May 7, 2018 (or somewhere thereabouts)
The pieces resemble leaves of a windy fall afternoon. The pile looks right, the mouth of the bag waiting, but when scooped they scatter, pushed to the neighbor’s lawn, the gutter, the air.
I keep wanting to target 2002 even though that’s not right. Maybe it’s because that’s when we met; maybe it’s because Dad died that year. His time ended on the cold floor of a hospital room, a bruise on the brain his ultimate undoing after the conclusion of a weeks-long bender brought him to the one place he wasn’t supposed to go: home.
Now I fear, among many other things, that I have seen myself take my first step into becoming George Webber.
Regardless…we didn’t get together until the following spring, and everything, like the arrival of a new season, seemed so exciting. Our families bubbled, observed. Our introductions to friends teemed with glee.
We lived a party life that spring and summer of 2003, some combination of envy, happiness, and annoyance in the eyes and minds of our co-workers. We logged significant poolside time, shared beds, and closed down bars. By fall we were never apart, having tucked-in conversations about our lives ahead. And the following February I moved out of my buddy’s house and into my own place, a joint she helped me find, a pad her father came with us to inspect. I’d received an acceptance letter from my graduate school of choice; hers had come in the form of rejection.
Not long after, though, my same institution accepted her into a program similar to the one to which she’d applied the previous year and we were off to make our ways in the world. As my first semester approached we’d dabbled in conversations regarding engagement. I’d mentioned my three-to-five year plan, a safety net that my child-of-divorce mind had erected to ensure that the person I would marry would be the person with whom I’d finish my planetary days.
And even though we could not agree -- at least not in the beginning -- about kids, her anxiety grew, her impatience sprouted.
We went ring shopping one spring day, a few months before my first semester, and the jewelry-store visit ended with a teary disagreement on a busy Plaza sidewalk. I indicated that that had been the first and the last time we would do that. In October, she reintroduced the topic, assuring me that things were different, that she wouldn’t be dazzled by a stone with a price tag akin to a down payment on a house, and off to the boutique we went.
We found a piece there and when the pressure came to make the right-now purchase the same result occurred: sadness and disagreement in the parking lot. I called her mother for support, still in my car, and found myself asked to produce a detailed plan. She met it with mild rejection, wished that I would consider her own: a purchase now, a proposal in two months, an offer to loan me the money.
So after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve I proposed and the planning launched.
I worked full time throughout graduate school and borrowed the maximum available in student loans, adding to the already-sculpted, invisible Everest of debt. We studied from our own residences, met for weeks for ballroom-dancing lessons, and seldom had time for one another, save for ceremony-preparation meetings and activities.
On May 12, 2007, a week to the day after I received my Master’s degree we were married, and off to beautiful Costa Rica for our honeymoon we went. Upon our return I moved in to her home, a rental her folks owned. I remember the U-Haul runs and the trips up and down those basement stairs, and what a rough first few months we had. I’d started a blog project with a couple of college buddies. We plugged at it by day while I continued my part-time work by way of night. By fall I landed a new executive-chef position that only lasted six months but it did significant damage to my soul and to the beginning of our married life. I took a temporary chef position that reached October of 2008. The better part of six weeks went by before I got a new gig, creating a second short stretch of unemployment during our first 18 months of marriage.
This latest job search had had the intention of getting me out of the restaurant industry behind it and saw success as I got hired as a case manager, a position I held for three years. It was a good job in that it delivered a lot of personal time off, so much so that I took two weeks when our daughter was born and only worked three days a week for the six weeks that ensued. We were emotionally present for one another for much of that pregnancy and the first 10 months of Adeline’s life. At least that’s how I remember it.
Prior to getting pregnant, Anna had completed her graduate program and started her career as a counselor. She logged a couple of years working with sex-offense victims and worked part time at a nearby mental-health hospital, too. We were busy but dedicated to our lives and to each other, I think. Or maybe we were just dedicated to ourselves as individuals, shrouded by a notion of togetherness.
Regardless, we were broke, so I left my social-work job and got back into the restaurant business. This chef gig aged me considerably and in just under a year, it looked like the place was not going to make it. We had outgrown our home and were looking to have a second baby, so I jumped ship for a chef position nearer the house. It, too, was terrible, and about halfway through the pregnancy I reached out to a handful of vendors, landing the job I have now. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Anna attended a happy-hour function that led to a great gig as a therapist. She blossomed right out of the gate and never looked back.
Our son was born in 2013 and I was able to spend the week at home even though my new employment had just begun. His first year on the planet was a rough one for us. I possessed the ability to soothe him, but he challenged me to my core. Although our memories clash on this, I remember our daughter being easy. Feed her, change her, hold and rock her, put her down. Our son was not this way, and -- to an extent -- continues true to his original form.
Our uprbringings dictated what our household roles would become: me looking after the house, her tending to all of the official business. It’s possible we slid into those assignments without even considering them and we did a decent job of shouldering those burdens for a few years, but Anna grew weary with having to carry the stress of our financial situation while my patience for her lack of attention to detail around our home diminished.
We clashed over messes and bickered over our lack of a unified financial strategy. I think we tried to better ourselves in one another’s departments. I know she at least tried. Perhaps I was too stubborn to grant her the grace that her contributions were tough as well. While these grudges grew we never came to common ground regarding how to parent, which, to be honest, I didn’t know was a thing. Anna read a couple of books, mentioned several strategies, sent me a couple of e-mail messages, and I never really responded in a satisfactory manner. I think I figured that this was an on-the-fly thing that you learn, this whole parenting concept.
Something similar happened regarding relationship building as well, although to be honest I don’t recall the details. The outline was the same, I imagine: she would mention something, send me something, suggest something, and get no response. By this time I had gotten lost in the grind. I won a few awards early in my current position and have gone full steam ever since, wanting (without even knowing it, really) recognition that translated to job security which translated to a higher income ceiling which translated to putting me on board with Anna’s plan to attempt to eliminate our debt, generate savings, set aside something for our kids.
I call it Anna’s plan because she prioritized those things, put energy in to getting them in motion, and asked that I be on board. To say that I was never on board would be inaccurate, but so would saying I was a mindful participant. I’d become numb to everything, focused only on getting through the next phase of the day, all day, every day, for months and months on end. As she has accurately portrayed, my priorities became 1) work, 2), the kids, and, somewhere down the line) her.
At some point in 2017 (I think), she checked out. It’s entirely possible that it was earlier than that, but my guess is that that was the year that really settled things for her. I know she came to me often wanting to talk about things. On top of starting her own practice, she developed quite the busy social calendar. All I saw was an opportunity for some alone time, to smoke a cigarette in peace, to turn off the world for a moment.
By January of 2018, she was gone.
By the time it had become clear to me, I put my game face on and pretended for the kids. My body and mind twisted and turned in every possible direction for two weeks until I could literally no longer stomach it.
It was a very bizarre feeling to consider that -- at that point -- I had spent one-third of my life with this person, that we had been partners (in one form or another) for 15 years, and then, in a moment, we were not. It was very difficult to see any kind of picture of the future. I knew our kids were in it and the house might have been as well. I think that perhaps nothing else mattered. The only thing I could do was to continue to love them, to continue to become a better dad with every possible opportunity, and to continue to remain in the state of awake into which I had found myself thrust. It was immeasurably sad that my numbness to life around me had left me in this place.
August 18, 2018
Having tried for a couple of weeks to continue to coexist with my wife under the same roof, and having no success in mending, we logged the better part of six weeks with her staying with her folks (two blocks to the north). Over Memorial Day she traveled with friends to the northeast where she checked out further from “this life,” as we had come to refer to it. By the time June ended I had essentially been a single parent for six weeks and on July 1, she took ownership of an apartment, slashing my custody by 50 percent with the quickness of a lightning flicker.
I had spent two months living in nauseous vulnerability regarding her next move and in a flash those feelings that had traversed weeks were zapped from existence. My world crumbled around me as I watched my children -- ecstatic with glee -- vanish into the evening of the first night they would spend at their Mama’s place. I’ll never forget the feeling of walking through my front door that evening, the size of my house feeling twice as big as it had in six years of living in it.
As someone who has struggled with the occasional bout of depression and walked a dangerous substance-abuse line, I felt crushed by the air of emptiness within my home and nearly drowned in its silence.
And thus the 50/50 split had begun, trailing off into eternity.
So many other details had transpired since late spring. Tears, disagreements, confusion, and much more.
A lot of it illuminated in my mind in fits and starts.
What hadn’t was how we’d gotten here.
I mean, every married person I had ever known had talked about how marriage is hard. Sometimes you hear about cases where one partner checks out. Most of the time you don’t hear much more beyond the it’s-hard claim. Marriage is a private institution and to varying degrees it remains that way. Once in a while you hear about folks working on things, and on occasion you hear about couples that have just accepted the fact that their co-existence equals perpetual misery. Maybe they’re staying for the kids; perhaps they’re sticking it out because they feel that it’s the right thing to do. I knew there wasn’t a formula or a right answer; I just wished I hadn’t landed in the sometimes.
That this happened to me blinded and suffocated. Like all woes it slowly got better with time, and like all narratives you have to step outside of yourself and consider perspective. Telling myself the story that this happened to me could’ve been viewed as though I’d been an innocent bystander, which of course I had not been. Two to tango, as they say. We all have our faults and our shortcomings; I’m no exception. All I was left standing with, though, were two beliefs:1) I could’ve done better; 2) I didn’t quit.
I’m no hero. I wouldn’t call myself an amazing parent or a model spouse. I also wouldn’t consider myself too different from most of our peers, and the fact that my partner for life grew to a place where she simply didn’t respect me and fell out of love with me (assuming those two things were ever concrete) is either the bitterest pill I’ve ever swallowed or the most jarring wake-up call -- I committed to spend the rest of my life with a person ill-equipped to honor her half of the pledge -- I have ever received.
February 16, 2019
In late 2017 we were seeing a couples’ therapist and when everything turned upside down in the spring of 2018 I sought his services on an individual level for the bulk of summer. Sometime in late August a trifecta occurred: 1) Shame and embarrassment surrounding the details of our separation became too overwhelming to continue to report to him; 2) I booked a session at a time when I was supposed to travel; and 3) the money in our H.S.A. account had run dry. So I quit going. It was a rather abrupt cessation of services that transpired with a cancellation and was followed by zero communication since. It just happened that way. At one point I’d considered him a good dude and good at his job. Per his choice, I won’t see him again, but he gave me a lot of support and resources, and he gave me some advice and encouragement, as well.
The most profound bit he shared with me was rooted in the burying, if you will, of my relationship with Anna. In one Thursday-afternoon session I shared with him that I’d downloaded a few dating apps and had come to the conclusion the previous evening that I would delete them, as my keen awareness of spending four days swiping, typing, and neglecting had materialized like an unexpected firework in the night sky, jolting me out of the cloud of infatuation with this newfound well of possibility. What he expressed that late-summer afternoon has burned bright like a torch, a neon for the brief darkness left by the firework.
“Your marriage,” he said, “is a living, breathing thing. I mean, it will soon be a corpse, but for now it’s alive.
“And your relationship,” he said, “is like an old-fashioned switchboard. You know the kind. You pick up the receiver and ask the operator to connect you to” another home. “She plugs you in and that’s how the lines of communication get connected.”
He went on to explain that the switchboard of a relationship has connections for every shared feeling and activity within it.
“The times you traveled, and picked out furniture, and became parents, and talked about money,” he said. “All of those things are still plugged in. You have to unplug them, understand what your part was in each of them, and offer Anna a blessing for her future life in each and every one. If you don’t do that, and you try to go over here with this new relationship, you -- being still connected to all of those switchboard ports -- will be bringing nothing to the new relationship but the exact same you that was in a relationship with Anna. It will be nothing but user-y. You’ll only be using that person for whatever it is they appear to provide you with: romance, connection, sex, whatever the thing is.”
So that’s where I am today. Sitting. Before my switchboard. Believing I’m ready to disconnect. Prepared to offer blessings. I’m a little bit disappointed that I don’t have a creative enough mind to arrange all of these little things in categories of theme or motif, but my brain isn’t wired that way, and I’m okay with that. Chronology, then, will be the vessel of service, and I would love to say that it will be perfect, accurate, and fair. I can only aim for those things with good intentions, though.
Two Thousand Three
Whatever there might’ve been in 2002, I’m skipping it. We met then, I think, but it was a pan flash; things started the following spring.
Connection and Courtship
Couple things here, the first of which is connection. The story Anna first told and the story I came to adopt was that she, at our shared place of employment, had decided that she not only liked me, but would marry me. I don’t imagine the two happened at the same time, but they -- isolated or otherwise -- came to be known as the origin of our story. She saw something she liked and determined that she would have it, which fit in to her recently declared conclusion that she is and perhaps always has been an agenda pusher.
I’ve never been the teeming-with-confidence type. I’ve seldom asked girls out, let alone pursued them. Things have -- if you will -- just always happened. I’ve had my handful of girlfriends and relationships and I’ve either been (roughly) the same person in all of them or one variation or another. My role in connectivity has always been associated with some form of shock or surprise that a girl is interested enough in me to be intimate, and by intimate I mean any (and sometimes all) forms: engaging, sharing, physical, etc. It’s not that I don’t recognize that I have--
Anna called just now. Upset. We talked for an hour. There was mention of her maybe not being ready to come back, to work on things when all of this blew up. And I get that. She has become obsessed with narrative, a vehicle (perhaps) to drive blame. (Note: So many difficult, challenging, frustrating phone calls and text messages have transpired across the last 15 months, none more or less important than another. This one simply got included because I was working on this piece when it occurred.)
July 7, 2019
It’s 7:26. A Sunday morning. I sit in my camp chair, gear packed and bundled, awaiting for the rest of our crew to wake. Mostly I’m waiting for the Davises to stir. I’ve ridden with them to this float trip and I’m ready to get back on the road. It’s pretty here. Floating was okay. The sun kicked my ass and I stupidly ate half of an edible. Doing something different proved nice and I opted for this this weekend instead of making it four straight years of Dead & Co. in Boulder, but I wish I was home now. I miss my kids and have missed them since we arrived Friday evening. This was an adults trip regardless, but they’re with their mom in Arkansas, a little weekend getaway of their own.
Things are weird now. The house is in good shape for the most part and it’s still too much house for me full-time, but great for them when I have them. I still don’t want to move, but lately thoughts of selling have danced in and out of my mind. If only something smaller was nearby. It wouldn’t make moving any easier, but at least the logic piece would ease some of the mental struggle.
Loneliness rushes in still. Different sizes of waves. Typically it catches me by surprise. I know now that I’m not owed any companionship and that helps a little. I’d like some, of course. Who wouldn’t.
I think, though, that I’m at a life crossroads where the message that keeps hitting me is like a sun beam. The urge is to get out of its way, seek shade, but maybe I’m not supposed to this time. Maybe I’m supposed to channel my inner Sheryl Crow and soak it up. Maybe I’m supposed to focus on myself now, instead of a thing or a person. It’s so strange to think that my life took the 15-year path that it did only to leave me in the middle of the road, equipped with nothing more than my senses to find my way to the next stop. I might be hoping that I don’t return home and follow the same patterns. It’d be nice to break out, to trailblaze the next chapter.
I think about my kids a lot, especially now in the early-morning quiet. My boy is a lover. Or at least I think he has that tendency when he’s not busy trying to build up the world so he can knock it down. It’s important now -- or at least I think it is -- in these times, to remind him that he is loved, that he is perfect the way he is. That flaws and feelings are okay. And my girl. She’s something. Vulnerable often, I think. Full of emotion and opinion. She has a lot of her father in her, so much so that she could find herself alone and lost on a path, too. I wrestle with whether or not to be her perpetual guide or to let her figure it out. It’s a strange sensation to think of the world as two compartments: what to do with myself and how to best care for them. And there really isn’t anything else. Not now anyway.
July 13, 2019
Qualities. I have qualities. Anna saw them and connect we did.
Our beginning was fun. We were committed to each other very early in the relationship. It felt right. It felt safe and true. There was a sense of innocence. Those were good feelings. All of them. I’m glad we shared them and as much as it sometimes stings to admit, I wish her the same level of good and fun in her new endeavor. She deserves that. Everyone does, I think.
It’s funny to think back, to look back, to reflect. Life was very different, yet eerily similar. Life was the real world and the dream world, the former consisting of the grind and the mundane while the latter encompassed that existential what you want to do and be, what you hope to become.
As has almost always been the case, the real world then for me meant little more than work, and I think that work was really a smaller scope associated with fitting in. I mean, you gotta have a job to make ends meet, but you garner all of this information via education and experience in youth and adolescence. Maybe you feel a sprinkle of talent inside of you, even if you don’t know what it is. I’d launched myself into the service industry before I even had that quintessential coming-of-age acquisition known as a car and before I knew it I was hirable in almost any establishment I entered. Enough time goes by, especially in an undergroundish business like that one, and you don’t want to just be another employee. You want to be great. If this was your lot -- and for many years that’s how I felt -- then you want to feel validated, that this can be a career path with merit, esteem, reward. You want to feel right in it and not just another person out there at a mindless job pushing the proverbial button during banking hours.
Anyway, 2003. I’m cheffing. I’m growing with each new position I get, each chef I work with, each line cook, each prep cook, each dishwasher that works under me. I’m learning from front-of-the-house folks. I’m making a name for myself, if you will. I’m not happy, though. I know I want to go to graduate school. I’m questioning the manner in which I spent my undergraduate studies. I’m unsure about being back in Kansas City (only because I left an awesome town). I’m lonely and needing love.
I meet Anna. She’s young, motivated, energetic, fun. We connect. The days and weeks no longer seem meaningless; they’re instead about making the most of our time together and looking forward to being with one another. We have literal fun in the sun, stretch the nights long, make lots of love, and think about the future. I’m thankful I had that experience with her and wish for her that her current relationship is providing that same spark. Or set of sparks.
Every relationship of any noteworthy longevity has that transitional moment wherein the partners can feel that the thing is blossoming into a thing of substance. You get to know family members, spend a few holidays together, take trips, share memories, talk about what’s to come in life. I got to do all of that with her and I look back on it with fondness and like to imagine that she does, too. I hope she can get to that stage again, be in those moments, have a grounded sense of life’s brevity. I hope that it’s everything she wishes it to be even though she may not know what those wishes feel like in this very moment.
Living on my own was both the greatest and the loneliest experience ever. I worked and studied and partied throughout graduate school, perhaps taking my relationship with Anna for granted for the first time. I know she longed for more time together and I didn’t give it. I did a bad job of setting a pre-engagement foundation for what our lives together could look like. I blamed my studies at every opportunity and felt a bit smothered in that this was a repeat of college, only with higher stakes. There’re no mulligans in graduate school. This is big-kids’ stuff. You’ve got to make the most of this. Be serious. Not have a job if you’re lucky enough.
She, too, had the study load. She was probably more responsible, more focused, more ready to launch the career path. Only she was probably willing to basically live together all the while. I was not and I know this saddened her more times than I care to admit. I’m blessed to have had someone to care about me, to want to spend time with me back then. My want for her is that when she again finds herself at that crossroads the feeling is this time reciprocated.
Life went so fast leading up to engagement and during the whole 17 months that encompassed it as well. It felt surreal. Almost fake. Here we were selecting venues and dates and foods and D.J.s and garments and roles, ironing schedules, driving places, talking on the phone with people. When the dust settled, our wedding was beautiful, our reception a shooting star, our honeymoon clad with a nice storybook feel to it. On the cover, anyway. We argued for a good bit of it. We spent a ton of time together, we spent some apart with a vibe, and I know a good bit of that is on me.
As I mentioned our first year together was rough. Making time for one another, identifying household responsibilities, embracing the realness. We argued and struggled, regardless of the fact that lots of folks told us the first year was hard. Many told us it was the hardest. I’m glad I experienced that with her. That was very real and I am sending out vibes that her next first year is full of happiness, tranquility, and satisfaction. No one deserves to do that twice.
Now before I get into the stuff that goes faster than a big-leaguer’s split-finger, I should pause to try and identify some of the things I overlooked. Like road trips and plane rides. Concerts, fancy dinners, home upgrades, neighbors, and work functions. Birthdays, nights out, the comings and the goings of friends, the planning of a future. Given the way in which everything ended between us it’s tough to not look at the negative, the things I could’ve done better in our marriage. I know I did some good. I know I did a little bit of great. And I know that there were some expectations I was probably never going to meet. This isn’t about those things, though, and although it’s tough to stay focused on her future, that’s what I’m trying to do here.
Anna loves to travel, be it by plane, train, automobile, or boat. It’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, which is to say it’s always been a part of her life. For the part of it that included me, I am thankful for the places we saw and the experiences we shared. I know she’ll continue to make it a part of her life until she’s too old to do it any longer, so I hope that the planning is smooth, the airport transactions non-stressful, the experiences breathtaking.
The young woman I’d eventually call my wife was already into music when we met. She had a few favorites and definitely loved the live-music experience, especially outdoors. As things went, she kind of adopted a lot of my hobbies, tastes, and loves, and I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone in the parking lot of a Phish show say to Anna, “Have a great show.” We saw a healthy dose of live music together. I’m pretty sure she dug portions of most of it, but my future wish for her in that realm is that when she sees a show she feels as electric as she did standing 30 feet from John Mayer at Folsom Field while he plays lead guitar on Grateful Dead tunes. I know that feeling. It’s something we should all experience more than once.
When it comes to food, Anna never wavered from her natural tendency: being particular. She was a vegetarian when we met, and has always been a proponent of clean eating. We shared some fun cooking experiences, some great meals, and created a ton of memories around food. In her new life, I wish her the most exotic of meals when the occasions warrant it as well as the opportunity and the necessary mindfulness to eat healthily and simply seven days a week. I know she wants that for her self and for our kids. Would that she be granted that.
We made two great homes together and although she constructed nearly all of the energetic framework in both, in her new home I wish her safety, pleasing decoration, functioning appliances, furniture that makes her tingle, and natural light that affects her mood. We also shared two fantastic neighborhoods. Life on the blocks of our homes were quiet, fun, and positive, a thing I hope continues for her: May she get to know the folks on her block wherever she resides and may there be frequent, peaceful gatherings among them. On the work front, her productive, lucrative practice has been a source of pride, energy, and possibility. My desire for her there is that it continue to be the same for as long as she is a part of it, and may all of the ensuing chapters bring growth and healing for all involved. Getting this thing off of the ground was a major leap full of faith, necessary fortitude, and vision. She should, for the rest of her working days, feel proud of her accomplishments there, and know that opportunity will continue to present itself to her as it has for these past 15 years.
I’ve never been a big birthday guy, so I’ll keep it simple: May they be memorable.
All of my friends accepted Anna as family and while some of her long-time friends drifted into the privacy and particulars of their new lives, my closest became hers. I know she enjoyed almost all of those relationships, but life gets busy and so tapping into and developing a social network became a thing for Anna at a point in our marriage. My desire to have alone time and unwind, coupled with her ever-hungry need for want and inclusion pushed her in the direction of generating relationships and fostering them. Hopefully her present and future needs in that department get met in harmony with the continued acquisition and maintenance of supports in her friends life.
When I think about life approaches, I’ve, to a fault, always been a live-in-the-moment personality. This, I know, was a source of frustration in our relationship, but I’d like to think that for a time our contrasts brought balance. That said, she likes what she likes, and what she likes is a plan. A definitive one. Or several. Maybe even lots. While this also frustrated me often, I wish that clarity, definitiveness, and healthy outlines land in her figurative lap as often as she might like.
When I look back at our time, I sometimes think about the little things. In our first home, Anna painted cabinets and Adirondack chairs. She dealt with the mail and paid the bills. She crafted patio-furniture cushions and fashioned a giant t-shirt rug. She read up on child-rearing, collected wine glasses, adored little spoons. She cried with me when my first dog died and welcomed our new pup into that home nine months prior. For all of these reasons, along with many, many more, I am thankful to have shared experiences with her. Without her, I’d have very little archived photography, my wardrobe would be scarce and more rugged than it is, my credit score would likely still be garbage, and my global life experiences much less full. In her days to come may she still have creative tendencies, love for animals, fashion sense, documentation savvy, and a flavor for making sure her collective financial statuses are on an all-star level.
As we prepared to become first-time parents, Anna was mindful enough to urge me in the room readying. She crafted a pregnancy mentality, laid heavy birth-plan influence, and gathered all of the post-baby necessities. I’m happy to have owned clever onesies, cloth diapered, and made baby food with her. Our parenthood together afforded me the important task of breast-milk inventory, which I loved. We interviewed doulas and made a fantastic hire. We met midwives and together, we labored in the tub in our Research Hospital suite.
We brought (Note: Insert typical parental bias here.) the most amazing baby girl into the world and Adeline Grace has been an unrelenting source of joy for most of nine years. I can still remember the moment I saw her crowning and the overwhelming feeling of thinking our child was going to come out with a smashed plum atop her shoulders. Instead, one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed occurred: My favorite girl on the entire planet took her first outside-the-womb breath, and, as they say, my life was forever changed.
I’ve never been an overly masculine dude. I mean…don’t get me wrong: I’ll kick your ass if you cross me.
What I mean is that I’m sensitive. To the Nth degree. I’ve shed more tears in my life than all of the tiny, goofy, black, plastic beads you could gather on an artificial-turf soccer field. I’ve cried at coffee commercials, dozens of movies, at least once for every episode of one particular television show, and through songs upon the 37th listening. I’m emotional. I’m okay with it, and ever-ready to defend the notion that that makes me feminine, which is to say that I’m very in touch with both of my elements. I don’t view femininity as beneath masculinity yet I’m just dude enough to go broseph on you if you question the lack of manliness in my veins.
The point is that becoming a girl dad was a good thing for me. It shaped me when I had little shape and targeted a tenderness inside that still had one last blooming stage to make it complete.
It’s the faintest of movies from the Kindergarten era, the snippet of a blackout-drunk night that sneaks in on the rando’, the forgotten advice or joke from long ago that you swore you’d remember. That’s what trying to recall pre-parent life is like. I know it’s there. I remember living it. Sort of.
I understand moms and dads who have one kid. A little. Okay, very little. I understand even less those that opt for no kids. Willfully. Now, I know that not everyone has the opportunity to procreate with someone, so the last thing I want here is to sound ungrateful. I’m not. I’m very, very lucky, and any parent that ever forgets that for one second is either wired weird or needs to check his or her self. It is, without question, life’s biggest blessing. I haven’t before but I will now make it a point to begin praying for the souls that have wanted and could never have.
I don’t intend to start or participate in a debate that revolves around choosing non-parenthood over having babies, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s really tough to imagine something in the human existence that could generate so much of everything that having a child generates. Being president? Winning a Pulitzer? Creating the cure for cancer? I don’t think so, but maybe that’s just me.
Anyway. Girl dad.
Adeline has taught me so much and she’s not even a third grader yet.
I’ve advanced from being a loving person, expert cuddler, fantastic hugger. Advanced. At things I was already really good at. I’ve fostered the growth of a person that appreciates humor, music, and caring. I’ve taught someone kindness, compassion, and confidence. I’ve shunned that person on particular levels and every time feels that much more horrible than the previous. I’ve made promises and soothed. Encouraged and educated. Disappointed and upset. I’ve made this person laugh, cry, scream, and clutch me out of need. I have watched her grow into a human being that could, in essence, survive without me. I not only beam at her every new day, I die a little bit with every lost moment of yesterday.
And I got to share in the making of that person with Anna. I don’t think she will birth another child beyond the two that we had together. I imagine that she will be a role in the lives of other children that are not ours and I wish her serenity in those endeavors; I thank her for providing life for the two we created together.
So, we’re on the grid now. We’re parents. We have a baby to care for. We’re learning, like every new set of parents does, how to nurse and swaddle, shush and soothe. It’s incredible. We’re good at it. At least that’s my memory. We have lots of help. So much love. It’s really overwhelming in the best of ways. Life was good then. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything, and I must give thanks for having had the ability to share that with the mother of my first-born. May she swim through similar seas of enchantment in her new life.
Infancy becomes toddlerhood becomes ready for another baby, though, and now things are rigid. We have naptime schedules and seriousness surrounding stuff. We’re house-hunting, socializing with parents of similar situations. We’re doing shit because we’re moms and dads. People come and people go. They look and they love, they pitch in and they ghost. It’s whatever.
Home purchase, though. Big-time trip.
Arrival. Proclamation. Fear.
Work is at its highest level of intensity for both of us, as is life.
We seldom see one another; our schedules are precise, our child-care shifts unwavering.
And then, after Peggi Kilroy’s funeral, we conceive our second.
Our doula returns. We have a new midwife. We’re having a homebirth.
I can’t even speak to the pregnancy element because it happened overnight. I mean, there were classes and scares, Hennas and intactivists, caster-oil cocktails and photographers. But it all happened in fast-forward. When that baby comes, though, life gets real. We have a toddler and a newborn and that newborn is different. For starters, he’s a boy, but more on that in a moment. He’s also relatively inconsolable, perpetually hungry, and not half the sleeper his sister was. What he is though, is beautiful, unique, himself. He is, in essence, twice the life lesson his sister was. He’s woke, if you will. He’s right-now, how-much-longer, and say-it-again. He’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met.
Elihu Joseph is intelligent in a way that unlearns all of the ways I just learned smart. He’s quick. He’s clumsy. He’s a tsunami and a sweetheart.
I had eventually resigned myself to the reality that I’d never be a boy dad, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t, at one point, expect to be just that.
I had the manual printed, neatly folded in my pocket. Hell, I wrote and edited the damn thing. And I couldn’t have been wronger.
My son has taught me so much that attempting to list it hurts my brain. When I’d been certain that my daughter had filled all of my child-learning synapses, my son illuminated a whole other element of the forest I hadn’t even known existed. And he’s only just begun to show me.
He is the other side of the sensitivity pillow, the wit that doesn’t make the dustpan, the flock you never knew needed tending. My son is creative, crashriffic, and calculated. You can literally always hear him coming yet he sneaks up on you no fewer than three times a day. Our boy will express something before sunrise that will carry beyond dusk. He is the apple of my eye and a boy still searching hard for the path to guaranteed acceptance in his father’s heart. He works hard every day to have his every last need met and the smallest unfulfilled destroys him as much as the largest.
The trials between his parents during his earliest years trail him like dust on Pigpen. They will eventually fade and he will eventually, I hope, feel entirely loved for precisely who he is.
And I made him with Anna. He is a treasure and a joy and in so many ways, the fuel to my day’s engine.
As hard as it is to imagine a decided life without children, it’s even harder to picture my life without my son. He is the greatest gift I never knew I deserved, the most blessed being I have ever smooched.
That his entry into the world might’ve tabbed the end of my relationship with his mother has zero percent to do with him. Zero. It’s all coincidence. And anyway…she brought him into the world. He is amazing. He is the greatest source of heartswell and headache I never knew possible. May my life’s mission of ensuring him that he is very loved for precisely who he is never waver. I don’t imagine Anna will have a future joy as great as knowing either of our children, but perhaps other children will be on her daily radar and she will feel a sense of that very thing when interacting with him. Or her. Or them. Regardless, I couldn’t sit atop a Grand Lake house boat and count as many stars as reasons I have for being grateful for having parented two kids with the person with whom I parented. They’re my lifeblood, my reason for knowing gratitude.
This brings us to beyond kids…and most of this isn’t fantastic. Or at least that’s the hindsight view.
July, 21, 2019
If you’ve ever been giving or receiving -- solicited or otherwise -- marriage or relationship advice, you’ve probably heard the notion of happy wife/happy life, which, really, is a silly thing.
Is supposes that the man must essentially erase himself from the family picture and do everything in his power to make sure that is wife is perpetually happy, which literally isn’t possible. No one -- man or woman -- is always happy, and if your life’s existence is to please your spouse 100 per cent of the time, that which pleases your spouse will eventually -- if not often -- shift and change. And eventually, you will not be able to “make” your wife happy. That doesn’t mean don’t try, though.
I think that at the beginning of our relationship Anna was happy to be with me. Eventually that wasn’t enough. And eventually I think I shifted in to an avoid-things-that-displease-her mentality, which is a pretty big drop off from what marriage is supposed to look like: two people that are happy as individuals, but happier together because of service and love, admiration and respect.
By the time we were parents of two, quasi-career focused, and finding our way within the neighborhood/school community, a lot of things had lost their places within our relationship. Some had probably never found their places to begin with. I’m grateful that we knew one another, though, and knew one another well. There’s comfort in that. Hopefully Anna’s present/future-relationship dynamics involve those elements: service and love, admiration and respect. They carry a lot of stock and can foster the ability to make for two happy partners, not just the one that society labeled as crucial.
Good, great, or otherwise, a lot of life happened in our time together. We attended weddings, became godparents, visited Mexico, Ireland, the Grand Canyon, New York, Chicago, Costa Rica for a second time, and a lot of Colorado. We bought cars, paid off debts, rode horses, camped, gardened and composted, said goodbye to loved ones.
I would have to sit in this chair for another 15 years to list it all. I’m thankful for it. Every last bit. The good, the bad, and even the ugly. But now the time has come to disconnect from the switch board, to recognize me in all of our ours, and to wish her blessings in her future journeys.
I know that she will be a part of my life for some time to come, which is a complex thought and a complex feeling. Pain made me want her to go away forever for a while, and sometimes that feeling flits back in to my world. Our kids need her, though. And they love her. And she loves them. These are all good and -- in some senses -- necessary things.
So to the person I tried so hard to be sure would be the one I would spend forever with, I must say goodbye, good night, and God speed. May your life be fruitful, full of blessing and opportunity, ripe with the growth for which you hungered.