caution thrown and bam, life changed!), we were both ready and excited but also overwhelmed with what lie ahead.

The idea of marriage did come up, but that step just seemed to add to the stress. He had been married before and I didn’t want to be proposed to just because I had gotten pregnant. My parents had gone that route, marrying one month before I was born, and I knew how that turned out: not great. Thankfully, both of our parents were ecstatic with the news and put no pressure to follow in their traditional footsteps. When I spoke to women in the same situation, one of them, Rheanna, 30, said it perfectly: “I think a child bonds you far greater than a marriage license does.”

Ale says he calls me his wife 80 percent of the time, and I try to call him by his name to avoid the awkwardness of any label. Rheanna added, “Some days it’s straight-up boyfriend, other days it’s significant other. Usually I stick with his name and let people assume what they will.” We both agree “baby daddy” doesn’t cut it. The Urban Dictionary definition alone is extremely offensive. Allison, 30, who married her love after two years and two babies, says she used “baby daddy” sometimes, “usually just to make people laugh or feel uncomfortable.” I asked her how it felt to call him her husband now. “I love it,” she said, “I feel a deeper connection with David. It was fun to finally focus on our relationship and not just our kids for a while. We didn’t really have much time to date before we had kids, so we have fun now like we just started dating.”

I can’t say we won’t walk down an aisle someday. I’m not opposed to marriage and most of the women I spoke with weren’t either. Although one couple said that after 20 years together, they decided to go to City Hall only to turn right around for fear it would change what was already working. Now that Ale and I have emerged from the fog of having a newborn and hit our groove as a family, it’s something that we could revisit, or not. One of the many things I’ve gained from motherhood is that I feel little need to live up to anyone’s standards or expectations. My daughter takes my breath away and brings us such ridiculous joy (we jokingly race to her room, pushing the other out of the way, when she wakes from her naps) that our unconventional family of three is simply that, a family, and I love it just the same.

Theresa Gonzalez is a writer based in San Francisco. Her second book, Sunday Sews (Chronicle Books), comes out next spring.

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