I have talked a lot about my oldest daughter, my middle daughter, and even my son who has had some behavioral problems. I haven’t talked much about my son Sam. He’s the quiet one, the John Entwistle of our version of the Who. The Clapton to our Cream. The . . . well, you get it.
Hannah was attached to Andrea at the hip. She loved her Mom, but more adored her. Where I would try to give Hannah a hug she’d push away and give me nasty looks. In fact, she’d push me away from her and immediately go over to her mother and sit on her lap and hug her, sometimes even looking at me with a silly, mischievous look on her face. This may sound like it bothered me, but it really didn’t. It was OK, because I honestly felt the same way. I’m not really cuddly or “cute” and I don’t have the soft gentle way my wife did.
But where Hannah was attached to Andrea, Sam was her buddy. They were pals. They would talk. He didn’t sit on her lap, but he sat next to her, always in her vicinity and always knowing where she was. He had a deep and abiding affection for his Mom, not in the way he loved her, that was like any son would for his Mom. This was a friendship that was deep and he just seemed to understand her without having to say it. It’s just like the song says, there ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone. We had some really dark days in those first weeks.
I worried about Sam after she died. The day I told the kids their Mom had passed away they all had different reactions, like you’d expect. Abbi cried and didn’t want people to know how badly it was affecting her, but was allowing herself to do it because it was just so awful. Hannah was heartbreaking, and I won’t repeat her aching statements here again. Noah was crying, terribly, but ended up very philosophical and firmly believed, and still does, that she’s in his heart somewhere and comes to his aid when he needs it. “Moms are important,” Noah says, “because without them there would be no people in the world. So we love them more than anyone else, and they get the biggest part of our hearts.” I had to break down and hug him until he nearly broke when he said that the day she died.
Then there was Sam. I haven’t gone through Sam’s adjustment because in a way it’s almost more heartbreaking than everyone else’s. Sam cried, sure, but not much. We were all very sad, but Sam had a look like he was just . . . broken. Like he’d lost the most important thing in the world and he’d just come to the realization that it was gone forever and there was no getting it back. I told everyone we’d sit together and I’d do whatever I could or answer any questions.
“Can I go upstairs, Dad?” was Sam’s response.
“Sure, kiddo. You need anything?”
I thought maybe he’d want to cry by himself, let it sort of hit him in its own way. He didn’t. He turned on the Wii gaming system, but just sat there with the remote in his hand. He didn’t even play it. He didn’t cry, he didn’t yell or get angry, he just sat there. Staring forward. For hours. I kept checking on him because it really worried me. I wasn’t going to intrude on his world, he was adjusting in his own way, but it was awful. He was pale. He wouldn’t eat. He didn’t cry, in fact he didn’t do anything. He was my smiley, happy kid, loving to be silly and play games and go back and forth on the monkey bars for hours. But for the first few days he was just stoic. He only cried once at the funeral, in the pew, when Ave Maria (Andrea’s favorite hymn) was sung and he heard his aunt break down in the seat behind him. A tear came down his cheek when he put the rose on his Mom’s casket, but then he left, his head bowed down and leaving before I finally lost it at the cemetery.
He slowly came back. I wasn’t going to force him to act like something he wasn’t. He didn’t cry, or scream, but he had to work through it and would occasionally ask me questions here and there. When they spent the summer in Nebraska with my folks, a necessity since I was a sole working parent now, he would come inside from playing, leaving his siblings outside, and have conversations with my Dad . . . sometimes an hour or more. The brightness of his face, the little smile started to come back. He found humor in my Mom and Dad’s old Laurel and Hardy movies. He laughed at Groucho Marx when he said “He may look like an idiot, he may talk like an idiot, but don’t let him fool you . . . he really is an idiot!”
When I came out to visit, then later to pick them up and take them home, he started sitting next to me on the couch. He’d reach over and pull my arm onto his chest and hold it there. He would randomly run into the kitchen and say:
And then he’d run back to what he was doing.
He began a new routine, seeing what he had in the people around him. We had hit a stride in the routine, too. We got our dinner, cleaned up while they watched a little something on the TV, then hit showers, pajamas, and came downstairs for a “midnight snack” around 8:20 or 8:30pm. Then we go upstairs to brush teeth and read a chapter of their book and say our prayers.
One night, after we read and had done some little thing on the weekend, Sam gave me his hug and said “you’re the best Daddy ever.”
I wasn’t sure that I agreed, or should agree, I’m stumbling along, but I’m trying.
“That’s a big thing to say, Sam. There are a lot of other Daddies in the world. I don’t know that I’m the best.”
“You’re the best Daddy I know, so you’re the best.”
I smiled and gave him a big hug and turned out the light.
From that point on, he’s made it a point, every night, to say “Good night, you’re the best Daddy I know.” He sits next to me on the couch. He tells me what’s going on at school and asks questions about what he sees and where he’s going. He has changed his routine. He looks at his sister and says “I love you Abbi . . . ” and so on. (Doesn’t do that to his brother, even at 8 that’s just weird, you know!) But he’s coming back.
There’s still a little scar there where you can see his Mom used to be. He is Sam, the little man in a kid’s body, who is so protective of his family that he watches all of us to make sure we’re OK, that we’re where he needs us to be. I wish I could make that scar fade, help that pain to go away, but only he can do that.
It goes back to the hardest and best advice I ever got. Sometimes, you just can’t fix everything. There are times that you just have to let the kids face things on their own, being there when they want or need you, but they have to do some of this on their own.
So where the smiley, carefree little boy has left, a loving, cautious and curious boy has remained. While I wish the shadow would leave his face completely, he’s doing OK and I realized myself that I needed to let him grieve, survive and do what he needed because he’d ask for help if he needed it.
I didn’t need to be the best Dad in the world. I just have to be the best Dad he knows.