Tony* wasn't sure what to say when the woman he'd slept with told him she was pregnant. First, he says, there was a long pause. They weren't a couple, and he didn't want to say the wrong thing. "I told her that it was her choice and if she chose to keep it, then I would be a good dad," he remembers. "I was freaking out."
At the time, Tony was in his mid-20s, working as a bartender and photographer in a college town out west. Tony started paying child support for his daughter near the end of the pregnancy, went to prenatal appointments, and took parenting classes along with the baby's mother. On the day his daughter was born, Tony cut the umbilical cord.
And Tony was an active father. As soon as his daughter could take a bottle, he says he started sharing custody of her, sometimes watching her three or four days a week. "We were really just good buddies," he says. "It felt good to have purpose, and it felt amazing to love something so much, in a completely new way."
Money became a source of tension, though, between Tony and the baby's mother. So did the fact that as his daughter got older, she started looking less like him or her mother. Tony decided to get a paternity test when his daughter was about a year old. "I couldn't play it dumb forever," Tony says—but he also feared the results. "That's not something that you want to know, especially when you love something so much."
Tony quickly learned the truth: he had a zero percent probability of being the biological father. He called the mother to tell her, and soon after that, he met Victor*, the man who is his daughter's biological father. Over beers, they talked about Tony's shock, Victor's suspicions from the sidelines, and their plan for the little girl they both considered a daughter. More than two years later, they joined me to talk about the logistics and emotions of the transition that followed, which included packing up a pickup truck with nursery furniture to move it from Tony's place to Victor's.
*Last names have been withheld for privacy reasons.