Their things are packed in a forest of plastic grocery bags and hand-me-down purses strewn at the top of the stairs. Organization is a quality we regularly work on. I’ve always maintained a penchant for being on time whether I am the guest or the host and I’m slowly teaching my children the same skill.
Like most weekends, we just came into the pits after a NASCAR worthy performance of drop offs and pick ups at games, practices, and what feels like a never-ending stream of birthday parties. Even at their young ages I already get the sense their friends and extracurricular pursuits are fast taking priority over spending time with their old man. In the gaps between going here and there we have enjoyed maybe two meals together at a table, delighted in a rerun of some forgettable Disney movie, and done our best to wash down baseboards, dust furniture, and change bed sheets. Sunday’s ritual is always the same; church, lunch, followed by hours of cleaning that would make any royal maid gleam with pride.
Thanks to one of several government holidays, which always seems to fall on Monday, my court sanctioned time is extended so we can celebrate dead presidents or labor. But what it really means for me is an extra day together and one less drop off to make. As the agreed upon time draws near the gathering of the games, toys, coats, and electronics nears a crescendo.
She’ll be here in 10 minutes!
We’ve acted out this same scene countless times in the last seven years – the exchanging of roles and responsibilities between divorced parents. Within minutes I will transition from being the safeguarding father full of parental authority which includes cooking, tucking in, checking homework, and reading stories to that of single man in an empty silent home preparing meals for one.
I would like to say that all of those trips around the sun have made this dance easier, more palatable, less sensitive – but I’d be a lesser man if I did. The spiritual sting is as potent today as it has ever been and the blister on my soul all the more painful.
Like two seasoned drug traffickers the switch is made without fanfare or drawing unnecessary attention. Goodbyes, hugs, and kisses supplied, they pull off to their other home as I close the garage door on my own. Making my way back up the stairs I can feel that familiar conflict rising again. Surely the absence of my 184th request of “daddy, why…” is a joyous respite as well as the chance to walk the living room floor without a constant hum of video games, iPods, or Kick Buttowski in the background – there’s never been more serenity.
But it’s this very same tranquility, which causes my emotions to begin spiraling. Suddenly something doesn’t feel right, everything is out of place, disjointed. All of the relaxation and silent sweetness I longed for only hours before has suddenly turned bitter and tart. Why did they have to go so soon, we were having so much fun?
For a time I wonder what to do with myself now that the ruckus has been hushed. Should I make a drink? Read a book? Write? I feel as if a heavy stone has been placed on my back the weight of which constantly pulling me down. I don’t want to do any of those; I want to answer another question, tell him to turn his cartoon down, trip over somebody’s shoes. I want to be daddy! Part of me desires to let the tears I’m holding back so diligently begin flowing, as if to wash away my sorrow, then my machismo supersedes allowing just enough of a window for reality to come roaring back reminding that this is my version of fatherhood.
The part-time dad.
It’s a warm blanket; this thought that as a co-parent I’m still a full time father. Certainly I carry the title and there isn’t a moment which goes by where I don’t dream of my kids, worry about them, and care for them. But the facts are what they are and I only do the heavy lifting of parenthood half the time. I don’t have to worry about fixing school lunches every morning, checking homework every afternoon, or getting everyone ready for bed every night. At first glance this sounds like the most perfect of situations, allowing time to recharge and refocus. And clearly being a co-parent has its rewards, but when one stops to consider that as I drop them off at school the next time I might lay eyes on them isn’t in a few hours but in a few days this notion of the enviable ‘me time’ turns toxic. It’s unnatural for a father not to see his young children every day, no less abnormal than if you removed his right arm. Sometimes that might even be easier.
The winds of fate don’t always take us to paradise but they will not leave us stranded. My children will never experience a traditional childhood. They will never have an annual holiday tradition or wake me every Father’s Day morning with breakfast in bed. They will never sit anxiously at the top of the stairs waiting as daddy comes pulling up the driveway. But then again they will never find me too busy to play or preoccupied with my own goals and ambitions to worry about theirs. Nor will they ever have a father that ever once wasn’t excited to be with them or not sad to see them leave. No, instead they will have memories of a father who knew better than to ever take then for granted and keenly understood the preciousness of time. They will lovingly recall a dad who kissed their scrapes, eased their worries, and soothed their souls – even if he was just part time.