Bonus dads | Inquirer Opinion
Gray Matters

Bonus dads

This year’s Father’s Day really put me in a bind.

I started out searching through the internet and found a lot of marketing stuff on what to buy for dads. I thought, for a few seconds, what if I wrote something like “What to get a 100-year-old dad,” which is what my dad’s age would be this year if he were still around.

Then I found a good article about “dad brains,” research into what happens to the brains of men who father, as in taking care of a child or children. Predictably, the findings were good and in so many words, the more you father the easier it becomes because the fathering transforms your brain into a “dad brain,” exhausted but fulfilled.

Take note, too, that one of the early research projects on dad brains, which made it to the front page of The New York Times several years ago, was done in the Philippines.


But I realized I would need more than one column to write up dad brains so I’ve shelved that for now. At least remember this condensed preview that I’m giving you today: it gets easier, even (especially) the diaper changing, which becomes part of muscle memory. Take that from someone who’s changed thousands. I did the math.

There were quite a few articles about the problems that come with growing social isolation among American males, especially young ones. Guys might have many friends but still feel so very alone, so very apart and this is because the social connections just aren’t being made, males always trying to dominate other males rather than connecting. I did write up something on what moms can teach us about helping males to connect, at least moms who have to deal with dads.

That was a long article, too long again for one column. I was in despair until I saw an article about, hold your breath, bonus dads.

Wow, that blew my mind. Bonus is a word we Filipinos love, referring to unexpected gains. We talk about having parents living into their 80s and beyond. Bonus, our friends exclaim. My mother was 45 when diagnosed with cancer, operated on. Six months, the doctors gave her and she lived to be 98. Bonus na bonus.


Bonus dads? It’s an American slang term, referring to men who assume an important role in a child’s life in the absence of the biological father. It can be an uncle, a godfather, a stepfather, or a foster parent, or an “instadad,” another slang term used to refer to a childless man who marries a woman who already has one or several children.

What’s important is that the man takes fathering roles seriously. In many cases, bonus dads don’t actually live with the children, but visit frequently to help with the child or children’s needs, from tutoring to taking them out to a restaurant or a park.


Too good to be true? A bonus dad might have some vested interest as in courting the mother of the children and wanting to display parenting skills and an unconditional acceptance of the mother plus-plus.

My ex-partner’s mother already had two children when she met Ben, tough as nails, working as a politician’s bodyguard. He was an instadad, taking in the two children, then had two more with his new partner. I saw how he took care of all four kids, no discrimination; in fact, I didn’t know he was a bonus father until much later, as he told me his story one time, in between explaining his anting-anting (talismans) and gayuma (love charms): you don’t need them, he assured me, which got him more bonus points.

I do hear stories of sexual abuse but I will say I’ve heard many more about bonus dads who outdo biological parents, no strings attached. These are usually uncles, much like the aunts who never married and ended up “bonus moms.”

Bonus dads are especially needed in our troubled times, with so many absent and absconding husbands and partners. I’ve lost count of the many students, more often males, who say they come from “broken families” and I tell them the term can become self-fulfilling. What’s important is connectivity. If you have one caring parent who remains, that’s as good as complete. Now if a bonus dad (or bonus mom) comes into the picture, someone who cares and fills the role, especially of a role model, that’s the bonus, bonus na bonus, for which we have much to be thankful for, including, possibly a next generation of bonus parents.


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