This was originally posted on my blog about 6 years ago. Things have changed a lot since I wrote this, but I will share it anyway in case it helps someone living a life similar to what mine was at this time. Sending my love to all the parents doing the best they can to make a wonderful life for their babies…
The ten minutes before I left the house were spent packing a lunch pail, shutting the lights out and piling the laundry; no time for lipstick. I walked to the car carrying two laptops, a handbag, a full coffee cup, my cell phone and a backpack…with my son in tow. Suffice to say I am ambitious. I dropped three of the items, (including my cell phone, which shattered), spilled coffee on my dress and did my best not to delay the day any further by satiating my vanity or need for a sympathetic ear.
It was our typical comedy. I’m no stranger to situations which equally warrant laughter and tears. I thrive under stress and opt for laughter. In all my life I have known no greater joy than being his mom; even through our struggles.
It’s has been a year and two months since my six year old son has seen his father. Prior to that interaction, it had been three years of occasional intermittent communication that never quite amounted to a relationship of any kind. It has been two days since his last single sided conversation with a framed picture of his father which he keeps in his closet. I listen sometimes to the things he needs to say.
He asks questions like, “Daddy, how can I end a fight if someone else starts one with me?” He knows before he ever asks the question that he’ll get no reply and I wonder if it makes him feel better or worse. Although his decisions to disengage will always baffle me; I give my ex-husband the benefit of the doubt and trust the assumption that he’s disappeared because he feels it is somehow in his son’s best interest.
I am fortunate to have a job and work full time to ensure he has food, clothes, medical, education, etc. My greatest concern, second only to his safety, is that of him needing something and his needs (physical/emotional) going ignored. I provide him all things at a cost; my most recent expense was missing his first tooth fall out. I heard about it second hand. I had a short phone conversation with him on my lunch break wherein he told me what it felt like. I was fortunate enough to get a text message of his sweet smile, now “nerdy” by his description. I spent the rest of the afternoon imagining him sticking his tongue in the gap and trying to whistle in the manner he had mentioned.
Due to the logistics of my work requirements, it was two days before I actually saw him. In all my years concocting fairy tales as a little girl, I can attest I have never wanted to be a (tooth) fairy more than I did that day. It made me sick to be without wings. And every day when I am at work and he is elsewhere, I wonder what he needs. I worry that in many ways I am no more useful to him than that picture of his father.
To the right of my cubicle at work there is a salesman I hear make calls all day. He never stops working. Despite the passing stroll of many a short skirt, he keeps his eyes on the prize (a picture of his wife and his baby girl). He brought his family in for a short visit a few days ago and though it was brief, it was bliss to witness love. He was proud. He held his tiny daughter to his chest and publicly thanked his wife. He understands their value and his purpose.
To my left there sits a similar man; he loves a son he didn’t bring into the world. Nonetheless, he leaves promptly at five every day to coach basketball. Although I consider him my friend outside of work, I suspect he would throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if it meant a gain for either his son or his son’s mother, whom he clearly defines as his heartbeat. They provide the rhythm for his life. I am proud to know both of these men and witness them in action.
My boss is no different, he adores his children. He devises games, sings them songs and shamelessly promotes their artwork. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t reference their talents and how much he adores them. Though I rarely mention it, I am impressed and encouraged by the efforts of these men. The key difference between them and me; they don’t worry at work because they have women at home taking care of the babies they love.
My generation uses paper plates, we text in lieu of writing letters. In most cases we would rather use the microwave than wait for the oven. We love instant gratification and we live under the assumption that all things can be quickly and easily replaced. It’s a sad assumption that often transfers itself unto our relationships and in years to come we will collectively learn that people aren’t disposable.
We sometimes think it’s ridiculous to maintain a relationship when we can fill our social calendar ten times over with a quick post on Facebook. What we have failed to acknowledge in the era of fast satisfaction, is that we are deeply dissatisfied with the outcome when we apply this concept to our personal lives. The sad truth is that time well spent or lost is exactly what it sounds like, well spent or well wasted. I know too well that lost time can never be recovered. Treating others like trivia or allowing that you be treated like trivia equates to a trivial life.
This Father’s Day, I woke up wishing my son had one to celebrate. I also woke up missing my own father. I briefly checked the Facebook feed (which has become habitual) and wondered what his profile would have been like if he had one at my age. I often encounter suitors who are men with deep pockets, shiny things, fast cars, flashy clothes and closing arguments. The pictures on their profiles are typical descriptors of a life lived selfishly.
I view their albums in a particular context because to me these albums are a means of concisely displaying what a person loves. When a man asks to add me as a friend on Facebook as a precursor to dating I often wonder how they could possibly assume I would be attracted to them based on a nonsense presentation of far too many a bar photo. By projecting their nights of mayhem and debauchery without balance, I am repeatedly repulsed. Not that I can’t party with the best of them, but as a recurring standalone theme it is unsavory. They look weak to me. I want a life that would certainly exceed what they seem capable of living.
My childhood memories are of a man, who much like my present self, woke up and worked. I remember him leaving on sick days, on hot days, on cold days, on sad days and on happy days I now realize he would have much preferred to spend with us. What’s monumentally impressive to me in my current phase of life is that he always came right home.
He played on the floor so he could look us in the eye, often falling asleep on the carpet due to very long days. He pampered my mother, putting her on a pedestal that would have been impossible for anyone else to scale. He knew she was the keeper of what he valued the most and she did it well. He taught me that loving her was an integral part of being a good father. He respected and admired her despite many an opportunity to change his mind. He demonstrated that love is a choice you make over and over.
At present just as he always has, he dedicates his free time to finding new ways to tell her she’s beautiful. He does this day and night, despite her clothing, her makeup, her hairstyle and even her mood. They don’t always have new things but they are rich beyond measure. She walks through life with the knowledge that he supports her in everything she does. She raised her head with the strength of his commitment to their outcome and that of their children; confident that he would never live his life in a manner that separated him from them.
I might never know what that feels like. I will always be grateful to have witnessed them creating a place in their hearts/minds that is truly only for each other. I might not always agree with my parents. I might not always make it clear how much I appreciate them, but I do. I would deeply regret them not knowing. So, thank you Kent for being a father and for making it possible for my mom to be my mother.
I am blessed to see my son benefit from my exhaustion. I am blessed to have known what tiny toes were like pressing up against my rib cage from the inside while I was pregnant. I am blessed to know what somewhat larger tiny toes feel like against my rib cage when he has a bad dream, climbs in my bed and kicks me in his sleep. I am blessed to have had my patience, my endurance and my worth tested.
I am blessed to have cradled something through tears and laughter, coming to care for it more than myself. I am blessed to watch in sheer wonder as I marvel at the man he is becoming, each moment increasingly grateful to him for the woman he is simultaneously helping me become. I am blessed to know my purpose.
I used to worry that my son would feel slighted. I used to worry that he might never know what it means to be a father, having never had one. He sometimes asks what that might look like, what it might feel like, what sort of things we might do with a daddy if we had one in our house.
He has spent time on occasion with men I have dated under the pretenses that we are both interviewing said men for a position within our household. He knows that no matter who comes or goes my presence in his life is permanent. He knows we are a family, even if it’s always just the two of us. To my delight, he is wise beyond his years and all of my expectations.
On that note… A few days ago a friend of my mothers’ came by for a coffee visit. They assumed my son was out of earshot as he played happily in the living room down the hall. She spoke openly about a painful experience at a birthday party when she was a child, having had no father while watching a friend’s father present his daughter with a pretty box, complete with a bow on top. She spoke of how her curiosity had heightened when he asked her to shake it and guess what was inside; to her bewilderment it had been a gold ring. She told my mother how at that moment she retreated to the bathroom in tears, just a little girl fearing she would never come to know a father who loved her like that.
Then sitting there at the table with my mother she cried openly about having lived a life that only further confirmed her fears from that night as a child, how hard it still was as a woman in her sixties to have never gotten, “a ring in a box with a bow on it. “
While the statement was really a metaphor, my sweet baby boy took it upon himself to make a ring, find a box and add a bow. Determined to demonstrate the kind of character I am convinced only honorable men possess and with complete candor he put his little arms around her. At the close of a long hug he handed her the box.
He said, “…please don’t cry, I know how you feel. I don’t have a father like the one in your birthday party story either, but I have a Mommy.” And finally in a simple moment after sixty years of heartache, because of a small boy with a big heart she said she was able to come to peace with her situation and find grace.
His maturity is unparalleled. I don’t worry about him finding his way in the world. I have faith in him and in the world I know he will create because everywhere he goes he spreads joy. I have the internal faith that the omnipotent will direct the course of our lives.
Last weekend we attended a birthday party, another child asked my son where his dad was, he simply replied, “I don’t have a dad, I have a mommy.” He went about his business. They had a great time. I am most inspired by the job I will always have.
“Whatever you are, be a good one.” -Abraham Lincoln