No breakfast in bed, no sleeping in. I had to work on Father’s Day.
Before you start knitting your brow with sympathy, you should know that I teach sailing. It’s not like I sit in a cubicle, wondering why the hell I’m sitting in a cubicle on a beautiful day in June. I’m out on the water, loving life and trying to teach adults upwind from downwind (which can be astoundingly difficult for some).
My son was working from 3-8. He doesn’t drive, and I was going to be out on the water. I had to ask the former wife to drive him to work. She said that would be OK, but I had to leave him at her house overnight, because it’s too much trouble to drive to my house, all of less than 2 miles from her house. My daughter was already staying at her house that night. She doesn’t always tolerate the level of disorganization that I can, and that’s OK (and another subject).
I ignored the request and had my son sleep at my house anyway. I can’t count the number of trips I make every week over to the other residence, to pick them up, to retrieve a needed piece of homework, to get shoes for my 13 year-old daughter, who inexplicably arrived at my house without suitable–or sometimes any–footwear. But the disparity in number of trips made is another raspberry seed in a stuck in a molar. Forget about it, it falls out eventually.
I knew I’d be out of the house hours before my dormouse of a teen-aged son even cracked his eyelids a wee bit open. That didn’t matter. I don’t really need much for Father’s Day. In fact, I only need one thing: a single wish that I have a happy Father’s Day from both of my children.
That’s what I needed. I wanted a little bit more. I wanted to wake up with at least one of my children in the house, whether or not we’d be able to exchange good mornings. I can’t explain, but it meant a lot to me. I live far from my family, in a part of the country where I don’t have deep roots. Waking up alone in a house on Father’s Day? I didn’t want to give myself a chance to brood about that idea. I’m very good at brooding.
Before I left for work, I wrote a note to my son: don’t forget to call my dad, my step-dad (if he hadn’t been seeing his mom later, I would have reminded him to call the former wife’s dad, as I have always done in the past), and to walk Genius Mutt.
This simple act made me feel contented as I left the house. It was the cherry on top of waking up as father, a child of mine asleep in his room. But it got even better: when I picked up Sam after his work, I learned that he had actually done all three things. Off to Smashburger and Ben & Jerry’s.
When I got home, my daughter was waiting for me. She was concerned that she hadn’t seen me yet, in order that she might wish me a happy day. She also wrote a letter to me–unintentionally sounding like it was torn from a page of Ulysses–enumerating the reasons why I was the best dad in the world.
I just haven’t felt like writing. The noise of life is too deafening. The readers, few that they are, have demonstrated more interest in my co-parenting and other personal topics than in politics, which is loud, everywhere, and therefore unavoidable. And I feel I should write about theses things, rather than my own solipsistic mewling.
Things are crazy now. An isolated, paranoid, and vindictive child holds the keys to what he wants to make his kingdom. We watch astounded. Everyone accuses everyone else of lying, and thinks that that makes things equal. I begin to wonder if the US is a failed experiment: If the Constitution can allow this, how can we ever make it right? Anyway, I could go on, but, as I said, you can find worry like this anywhere, and probably better written (The New Yorker has been great).
The sun is actually out, and we haven’t seen it in a while, so I think that I’ll take some sunshine over fretting.
Another problem I’ve been having: I have to decide who I want my audience to be? I guess the big question for every writer who has children is, what will they think when they come across my writing one day, and am I okay with that? I’m in awe of some writers’ abilities to be brave and bold. I’m am neither. I could don’t think that I would have ever–as a child of living parents and children–had the guts to write Philip Roth’s line from Portnoy’s Complaint:
“I fucked my own family’s dinner.”
Good golly, and what great book.
My son had baseball practice yesterday. Tuesdays are days when he’s scheduled to be at his mom’s, so I don’t usually plan to hear from him or his sister on those days. However, late in the afternoon, I get an unexpected phone call: “Dad? Can you come pick me up from baseball practice?” I have two choices: say no, it’s your mother’s problem, pick him up anyway and register a complaint with the former wife; or I can just say “Of course,” which is what I did.
Since I get to be the hero of my own stories every once in while, I will add that if the shoe were on the other foot, I’d hear no end of the recriminations for having neglected my parental duties without so much as a text message. I try not to think about that, to shove these thoughts out of my mind. The former is never going to change, and if the past 5 years are any proof (as if I needed some), the bitterness and the recriminations will not stop until the kids are out of college. Even then, I’ll probably get the occasional text starting Hey Asshole, because yes, the mother of my children has no problem addressing me like that.
But I’m not playing those games. I get the call, I go. I’m glad he’s called me. Thrilled. Another chance to see one of my children when it wasn’t expected.
He gets in the car, and I ask, What’s the best way to celebrate the return of warm weather? I know he knows the answer: ice cream, of course.
Off we go. We make our way through the horrible early evening traffic that this suburb has.(Framingham! All the inconveniences of a city with none of the benefits!) I’m not in a hurry, though. I’m glad just to be passing the time with my son. In two years, he’ll be gone, off to college, off to wherever, and then three more years until the daughter leaves.
We go get the ice cream. I order a small, he orders a medium. We get cones, because even though it’s hot outside, we’re willing to risk the melting for the added pleasure of having the cone. They give me a safety cone, which is not what I wanted, but I don’t care. My small comes, and it looks like two scoops. Two big scoops.
I’ll eat the whole thing anyway. We sit down on the steps outside, and start talking. We’ll mostly talk about baseball, or whatever. I had pretty much given up on baseball after the strike of 1994, but having a son changed all of that. My son’s not the kind of teenager who will talk about himself. He doesn’t like reading (though when he was little I read him chapter books, and he couldn’t wait for the next night’s story), so we can’t talk about books. He might ask for an update on the current turmoil, but that’s pretty rare. But baseball is good enough. We find things to agree and disagree on, and there are still a few–very few–things I know that he doesn’t (like what it is to have your town’s team lose for decades on end).
So here I am, enjoying an unexpected half-hour with my son, eating an unexpected ice cream cone on the first nice, summery day in what seems a long time. He’ll have to go back to his mom’s, but we’re not rushing. We eat the cones and then continue to just sit. I could be in Peru, or Italy, or who knows where else, but I’m in Framingham, and at least for the moment, it’s just fine.
Can you fall asleep like this? Were you ever able to?
March saw record-setting traffic on the Meta-Bug. That means I found a few more cousins to visit. The editorial staff and Genius Mutt thank you.
These were the most popular posts of the month:
Sometimes, the most sobering and the hardest part of the high-conflict divorce is the constant barrage of reminders of what a f@#*ing moron you were.
The signs were there, but you weren’t thinking straight.
A friend tried warning you, but it was a half-hearted attempt, and it was too late.
You’d been burned by love in the past, and in the state you were in you were willing to settle for something a little bit less.
You’d been living in isolation, and it distorted your judgment.
You know that you should just put all of this behind you. You try to, every day. However, when you are chained to the rock of co-parenting with a
psycopath narcissist someone with Borderline Personality Disorder a difficult person, it’s hard, if not impossible, to do so.
So it’s Sunday, and we there’s a big informational meeting about our son’s upcoming trip to Israel. All the travelers and their parents are gathering at a Jewish day school about a half hour away. I will be driving the Kid as it’s my weekend. The former wife asks if I’ll be staying until the end–she needs to return to help a friend who is preparing chocolates for Taste of Boston. I say, sure, but I have a condition. She grumbles and rants, afraid that I’m going to ask for something reasonable, like she actually return something of mine that is a family keepsake that she decided to appropriate in the divorce. No, I ask for her to bring one of the chocolates. (I like chocolates). She says she’ll see if she can. I say, If you can.
I get to the meeting first. The organization running the camp is quite smart, at least in terms of self-preservation, and they bill me and the former wife separately. They also make us separate packages of the informational material. They’d rather go to the trouble of sending out separate bills and info than to have to listen to us call and accuse each other of being the bad parent.
Because I get there first, I grab the heavier packet. The packets are identical, except that the heavier packet has two luggage tags in it. The kids are supposed to use these luggage tags so that everyone in the group can have their bags identified by anyone in the group. I take the heavier packet. Why? Why not? I know that the former will have a strong sense that she is entitled, for chissà quale ragione, to be the keeper of whatever keys need keeping. This belief is also reinforced by its correlate, that I am not capable of handling things. (In fairness, many women subscribe to this myth: men would be dead in their houses with their guts being eaten by the cat within days of last contact were it not for the intervention of the Ever-Feminine.)
True to form, when the former arrives she comes up and asks for the luggage tags. When I answer that I’ll hold on to them, she goes on to demand them. Loudly, vocally, and of course, without regard for the fact that we are in public.
We are reliving our bad marriage all over again, in a microcosm.
It’s not a big deal, the luggage tags. But the assumptions and treatment are galling. So I say, calmly, I think I’ll just hang on to the tags.
The former wife stomps off, loudly, “Well, then you can’t have any chocolate!” Play my way, or you can’t have any candy. Story of my married life.
(Please forgive me for the use of ‘their’ as a neuter third-person singular. I just can’t fight it anymore.)
Referring to parents by their first names. It always shocked me as a teen when I heard peers do it, and though it turned into more disturbance than shock as I grew older, I have to admit that it still sends me some sort of an unsettling signal when I hear it. I have to wonder: Do they call their parents by their first names when they are talking to them, or just about them?
There was a time when my daughter would do it with me. It was away for her to express anger. I didn’t put up with it. I’d walk away. As far as I was concerned, it was a conversation ender. She doesn’t do it anymore. However, she does still get angry with me. Go figure.
“They may already know too much about their mother and father–nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis?”
― Richard Ford,
I am sure that it is not an uncommon situation that I am in: I have two wonderful children, and an absolutely horrible ex-marriage. If I want to deal with my kids, I have to deal with this mess. Easy choice, but man, sometimes…
I’m not saying that the former wife is a horrible person, that she is x, y, or z (the variables standing for any number of derogatory adjectives or nouns that are used by divorced people all over the world to describe the other cohort in the crime of their coupling). I am willing to assert, though, that she is the ne plus ultra of the, hmmmm, how to put this, the epitome of the difficult former spouse; if in the afterlife she is to be judged by her co-parenting skills, well, it’s going to be a tough trip through Purgatory.
Nor am I saying that I’m some perfect or even good former spouse and co-parent. I wish I were made of tougher stuff. I wish that I could always do the right thing, that I could let every insult, every attack, every pointless (except for the point of hurting me) act of revenge for G-d knows what misdeed (the misdeed of wanting a divorce?), I wish I could let them all slip by. I have thinner skin than I would like to have. I don’t know how to make it thicker. (Maybe Sean Sphincter and I should attend a class on obtaining some tougher emotional armor.)
Were there no kids? I’d be gone. I’d fly away. I’d head back to Charleston without looking over my shoulder, and there would be no sequel. But there are the children, and they are the greatest thing in the world that has ever happened to me. I feel a glow in their presence. I love doing things for them. Watching them stirs such strong feelings that even when I worry about them, even when I am mad at them, even when they are purposely difficult, there is not a part of me that doesn’t want to protect them, to love them, to make the world a better place for them. I do not know if I would ever have had this depth of feeling for anything were I never to have had children.
I wish more of my time weren’t occupied by the strife. But here I am, slipping down the backslope of my life, having to force myself not to answer hostile texts, steeling myself not to strike back at things perpetrated out of pure vindictiveness, working to keep my mind on other, more pleasant things, and most difficult of all, trying to construct a view of my life that isn’t so filled with this regret at the painful paradox of being a dad thanks to the biggest mistake in my life; all this, in order that I might just let myself be filled with the wonder and the privilege it that it is to be that dad.