Wednesday, July 01, 2009

trust is what it all comes down to

The NYT published an utterly brilliant, potentially tear-inducing piece by Simon Van Booy on being a single father the other day. In it he recounts the loss of his wife to a sudden, fatal illness and his subsequent path of raising his daughter alone.

He touches on some important moments. He builds friendships with mothers, taking advice and shared experiences from them. He worries about cultural and media role models for his daughter is in the thick of the Princess phase. He struggles to find other men with common experiences to share and have a community. Ultimately, he finds that he just "thinks differently about everything" and manufactures happiness and memories with his daughter when and where he can. And when he gives a thumbnail description of the evening when all aspects of life routine go slightly wrong, I can't help but feel like he's given a thumbnail of my life in the whole piece.

The truth is being a single parent isn't easy, but it also isn't as hard as some people make it out to be. You make your own reality, your own moments, and when it comes to the ups and downs of daily life and routines, we muddle through the same way everyone else does. I recognize (and have written extensively about) the choices and compromises in my life, but then there are moments like the ones Ivey describes making eggs in the kitchen and later shaving that wipe out any sense of loss for the choices made.

The other day, I carved out a day just to spend with the kid. We haven't had many of these moments recently — whole days and activities that were our time — and I missed that connection. It occurred to me that in the midst of my work schedule, her camp schedule, the random detritus of daily life, relationships, social times with friends and neighbors, sleeping and eating, I was forgetting to make space for father-daughter time. By this, I don’t mean going to a movie or eating dinner; I mean taking little trips, leaving unstructured time for exploration and little adventures. When we came to the end of that day and were tired from going out in the woods and then to the pool, I saw smiles from Buttercup I haven’t seen in a while. They might have been there, but I wasn’t paying as much attention. When we sat down to watch baseball, then, and she fell asleep on my lap and I listened to her breathing settle into a deep sleep, I felt more at ease than I have in a while.

I thought about this again after a conversation with B Mére about schedules. We were moving into the summer schedule of traded weeks (always a melancholy time for me), and she wanted to feel free and clear to take the kid out of daycamp when she had the time and inclination. I reacted and defended the social time and camp activities as important for Buttercup. But the truth is I was reacting against B Mére’s ability to make and create time for fun. I wanted that same freedom.

And this is where my experience and Van Booy’s most diverge. He lost his wife to death; I lost mine to divorce. Ivey must struggle daily with the pain and emptiness of that loss and his daughter’s reactions to it; he won’t struggle with the clotted communication and conflicting patterns of parenting with an ex. He won’t have to deal with any lurking resentments and occasional competition that can linger after a divorce. Regardless, this is not about comparisons.

After reading Van Booy’s piece, I was reminded that ultimately this life is about a child’s trust and small, good moments. Read his words.