06/11/2013 07:09 pm ET Updated Aug 11, 2013

Becoming a Grandfather Without Ever Having Been a Father

In 2006, Dan was living in a high-rise condo in Washington, D.C. He was single, with no children and no pets. I was living in a detached house in Arlington, Va. I was divorced, after well over two decades of marriage. I had three grown children and a cat. We got married, and Dan moved into my house. One year later, my daughter married, and in 2009, my grandson Jonah was born. Simon followed in 2011. The plan is for another child to follow. My older son married in 2009, and they are due to have their first child this month. My younger son plans to marry and have children.

In the last seven years, the terrain of Dan's life has changed in a way comparable to that of the land inhabited by dinosaurs right as the meteor hit. For a while, Dan wasn't quite sure he would survive. Fortunately for me and for him and for my children and grandchildren, he adjusted better than the dinosaurs did.

He learned very quickly what my priorities were the first time we were visiting friends in Florida. We were seated at a restaurant for lunch and had just enough time to look over the menu and decide what we were going to have when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, living then in London, with a baby. Because of the time difference and the baby's schedule, it wasn't always easy to connect. Now she wanted to Skype, because there it was 5 p.m. and Jonah was in the bath. I looked at Dan and said, "I think I have to go."

"Say no more," he answered, and he stood up.

I see how tough it can be to flip into stepfatherhood and grandfatherhood without ever having been a father. When my kids are around, Dan sometimes needs a short privacy break. The activity and noise level is more than he's used to. At the dinner table, when one or more of the kids is in town and the conversation turns to video games, indie bands, and fantasy football, I notice that Dan gets quiet. He refused to make baby talk with either Jonah or Simon, and he became annoyed when he used to hear me doing so on Skype. I joke that he's marking time until Jonah and Simon can enjoy a glass of wine with him and discuss world affairs.

But the truth is that Dan keeps a photo of Jonah and Simon as his screen saver, and when Jonah used to jump onto his lap (as Simon now does), he would melt. And the other truth is that Dan thinks my own kids are almost as amazing as I think they are. I think that might be a little bit understandable, as he never had to experience the boys wrestling under the dining room table while a meal was progress. And he never had to watch my daughter taunting her older brother into a screaming rage.

The top inanimate love of Dan's life has always been his sailboat. And naming his sailboat has always been a huge big deal for him. This year, he bought a new boat. He named it JoSimon.

The bottom line is that slowly, very slowly, Dan is taking on a role he never thought would be his. And nobody is more surprised (and I suspect delighted) than he is.